Action Heroes – Willis: Die Hard With A Vengeance

Bruce Willis returns as ultra-hardass blue collar cop John McClane, this time chasing around New York after Hans Gruber’s brother. The action is mostly the same this time around as McClane again lays claim to the unluckiest-son-of-a-bitch-alive tag, given all that regularly happens to him. Terrorists are threatening a school in New York and then want McClane to solve the riddle to find the bomb. As it happens it’s really Hans Gruber’s bro, Simon (Jeremy Irons) who wants to deflect attention away from his planned gold heist.

John is given the added bonus of a partner in the shape of Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) who together make for a 90s version of the The Defiant Ones. But the cake is taken by the ridiculous Jeremy Irons, as Gruber Jr, who seems to have wandered into the film from some strange World War II film. He gleefully chews up the scenery as he attempts to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of McClane. 

Having moved the action away from a confined space such as Nakatomi and Dulles airport the action becomes far more spread out. Sadly this is to the detriment of the film as things become uncoordinated and ridiculous. The element of reality is hardly something the franchise has been overly concerned with in the past but this goes way too far. The narrative ends up splintered as a kids’ school is under threat of blowing up while our two heroes try to recover both the disarm code and the gold from Gruber. The problem is that by this point I simply don’t care if they get either.

The element of comedy between the two stars is higher compared to the first two films but due to an average script this doesn’t spark on screen. Willis is a fine comic talent and has done some of his best work in small comedic roles, mostly as himself. The majority of his actual action films minus a little comedy are miles worse than this as he can’t convince as a moody dark character. His performance, like those of Jackson and Irons, is fine but it seem like these big stars are simply phoning it in to collect even bigger paychecks.

Saving the film from depressing depths is the excellent photography and location work. The city of New York looks fantastic, reminding me somewhat of the hellish world portrayed in The Equalizer. The locations aren’t an ordinary collection of landmarks and this works to create an authentic atmosphere. The heist is also a nice invention but it’s a shame it lacks the gravitas of the original and late on becomes a ridiculous version of The Italian Job. Not content with ripping off the Michael Caine classic they even feel the need to plunder Goldfinger for the twist in the tail.

The Die Hard franchise is a fascinating sliding scale of films that just get worse with ever new instalment. Die Hard 3 isn’t a terrible film – it’s just bland and ultimately a little bit annoying given the poor script. This time around you end up feeling that you’ve seen it all before where McClane is concerned and maybe it would be better if he did die this time around.

Not a terrible film by any stretch but it never rises above the ordinary and ultimately looks like a lot of money spent making very little of substance. Die Hard fans should stick to the first two classic films and ultimately avoid this and the amazingly bad fourth instalment. Willis’ credibility as an action hero was always on thin ice for me personally as he strangely seems mostly above this rubbish. But still stuck in it.

 Aled Jones

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