How hard can it be to make a Die Hard movie? With every passing year, the chances seem ever more remote that anything else bearing the Die Hard brand name will be much cop. That said, there are points of interest in all the sequels. Die Hard 2 lacks tension, but has most of the other key elements. Live Free and Die Hard has big, industrial set pieces, and even A Good Day to Die Hard has a lively Moscow car chase. But none of them come close to replicating the dynamic quality of the original film; returning director John McTiernan was on the slide when he reconnected with the franchise, but this second sequel certainly has a lot to offer, as long as coherence isn’t your bag.
With his wife absent, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a boozy mess when fate comes calling in the form of Hans Gruber’s brother Simon (Jeremy Irons, every bit as German as Alan Rickman and working wonders in a singlet). Simon contrives an elaborate revenge-game, punishing McClane for killing his brother in the Nakatomi Plaza; a series of impossible tasks leading the cops in a merry dance up and down Manhattan island. But McClane twigs that Simon has contrived this high-wire act to distract from his real purpose, of robbing the Federal Gold reserve, and nobody knows how to be a fly in the ointment like McClane…
Losing the single location formula doesn’t help, but Die Hard 3 scores big on action; the car chase through Central Park is sunny, muscular and largely lacking on overt cheats. Adding to the mix is a developed race angle, with Samuel L Jackson a choice support as Zeus, a savvy store-owner who teams up with McClane after the cop is justifiably threatened by a mob. But after a measured first half, the second half of this film really is gibberish. How much of a coincidence is it that McClane is thrown into the skies above the New Jersey turnpike by a gushing fountain just as Zeus’ speeding car happens to be passing? That the ruthless Simon ties McClane and Zeus up and escapes only for McClane to easily pick the lock with a splinter seconds later? Die Hard 3 is a crowd-pleaser, but the endlessly re-written narrative falls apart fairly rapidly even on first viewing. If Simon needs McClane to function as a diversion, why are the tasks Simon sets near impossible to complete?
A tacked-on ending with a helicopter vs powerlines showdown on the Canadian border could have come from any action franchise, and lights the way for more sequels which, whatever their merits, lack the Die Hard magic. But as a mindless Saturday night blockbuster, Die Hard With A Vengeance just about makes the grade, even if the choppiness works against it stopping the franchise rot. If nothing else, Die Hard 3 made for a fantastic video game, with lots of race and chase action as you drive around Manhattan defusing bombs…Oops! Sorry, pal!