(Third viewing, On DVD, April 2017) I first saw Die Hard with a Vengeance on opening day, and I’m pretty sure I saw it again on DVD ten or fifteen years ago. But I can’t find a mention of it on this site, so here we go: I really, really like the first two-third of this film. It open on the iconic “Summer in the City” soundtrack of a bustling mid-nineties Manhattan before starting to blow stuff up. Then it’s a wild ride through the city, accumulating brain-teasers, going through cheeky overdone action sequences and letting Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson do what they do best. John McTiernan’s direction is exceptionally good and there’s a sense of fun, joy and movement to the story. Every cinephile imprints on the movies of younger years, and mid-to-late nineties action cinema is the standard against which I will forever measure others. Die Hard With a Vengeance’s first two acts is good, solid, highly enjoyable moviemaking. I like it a lot, and I had forgotten just enough details about the movie to be charmed all over again. It’s also a beautiful wide-screen homage to New York City in its multiplicities of glories. Then … the film leaves Manhattan and loses quite a bit of steam. While the script is always big on coincidences, they get actively outrageous by the time our two main characters meet again upstate. By the time we’re on a boat, the film settles down to a far more conventional beat, and the tacked-on ending at the border feels more superfluous than anything else. Still, two-third of a great movie followed by a third of an okay one is better than the average. Contemporary viewers will notice that both Trump and Clinton are name-checked (the latter as a likely “forty third president”), and that a few moments eerily echo the events of 9/11.
(Third viewing, On DVD, April 2017) I’m sure that I last saw Die Hard 2 roughly ten years ago, but since I can’t find trace of it in my online reviews, let’s have another go at it: A decent follow-up to the first movie, Die Hard 2 leaves the skyscraper for a snow-covered airport and reliably goes for big action sequences no matter their crazy justification. Bruce Willis stars as John MacClaine, a bit more super-powered than in the original but still recognizable as a reluctant everyman hero stuck in a bad situation. It still works pretty well, despite some rough special effects and occasional lulls: Director Renny Harlin was climbing at the top of his game back then, and the tension of the film is effectively handled. What I didn’t remember from previous viewing is how heavily saturated by eighties politics the script remains—the references to Irangate are barely camouflaged, and the film does carry a perceptible whiff of Reagan-era political concerns. But of course, the point are the action sequences, and Die Hard 2 does measure up decently as an action film. While not the enduring classic of its prequel, Die Hard 2 remains a good action movie … and it still lives up to expectations today.
(On Cable TV, May 2014) The Die Hard series has had its high and lows, but if everyone agrees that the first one was the best, then everyone will recognize that this fifth one is the worst. A joyless action film in which a bland action hero traipses through Russia while insulting the Russians and reminding everyone that he’s supposed to be on holidays, Die Hard 5 becomes the generic end-point of any distinctive series: a film that could have featured any other actors with any other character names. To be fair, Die Hard 5‘s problems are much bigger than simply ignoring the character of John McClane: Much of the blame should go to a dumb script, with the rest generously gift-wrapped by director John Moore’ incoherent action sequences. There are few words to describe how stupid a screenplay this is, marred with coincidences, generic situations, implausible choices and tortured plans far too complicated to be viable. Die Hard 5 seems to be stuck with only one helicopter as an action device, and seems to milk its presence well past the point of diminishing return. The action sequences can’t be bothered to spatially orient viewers, instead relying on copious shaking, dishwater-gray cinematography and blatant disregard for plausibility. The car chase around Moscow, which should have been a standout sequence in any other movie, is here shot in such an incomprehensible fashion that it becomes irritating less than midway through. While Die Hard 5 would have us believe into some good-old father/son rivalry, the result on-screen is more annoying than rewarding, and the CIA plot thread is never believable enough. What a waste, what a sad footnote to a good film franchise and what a disappointment for everyone involved. Bruce Willis, surely you knew better?