A look back at Die Hard with a Vengeance and why it’s such a lovable ultimate action movie.
Before waves of hatred start to break down my door like the top floor of the Nakatomi Plaza, I did not say that Die Hard 3 is the best film of the saga, but it is my personal favourite. Sometimes, we prefer the dumber, more boisterous child (my parents would tell you that) and this is why I love Vengeance so much: the movie is unabashedly fun, and deserves a re-appraisal.
While it does not have the novelty of the first Die Hard, the return of John McTiernan offers us a wild ride through the streets of NYC, and a certified ultimate action flick. Still need some convincing? Below are my reasons to check it out.
1) The ultimate opening
In action films like in love stories, first impressions matter, and in that department, Vengeance delivers straight away. It starts with catchy tune Summer in the city as the camera pans over NYC on a suffocating summer day, before a massive explosion blows up a department store. Not only will this opening catch you off-guard, but it has also become a fantastic 90s period piece. The camera follows New Yorkers as they go about their daily lives in a documentary style, making the attack a lot more jarring and intense!
This opening is absolutely iconic: it offers some cool visuals and sets up the menace, but also tells us everything that we need to know. The world has changed, threats are bigger, but the need for our favourite cop remains. Unlike the first Die Hard and its opening, there is no small-scale, McClane-centric atmosphere here, and this time the whole city is fair game. With this opening sequence, John McTiernan shows us that he will be offering a different but equally fun take on the franchise!
2) The NYPD’s supportive role
Now, this might seem like a very minor point to most viewers, but it is nice and refreshing to see that McClane is supported by his hierarchy – for once. After two films of fighting incompetent cops as well as bad guys, seeing our cowboy work hand in hand with his NYPD colleagues feels wholesome – especially as said cops are colourful and endearing. Some might miss the “only man against the world” idea, but larger-scale threats call for more protagonists.
The presence of McClane’s coworkers also nicely subverts the first film’s tropes. On that account, the brilliant interpretation of Samuel L. Jackson as the geeky and sharp Zeus deserves a special mention! For once, we have a sidekick who does more than just spit out a few jokes.
3) The amazing hero-villain dynamic
Alan Rickman redefined what it means to be an action villain in Die Hard, and giving a brother to the iconic Hans Gruber was a risky bet. But no matter your thoughts on Vengeance, it is widely admitted that Jeremy Irons rose up to the challenge. Simon Gruber is an absolutely excellent bad guy, who has a unique style, charismatic presence and impossibly hilarious fake American accent. Much like Hans, he can also boast a well-crafted and quite complex plan, which helps to keep the film suspenseful.
While he lacks his younger brother’s suave charisma, Simon makes up for it by having a fun-loving personality and an almost friendly relationship with McClane. Both are able to share a few laughs, and this amiability – coupled with Simon’s surprising moral code – is a joy to watch. Despite only showing up an hour into the film, this ultimate villain has what many lack – a signature style!
4) The layered plot
One of Die Hard’s greatest strengths was its unique, layered plot, in which Hans Gruber posed as a terrorist only to reveal himself as a brutal thief. This worked as a smart subversion of viewers’ expectations, on top of making the film highly rewatchable. Die Hard 3 has fun toying with the same ideas: Simon’s heist is first disguised as a revenge mission for his dead brother, before it is revealed that the older Gruber stays true to his name – and is in it for the money. But this is where things get interesting: Simon does, after all, consider McClane’s death as a little “bonus” – and he intends on making the most of this summer day!
The fact that Simon’s motivations are impossible to guess is an excellent nod to the first movie, but also helps to make this third film more enjoyable than your average brainless blockbuster. Much like its antagonist, Vengeance has fun toying with the idea of revenge – and this fun is contagious.
The cat and mouse game between Gruber and McClane is probably best represented by the film’s alternate ending (available on YouTube) which sees McClane travelling to Europe to enact a cruel and riddles-filled revenge on a victorious Simon. The hero now has a personal grudge against the second Gruber brother, since the NYPD fired him after Simon’s heist. Talk about the ultimate cycle of revenge!
5) The tip of the iceberg
Granted, this final point sounds a little mysterious – but what I mean here is that the third Die Hard instalment has a unique, vibrant universe. This helps Vengeance to feel more interesting, but also fairly realistic (despite its over-the-top stunts): a lot goes on during the film’s two hours, but just as much is left to the imagination of viewers.
We never know what John McClane got suspended for, and we only get tidbits of Zeus’ backstory (though it is expanded upon in deleted scenes and the film’s novelisation). Simon’s unusual crew and lieutenants also deserve their own origin stories (how did he even recruit all of these men?).
The fact that we seem to catch all of these people on just one fateful day in their lives makes them more believable and easier to root for. This is not just about the main characters: New Yorkers themselves are the heroes of Vengeance, and could be counted as its protagonists. From the deadpan traders to the crazed extras, there is much more to Die Hard 3’s story than McClane’s prowesses, and this makes the film a very unique – and certified ultimate – action flick!