A while back I felt the need to write about the Alien movies for my friends and peers who were unfamiliar with them. That felt good. Everyone felt good. Since then, I haven’t been struck with the desire to write about further movies. Each to their own right?
It seems there’s this bizarre opinion throughout the western world regarding the Die Hard movies. You know them. The continuing tale of unlucky cop John McClane who can’t help but fall ass-backwards into terrorists. But somehow with courage, luck and one-liners, he always comes out on top. Saves the day, kills the bad guys and gets back with his wife.
Now, there’s no argument from anybody that the original Die Hard is an action masterpiece. Tight as a snare drum, it winds up the tension by increasing increments of awesome by every scene. Bruce Willis is a blue-collar dude we can all relate to and Alan Rickman is perfect eurotrash we can all hate. Add to that Argyle, Karl, Dwayne T Robinson, Al Powell, “Bill Clay” and Special Agent Johnson and Johnson and you’ve got the Mona Lisa of action movies. Director John McTiernan dropped this cocktail of pure rad only a year after his previous juggernaut, Predator. Die Hard is perfect from “fists with your toes” all the way to “Holly McClane”.
Then things start to get a bit shaky.
Officially, there’s four more Die Hard movies. But come on son. Nobody cares about the idiotic hacker one and whatever the hell the one set in Russia was all about.
Here’s where the real problem occurs. Some people live in this hazy dreamland where the third instalment, Die Hard With A Vengeance, is a solid movie. It might be directed by John McTiernan but there’s so many things wrong with it, my face can barely handle it.
1. John McClane no longer exists.
Bruce Willis used to be an actor. Back before he slept through his movies, he used emotions to convey desperation, conflict and anger. In Die Hard and Die Hard 2, he uses these acting skills to convince the audience that John McClane is a guy who could exist in reality. A sarcastic cop who just wants to protect his wife and have a nice lie down. He survives death at many points in a way that you can get behind. By the skin of his teeth, he gets the job done. He might punch some dudes on the wing of a plane at the end of Die Hard 2 but it’s not like that plane is in the air or anything. It could happen.
In Die Hard 3 however, John McClane fades from existence and is replaced with Bruce Willis Mega Super Motherfucker Detective. In Die Hard 1, McClane almost dies from a piece of glass in his foot. Two movies later, he falls from a colossal bridge onto the deck of a freighter ship, surfs on top of a dump truck to be launched into a geyser of sewage and walks away from a car crash, train car derailment and a ship explosion that resembles the destruction of a low-orbit space station. All without a scratch. McClane should be nothing more than a small pile of bone dust at the end of this movie. But nah, he’s totes fine.
Throughout the first two films, McClane is consistently exasperated and shocked at what near-death experiences he lands in. By the time With a Vengeance happens, it’s just one-liners as far as the eye can see. Just another day at the office huh, John? What a bunch of bullshit. He even starts the day with a huge hangover and bitches about it all through the movie. Because that’s what movie cops are all about right? Hangovers and ex-wives? It’s like the movie forgot about McClane and just slotted in Generic Movie Cop #5 in there instead.
2. The villain acts like he’s in a 1960’s Batman episode.
There’s something consistent about Hans Gruber and Colonel Stuart. They have crystal clear goals and a precise plan to achieve them. One is about a ton of money and the other is about freeing a drug lord from prison. Every action they take is another step to reach these achievements. McClane is just a thorn in their side until he’s right in their faces.
Simon, on the other hand, orders McClane around New York City like Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. “What is 21 out of 42?” “Go to Yankee Stadium to find the clue!” “Simon says get to the pay phone by 10:20 or the number 3 train will be vaporised” ” Pour exactly 4 gallons of water into this 5 gallon jug and place it onto this scale which I placed earlier today or otherwise I will JESUS CREEPING SHIT THERE’S NO OTHER ASPECT TO YOUR PERSONALITY IS THERE?
Even when the script tries to inject some vague sense of human being into Simon, it comes across as face-punchingly stupid. Near the end, Simon and his henchmen are commanding a ship and feeling pretty confident that they have succeeded in stealing some gold and kicking much ass. Just before Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson arrive, Simon reaches down on the main bridge console and picks up a boiled egg. Which was sitting in an egg cup. What the hell is this? Did he pack a terrorist lunch? Did he boil the egg before hatching this plan in New York City? And did he also bring his lucky egg cup? Huh? What?
3. Every single character is an unlikeable boring asshole.
A good Die Hard movie has memorable supporting characters. Argyle the limo driver is a cool dude. Captain Lorenzo is a hilarious prick who could barely breathe without calling McClane a “fucking asshole”, “motherfucker” or “goddamn pain in the fucking ass”. And everybody, I mean everybody, loves Ellis.
But when we come to number 3, the characters are arguably the worst thing about the movie. Samuel L Jackson’s Zeus leads a cavalcade of complaining, uninteresting morons who spend their time sucking the life out of every scene. Whether it’s every one of McClane’s cop buddies, the silent female villain, the silent male henchman or countless New Yorkers, the script plugs these holes with a putty filled with clichés and tedium. Not to mention everyone is instantly forgettable.
And gee whiz, I’m sure glad Samuel L Jackson’s kids ran around that building that might be wired to blow up just so we could have a few scenes of cops trying to save them and the bomb disposal expert being a hero by staying to defuse the pancake syrup-filled bombs and…wait, what’s McClane up to? Why am I watching this garbage?
4. The script is hilariously lazy.
Early on in the film, some shadowy government types explain to McClane who Simon actually is and the movie acts like this revelatory information is an atom bomb of mindfuck proportions. HE’S HANS GRUBER’S BROTHER. REMEMBER HIM? *INSERT FOOTAGE FROM DIE HARD 1*. After this scene, it is never mentioned with any gravitas again. Even when Simon discusses it with McClane it doesn’t amount to much more than “whatevs lol I got gold”.
Towards the end of the movie, McClane fights the tall silent henchman that is obviously meant to mirror his famous fistfight with Karl in the first film. But it falls flat. Mainly because for this supposedly epic fight with a henchman who has barely appeared in the movie, we cut away from the scene at least twice and we don’t see how it ends. Just that McClane pulled some lever and made the henchman fall over. So he’s dead now? And the whole fight took less time than Simon spends boiling an egg? All tension evaporates in the blink of an eye.
And why does Simon double cross everyone? How did he transport all those mixing-liquid bombs? Why does he set up all these riddles for McClane when the first thing he makes him do is this:
5. This alternate ending:
Holy shit what? How is this even a thing that exists? Every line is insanity and the scene was clearly cut for good reason. Let’s have McClane track down the villain months later and they can have a bazooka riddle battle. But the closer you look, the more you realise that it’s not that insane in the context of the rest of Die Hard With A Vengeance. If placed alongside the first two movies, it would make about as much sense as Bruce Willis actually caring about the movies he stars in post-Pulp Fiction. But the Die Hard 3 version of McClane might just be pants-shittingly crazy enough to do this. And y’know, not be immediately arrested and thrown in a foreign jail for life.
6. It’s not Christmas.
A small problem but boo, hiss etc. Die Hard = Christmas. You can’t have Die Hard on like, a Tuesday.
In summary, Die Hard 3 pulled the wool over people’s eyes and fooled everyone into thinking it was the second best Die Hard movie. It ain’t. Someone on Twitter today posed the theory to me that it exists in an alternate timeline. I’m happy with that. After the end of Die Hard 2, the universe split and two Die Hard universes were created. One where the original John McClane is retired and relaxing with his wife Holly. And the other, where McClane completely changed into a boring cliché, lost all his hair and hopefully hung himself in a pub toilet before Die Hard 5 happens.
I’m going to watch Die Hard 2 again. McClane kills a dude with an icicle. Awesome.