Retro Review: Die Hard: With A Vengeance


Melissa is gone this week, she just left a few hours ago on a business trip and I’m here with the mammals and I decided to watch Die Hard: With a Vengeance. I was originally going to watch Indiana Jones and the King of the Crystal Skull. I didn’t really care much for the movie, but I’ve only really seen completely through once and that was when it first came out. And I actually wanted to do a review on the movie now, a few years later. But something drew me to Die Hard. Maybe it was the fact that there is a rumor that Die Hard 5 may have a director, which I mentioned earlier today (here: Die Hard 5 gets a director?) and that news on Friday got me thinking about Die Hard.

I’ve written extensively about Die Hard over the years, most recently in the following two postings: Die Hard to the fifth power? and Cos’ Top Christmas Movies: #1 Die Hard., and I’ve said a lot of things about the franchise and I don’t think I’ve ever actually done a review of any of them. I’ve expressed my feelings but I don’t think I’ve ever actually done a straight review. So, here is my chance to do one as a Retro Review, I think this is the first of its kind (Not even the Episode 1 posting from 2009: The Phantom Menace: 10 years later that was more of a review of Geek Out Loud then it was of the actual movie).

So, here goes, if I like it, then I’ll try and do more during the week. Seeing that Melissa is not going to be around this week, I probably won’t be watching TV because I’d much rather watch our shows together (and I definetely won’t be watching any Mtv or VH1) and while I’m alone, I’m hopefully going to do some writing (scripts) other than just for the blog…

Retro Review: Die Hard: With A Vengeance


I won’t be writing about my first viewing of this film, back in 1995 (right after Matt Cohen’s Bar Mitzvah, I did that in another posting that you can view above. I am going to write about my most recent viewing of it. I got back from dropping Melissa off for her trip and I popped the movie in. I didn’t really expect to watch the entire thing, I usually get bored at one point during the middle of it (or what I thought was the middle of the movie). I have started and stopped this movie so many times over the years, hell I’ve seen it straight through way too many times, I can practically say all the lines by heart. But if there is one thing I haven’t done in a long long time was watch it in its entirety. Which I did today for the first time.

Die Hard with a Vengeance is the third part of the Die Hard series and finds Bruce Willis as Detective John McClane hung over and fighting for not only his life but against the brother, Simon (played by Jeremy Irons) of the man he killed in the very first Die Hard movie. Sam Jackson does a great job as Zeus (not Jesus) who was McClane’s first side kick in a Die Hard movie.

First of all, I have to say it does stand up to my first viewing of it in 1995. (Do I think its as good as the original? No, it is better then the second one, but I hate to say it, I like all of them for different reasons. But I won’t get into that…I want to stay on track) but while the action may hold up, it is a very dated movie now; and that aspect of it kind of makes me sad. I remember going to see this movie in the theater and it just makes me old. I mean references to beepers, boom boxes, car radios, big cell phones, Hillary Clinton, the Twin Towers. It just feels like that was a much more innocent time back in 1995. And I’m not just saying for myself, I mean in the world. It’s like my parents always said, after the assasination of JFK the country lost it’s innocence, I kind of feel that way about 9/11 and I get why it took so long to get another one of these Die Hard movies out.

Second, like I said before, the action holds up, but I hate to say it that a lot of the dialog seems dated and very 90’s. A lot of the supporting characters just have to say something, usually either funny or witty, things that just wouldn’t outright fly here in 2011. Truth be told, if they were to make With A Vengeance today, they would mess it up, it just wouldn’t work. It would be too safe and too politically correct. John McClane is John McClane and you won’t change his dialog or any of his funny one liners, the man practically invented either the one liner or the little quip you say before you kill of the bad guy. Sure, I know, Arnold or Sly probably can also lay claim to that, but other then “Hasta la vista, baby” can you name any other one other than “Yippie-ki-yay, Mother Fucker?” (and no, “Yippie-ki-yay, mister falcon” does not count!) but there are a lot of little things said in this movie that I don’t think would have to be said now. In fact, if this wasn’t a Die Hard movie, I don’t think it would be made today, let alone made right. Some of his one liners are great in this movie, like the banter with the English speaking German soldier in the Federal Reserve where the soldier asks McClane if he’s OK and John simply looks down at his dirty and torn clothing and responds: “Yeah, laundry day…” Some other ones felt forced like his “itching between his toes” remark. But all in all, if the only two people who were witty were Willis and Jackson, I think the dialog wouldn’t feel as dated.

Third, the special effects were OK, Hollywood still hadn’t gotten the whole CG thing done yet in 1995. The summer of 96 hadn’t happened yet and that really set the Hollywood world on fire with special effects, a fire that is still burning today (if you want to read about the summer of 96, read this 2006 post I wrote entitled:  1996). The effects were typical, but for the most part the filmmakers did try very hard at keeping thing practical and realistic which may be the reason why one of the biggest key scenes in the movie has never settled well with me and that was the subway explosion scene. This scene never screamed amazing and I think it is because the train jumping the track never seemed real. Today was the first time I think I kind of got what they were going for and it is because of the DVD menu which replicated the subway car jumping the track, but a lot faster than we see in the movie. If it was done today, it would be done with a lot of CG work and there would be a lot of digital stunt people who would no doubt get hit or run over by the train. Here in 1995, it was done practically, meaning there was a physical train car that the stunt and effects people rigged to jump onto the train platform and have real people dodge as it barreled through the set. You tend to not see that anymore because it is probably easier and safer to do with special effects, so I’ll always be grateful towards the fact that they did put all the effort into making that scene seem real.

To add to that last piece, the explosion at the very beginning (along with the subway car jumping the track) looked the most real today than I can remember it. I actually rewound a few times trying to catch little details. In every case, there were always stunt people either dodging the bomb or getting engulfed in the debris of the explosion. Bravo to that. I guess in my young state back in 1995, I didn’t quite notice the small details that would make this such a realistic scene. Even the subway scene, I can tell that there was an actual danger on the set, I remember watching the behind-the-scenes footage and those stunt people did have to run their asses off to get out of the way of that train car because it was not stopping at all. So, I appreciate that a lot. If the Bonwit Teller scene at the beginning of this movie were done today, the entire building would be blown up, via a lot of CG work. It would probably look more like the scene from Armageddon with the meteor shower over Manhattan (funny how three years later and the special effects in movies had improved that drastically, and why am I not surprised that Bruce Willis would have been in that movie too) and everything blowing up and falling down.

Forth, other than Live Free or Die Hard, when was the last time you saw a good action movie that barely had a real plot to it. Back in the day I would have said I got the plot of this movie down, its simply, terrorist, John McClane and action. But now, if you think about it, this movie is simply chock full of action and the plot of it is simply one giant robbery with the potential to kill McClane out of revenge. Is this a criticism? Not really, I miss the days of being able to go see a movie that was for simple fun and pleasure. Now everything needs a reason. The bad guys all have to have a real reason and they can’t just do it. And the good guy has to learn something about themselves.

For me it is a double edge sword. I love these action movies, but I guess with the way things have gone throughout the last decade or so, I need a little more thought process to my movies. I still love all of the Die Hard movies, and I am not saying this about them, but if another movie came out that was like this I’d be very surprised and it, unfortunately, probably wouldn’t do very well. Even a remake of Die Hard would probably cause the filmmakers to think more about what the McClane and Gruber characters were actually doing in Nakatomi Plaza and would probably even make McClane part of Gruber’s team and have him come to realize that what they are doing is bad or something.See how it is a double edge sword for me, I love the old style of action movies but I guess through maturity and changes in tastes for movies, I need a little bit more meat in my movies. Sigh, I guess I’ll always bat that one back and forth.

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. You all knew I was going to really like this movie and I really don’t have anything horrendous to say, just pointing out some things that haven’t stood up to time. All four Die Hard movies are great, honestly, I love them all. This one just has a more iconic feel to it than the 4th one does, even though I actually do like the fourth one a lot. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, what are you waiting for, go out and see this. Great action movie, a classic, from an amazing action franchise. Also, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last time you’ll ever see me talking about any of the Die Hard movies…

I will say that this trailer gives away most, if not all of the action and surprises from this movie. I would have loved to have walked into this movie not knowing anything about Simon and find that out during the course of the movie. If memory serves me correctly, there were a lot of trailers during 1995 that gave away a lot of the movie before any of the audience walked into the theater. Glad they’ve kind of figured that out by now…

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