Having essentially re-invented the loose cannon archetype for a new generation with John McClane (the character Bruce Willis was born to play) in the original Die Hard, McTiernan returns to the franchise to direct its second sequel and in doing so injects a whole new meaning to the phrase “over the top”. After a string of middling successes following his early breakout triumphs of Die Hard and Predator, McTiernan went back to basics with the cop-versus-terrorists approach that worked so well seven years earlier. And what a trip is is. Vengeance is the most outlandish film in the series, and an experience that continues to up the tension and excitement with each act right up to the climactic Canadian finish. But the spectacle never gets ahead of itself, and McTiernan keeps things loose with a healthy dose of humor and genuine on-screen chemistry between Willis and his new sidekick Zeus Carver (a masterfully-cast Samuel L. Jackson, playing his character to the hilt). But while sizable portions of New York City end up as smoldering ruins, the focus is on the characters, not the action and explosions. A trick Michael Bay might want to try out sometime.
The movie starts with an explosion outside a department store, which sets in motion a series of events crafted by criminal mastermind Simon Gruber–brother of Hans Gruber, the financial would-be terrorist handily dispatched via defenestration at the hands of McClane in the original Die Hard. Naturally our favorite khaki-clad cop is at the center of it all, and is forced to jump through a series of hoops lest Mr. Gruber blow up more locales around the city. Rather than have him go it alone, though, he is joined by a perfectly mismatched foil in Zeus Carver, an angry electrician who has a bone to pick with nearly everyone in the city. Well, everyone who isn’t like him anyway. The pairing of Jackson and Willis is what lends Vengeance its true charm, as their constant bickering and insulting is as explosive as a pile of C4. Both reluctant heroes end up tearing through New York while being guided by the sinister hand of Gruber, who may or may not be using the entire act as a distraction for a much larger plan.
While the scale of the action gets continually ramped up throughout the film, there are times when things get a little too outlandish for their own good. I can handle subway explosions, high-speed car chases through crowded streets, and elevator shootouts just fine. But when refrigerator-sized (and shaped) plot devices appear out of thin air, or McClane literally surfs on the hood of a dump truck, things start to get a little silly. I think McTiernan was sort of going for broke, though, and as long as he was capping the Die Hard trilogy he was going to throw everything at the audience that was even remotely within the realm of metaphysical possibility. There is not one iota of plausibility in the entire film, but that’s not really the point. Vengeance is in many ways the culmination of 1980’s action movie excesses, and it knows it.
One other troubling aspect of the film is the fact that the first half kind of wastes one of the most hardened, do-or-die action heroes ever committed to celluloid. McClane and Carver, as pawns in Gruber’s diabolical scheme (you can practically hear Jeremy Irons practicing his Evil Villain Laughter™ offscreen), spend the first hour demolishing the five boroughs while solving riddles and mind puzzles instead of actually fighting bad guys. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh has said that the entire first hour of the film was taken directly from his original project with character names changed to fit the Die Hard series, and while the action is still as explosive as ever, it does feel out of place for a Die Hard film. Even so, action film junkies need to look no further for a liberal dose of adrenaline.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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