Misusing the Classics: Die Hard with a Vengeance

In my last post, I discussed how just sticking popular/classic motifs into a movie/novel/television show isn't enough. There has to be a vision to back them up.

Die Hard with a Vengeance is a good example of this.

Don't get me wrong: Die Hard with a Vengeance is a fun flick. But I happen to consider Die Hard (the original) the best action movie ever made. So--even though I was warned that the sequels weren't quite as good--my expectations for Die Hard with a Vengeance were still far higher than my expectations normally are for an action film.

It wasn't a complete disappointment. The relationship between McClane and his fellow police officers is good. The relationship between McClane and Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) is good. Samuel L. Jackson is good (if a little underused--let the guy chew the scenery more!).

Jeremy Irons is boring.

And therein lies the problem. Instead of following the natural flow of the story, the writers forced the classic pay-off/twist from Die Hard (yes, I will be giving it away).

The classic twist in Die Hard is that Alan Rickman's character is a bank robber posing as a terrorist. This is interesting because Alan Rickman is interesting. It is also interesting because of the relationship/dialog between the panicked, hyper McClane and the urbane, single-minded Hans.

The twist of urbane, terrorist-acting, bank robber is clever. So that's EXACTLY what the writers did in Die Hard with a Vengeance: psychopath is actually a bank robber. Only the result isn't interesting since Irons' psychopath persona is FAR more interesting than his bank robber persona.

For example, at the beginning of the movie, Simon (Irons) stutters when McClane yells at him on the phone. The police psychologist explains that this is because Simon doesn't expect to be challenged. The psychologist isn't being obnoxious or overly academic in his explanation. In fact, he commends McClane for pushing the guy's limits. It's a great set-up.

But at the end of the movie, Simon fake stutters to show that the WHOLE psychopathic persona was actually an act--ha ha--just like his brother Hans and his fake terrorist act--ha ha.

But that isn't interesting! It would have been far more interesting and far more effective if Simon had been a psychopath who thought he was a bank robber (like dear brother Hans) who turned out to be a psychopath. The stutter scene could have been paid off by a verbal confrontation, with stuttering, between McClane and Simon at the end of the movie (NOT by an exploding helicopter).

In fact, up to the 1/2-way mark, I think the writers were going in this direction. For example, the writers go out of their way to have Simon Gruber NOT say "Simon says" when the game changes (at the water fountain)--that is, after Simon has actually completed the robbery. McClane and Zeus are so wrapped up in the chase, they don't notice. I was SURE they would remember later, but the issue was completely dropped.

The movie is full of things that are dropped/not paid off. I'm as horrified by the idea of a bomb in a school as the next person, but, really, it should have been a real bomb. And the only other director who has underused Samuel L. Jackson more is Lucas. Let the guy scream at someone! Please! But at the end of the movie, he has taken over the role of cool, laid-back Powell from the first film.

And this is my point. Apparently, Die Hard 2 was a failure, so the writers say, "Let's use the same twists, characters, and motifs from the first movie" which is a great idea EXCEPT it needed to be done in a way that made sense, not just stuck into the film.

Having said all this, Die Hard with a Vengeance is NOT as bad as Spider-man 3. It still retains the joie de vivre of the first film. However, before I check out Live Free or Die Hard, I'm going to wait awhile. And I certainly won't watch Die Hard beforehand!


Eugene said...

The "psychopath who thought he was a robber who turned out to be a psychopath" twist is good description of the Tommy Lee Jones character in Under Siege. The only decent film Steven Seagal made, and a dang good actioner to boot. (I also recommend the fairly awful Into the Sun only because Seagal makes better use of Tokyo's back streets than any other American director I've seen, and he speaks the language well.)

Live Free or Die Hard is basically Die Hard meets WarGames. In other words, a techno-thriller that depends on an idiotic and utterly implausible premise. But unlike WarGames, there's scant moralizing and nobody takes themselves seriously. Willis and Justin Long (the Mac guy) and Kevin Smith generate enough chemistry to make it an entertaining romp.

Mike Cherniske said...

I've never watched "With a vengeance." I've tried, and frankly had no interest.
Of the sequels, live free is my favorite. It's more a chase movie, and Joe is right, it's completely silly. but alot of fun.

Mike Cherniske said...

err, Eugene i mean. Sorry!

Andrew Donaldson said...

Die Hard with a Vengeance was by far the worst Die Hard movie. There was actually a reason for this, and behind the sloppy script: They were going to make a Die Hard movie on a boat, but then Steven Seagal basically made that movie (Under Siege, referenced in the comments above), so they just threw something else together. Live Free of Die Hard was a lot of fun; Die Hard 2 wasn't terrible, but I'd say the fourth movie in the series was easily the second best.

All four movies have the same premise, though: The villain tries to do one thing while he distracts attention by pretending to do something else. At least in 2 and 4, it's not exactly the same thing, though.