Die Hard with a Vengeance
Part of a series on the films of Jeremy Irons
It’ the mid-90s, and Jeremy Irons is at the height of his career. He recently won an oscar for best actor, and in 1994-1995 he starred in two of his biggest films of his career, one as Scar in The Lion King, the other as Simon Gruber in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
Die Hard with a Vengeance (hearby referred to as Die Hard 3) is the ultimate amalgam of 90s action film clichés. The plot is quite convoluted, as suspended officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is forced to run around New York City completely tasking to avoid a mad bomber on the loose. Of course, this hysteria merely hides the grand robbery Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) performs under the NYPD’s noses.
When I say this film has it all in terms of 90s action clichés, I am not exaggerating. McClane gets a sidekick named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) to cash in on the Lethal Weapon formula of white guy+black guy buddy cop vibe. Zeus himself resembles Furious Styles, the character Lawrence Fishburne plays in Boyz in the Hood (1991), with his emphasis on respectability politics and aversion to white intrusion into the Harlem community. (In fact, Fishburne was originally offered the role of Zeus, but declined.) This enables the film to have banter about racial politics, clearly informed by the 90s multiculturalism, but also hostility. The pair, when not bogged down by the mind-boggling plot, bicker about race vaporously, as the film tries to add urban colour to the film. (McClane even pulls the reverse racism card in one pointless conversation.) The film’s insistence on these conversations prove fruitless, and are soon dropped for Zeus’ encouragement for McClane to rekindle his bond with his estranged wife.
The film is a retread of the first, so this sequel finds it must yet again tear apart McClane and his wife. In fact, McClane has regressed so far in this film to be a bumbling, loathsome, alcoholic, abrasive man. McClane no longer has the wit or charm of the first film. Instead, he is just brute aggressiveness, in stark contrast to our intellectual villain. Our villain too is a retread, the brother of the first villain also pulling off a heist caper. But Die Hard 3 suffers from sequel inflation, where the heist plot becomes bigger and more complicated to avoid seeming like a repeat of the first film.
Die Hard 3 still hits a lot of the same beats as Die Hard, inducing the vault break in scene to a particular music motif. Whereas the first film masterfully uses Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” quietly to foreshadow the vault break in, then blasts the piece as the villain celebrate their success later in the film, Die Hard 3 has one extended sequence of the vault break in to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching In”. This use of musical motif loses its potency, particularly when it’s played after the film’s slapdash ending, and the bank vault scene isn’t as fun because of its lengthy pace and lack of buildup. Die Hard 3 is a cleverly disguised retread of the first film, with enough differences (bomb threats, NYC locations, sidekicks) to mask its repetitiveness at first glance.
Now it’s time to discuss our villains, a cadre of the worst of the worst in 1990s parlance, another manifestation of sequel inflation. Commies! Iranians! Psychopaths! Germans who might be Nazis! We don’t see much of these people and their villainy, but we are told by the film that they are indeed quite evil. Instead, we see Simon Gruber in all his cheeky wonderfulness. Like his brother, offed in the first film, Simon is a sophisticated criminal concerned with high finance. Unfortunately, Irons’ presence is relegated to the phone for the first half of the film, spouting ridiculous riddles that are at first hilarious. But when he does finally appear, oh what joy he brings. Right around the 50 minute mark is the high point of the film, a hilarious scene where Irons, a British man, plays a German pretending to be American, conning the NYPD into his scheme.
While Simon is coded gay through most of the movie, wearing purple and receives gay insults, the film ends with him almost bedding his psychopathic female underling. Yet again, Irons plays European perversity, making this film not quite so different from his filmography after all.
It’s quite apparent that 90s nostalgia is at its peak right now, and perhaps for good reason. With both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton jokes, Die Hard 3 shows that everything old is new again. Perhaps now is the time for the film’s revival.