It's an Indian summer in New York City but the usual hubbub is interrupted by an explosion on a busy Manhattan street. The police believe they are dealing with a terrorist at first, but then the chief detective on the case receives a telephone call from man calling himself "Simon" (Jeremy Irons). According to what the psychologist says, Simon is mentally disturbed, a probable psychopath, and after they hear his next order, they are certain. He wants cop John McClane (Bruce Willis), who is currently suspended, to carry out tasks for him around the city, and if they do not comply... more bombs will be set off.
McClane finally made it to New York with this, the third in the Die Hard series, and to make him feel at home he was landed in more action than he could shake a stick at. Rumour had it that Jonathan Hensleigh's script was originally supposed to be made into a Lethal Weapon sequel and was subsequently rewritten, and it's true that this instalment plays far more like a buddy movie than the previous ones. McClane's buddy? Step forward Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus, a militant shop owner who preaches the message not to trust the white man, and naturally gets a life lesson to learn that they're not all bad.
McClane and Zeus meet when the cop, who is suffering from a hangover, is on one of his missions from Simon, wearing an incendiary sandwich board in Harlem. Zeus hurries over to make sure he doesn't get killed and start a riot and they both wind up in the police station before long, having escaped a local gang intent on punishing the hapless hero. Incidentally, that hangover he has is apparently a way of showing how his life has gone down the drain since we last saw him - his wife has left a year before (sorry, Bonnie Bedelia fans, she's not in this one) and he's hit the bottle. Not in great shape, you'd think.
But of course he's now on invincible form to combat the bad guys, and no attempts to give the character a bad headache can hold him back from being the capable man of action we knew from before, only more so. In the first hour we are treated to ("treated" being the right word, this film merely gives the fans what they want) a bomb on a subway train that may not be defused, but is made safer by McClane. Though rest assured, it still causes a carriage to mount the platform and presumably injure a few innocent bystanders. How crazy must Simon be?
Ah, but there's a twist, Simon may be Gruber's brother (you know, Hans Gruber from the first film), but he's not really out for revenge, and this being a thriller made in the nineties, it's actually a heist he has planned, just like in over half (at least) of all nineties thrillers. Only McClane and his new sidekick Zeus realise this of course, and cannot contact the authorities, so have to go after the villains themselves. As in the first film, there's a theme of Americans setting aside their differences and banding together to repel the outsiders, in this case the Europeans who make up the bulk of the criminals. Yet there's a feeling that the action movie of the era needed a bit more than trading on past glories as Die Hard with a Vengeance does here: Willis could do this kind of thing in his sleep by this time, and only Jackson adds a spark of personality. It's perfectly fine, but no more than that. Music by Michael Kamen.
American producer and director with a flair for action blockbusters. After self-written horror Nomads, he hit the big time with three successes: Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, but after two flops, Medicine Man and Last Action Hero, he returned to familiar territory in Die Hard With A Vengeance. Subsequent films include the troubled The 13th Warrior and two remakes, a fair attempt at The Thomas Crown Affair, and a disastrous one at Rollerball.
As sequels go this isn't bad and McTiernan goes for a interestingly different, grittier aesthetic instead of the rollercoaster ride of the original. I haven't seen Die Hard 4 yet, but this sure beats Renny Harlin's effort.