Review: Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

NOTE: With A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD opening on Thursday, we thought this would be a great time to revisit the older films from the franchise, so expect a review/day until my review of the latest one is posted on Friday.

Detective John McClane returns to work after a suspension when a mad bomber requests the officer to play a game of Simon Says. He soon finds that he must team up with a store owner from Harlem who is inadvertently thrown into the action.

In DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE, Bruce Willis returns as Lieutenant Detective John McClane who is now an alcoholic dealing with his broken family ties and suspension from his job. The job pulls him out of his situation however when a mysterious caller named “Simon” phones the police with a strange request – he wants McClane to be dropped off in the middle of Harlem dressed only in his boxers and a racially offensive sandwich board. Since a bomb has already gone off in the first few minutes of the film, the officials take this threat serious and do as their told convincing the off balance McClane to go through with it. When a Good Samaritan named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) saves the day, the two men are forced into a deadly game connecting to the original DIE HARD.

With the return of director John McTiernan to this series the third installment takes a more serious approach. While the humor is still intact, the plot deals with a few very frightening situations including the threat of blowing up a school if the officers do not do what they are told. Much like the original film, McTiernan – with a screenplay written by Jonathan Hensleigh which was re-conceived from his original spec script “Simon Says” – offers a little more insight into the villain. The fantastic Jeremy Irons portrays Simon Gruber, brother to one Hans who has a pretty good reason to have an issue with McClane. While this outing certainly feels a little grittier than the last, the action is certainly bigger than the first continuing the trend of making McClane larger than life.

One of the most interesting changes in this chapter is the idea of having McClane have a full on partner in crime. Sure he has always had one character watching his back, but they were never at the same level of danger. This was a new beginning for the franchise to introduce an actual sidekick – a trend the films continue to have. Thankfully, you can’t do much better than Mr. Samuel L. Jackson who had worked previously with Willis in PULP FICTION and would work with him again in UNBREAKABLE (Willis was also featured in a cameo for LOADED WEAPON 1 starring Jackson and Emilio Estevez). The two actors work especially well together and make for a terrific F-bomb dropping team.

With a great on-screen duo, VENGEANCE spends a whole lot of time setting up the character of Simon and his motivations. It works, just not quite as well as it did the first time around. As McClane and Zeus continually find themselves figuring out Simon’s riddles while the NYPD attempt to locate what buildings are being targeted for destruction, it becomes a tad bit tedious. It is obvious what they are building up to and while it works, it didn’t generate as much tension as it should have. Even still this is a well-executed flick that offers up a number of exciting moments, and every step of the way I was rooting the good guys to come out on top. It is also nice to see a little bit of that “realism” that McTiernan brought to the classic original.

For me, one of the most impressive scenes in the film is the “alternate ending” which is available on the Blu-Ray. According to Hensleigh and his commentary, there were several discussions with the studio and the filmmakers suggesting that this particular moment made McClane seem too much like Gruber himself. It also lacks the explosive action that audiences are accustomed to in a DIE HARD flick. Even still it might have been interesting to see how fans would have reacted to this particular ending. Either way, it is a great scene to contrast and compare with what made it into the finished film.

This is a solid sequel that offers much of the class that McTiernan brought to the first film. The inclusion of a sidekick worked here quite well thanks to smart casting. How nice it would have been to see Jackson return in the next installment. He gives a terrific performance as does Willis who continues to bring life to this much put upon detective. DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE is a very satisfying experience with some truly imaginative action-set-pieces which continue to make this a thrilling franchise. DIE HARD was back with a vengeance… Indeed!


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.