Our last Sequelthon review looked at how James Cameron sustained the success of the Alien franchise after taking over the director’s chair from Ridley Scott. Both Alien and Aliens were spectacular films and the overall quality doesn’t drop from one to the next. The same goes for our analysis of the first two Godfather films. Now we shift focus to a third franchise with similar legendary status and evaluate how it changed over time.
All three of these franchises started with one of the best films in their respective genres. Die Hard remains one of the all-time great action movies (and the best Christmas movie ever). By any metric, Die Hard was a massive critical success (92% on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic score of 70, and CinemaScore grade of A+) and landed as the seventh highest grossing movie of 1988. Its sequels held steady at the box office with Die Hard 2: Die Harder earning $117.5 million total gross and Die Hard: With a Vengeance grossing $100 million compared to the original’s $83 million. While the public kept coming back, critics were less and less impressed with each new film.
Many reviews cited the lack of originality in the later films complaints. While the overall structure of the franchise’s third film remains familiar (as is the case for most action flicks), the film blends new ingredients in an effort to keep the film fresh. Samuel L Jackson gives the film its best lift, breathing life back into the series. The dialogue between Jackson and Bruce Willis keeps the movie moving and provides a surprising amount of character development disguised in angry banter. Jeremy Irons rounds out the trio by playing villain Simon Peter Gruber who taunts McClane (Willis) and Carver (Jackson) by sending them on increasingly ridiculous scavenger hunts. Simon’s antics mirror the cat-and-mouse games of the first film and make this action flick more layered than most.
While the characters played by Jackson and Irons keep the film interesting, my main complaints actually center on Bruce Willis’s John McClane. By this third film McClane has lost a great deal of his relatabilty. Part of this is his inherent importance in the film’s plot. Gruber singles out McClane specifically here while in the first film McClane was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. McClane becomes a more and more like James Bond and Jason Bourne than a guy you might meet at a bar. Like Bond and Bourne, our hero becomes increasingly important in the meta-sense while also pulling off increasingly super human feats (like falling from crazy heights, surfing on a train, or pulling a Captain America: Winter Soldier in a henchman filled elevator. Granted McClane starts off the action scene with a joke and wins more by surprise than the austere Captain American but its still hard to imagine anyone being able to pull off McClane’s feats without Super Serum).
Do McClane’s character flaws irreparably damage the film? Well no, not yet. But they will in films to come. For now McClane manages to sneak in some of his original charm and relies on his counterparts to help boost the film. And it all works overall. Die Hard: With a Vengeance gives its fair share of thrills and is better than most action flicks coming out today.
Is it better than the original?
Not even close.
Check out other reviews in our Sequelthon. We’re still looking for guest reviewers for plenty of films!