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Film: Die Hard with a Vengeance

Die Hard With a Vengeance is the third film in the popular Die Hard franchise, which reteamed Bruce Willis with John McTiernan, the director of the first film.

After being suspended for alcoholism, John McClane (Willis) is put back on duty when a bomb destroys a department store in New York City, and a man named "Simon" claims responsibility. Simon demands that McClane wear a sandwich board with racist remarks on it and walk into the middle of Harlem in order to prevent further attacks. McClane does so, and is barely saved by the intervention of a local business owner, Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson).

Together, the duo are forced to take part in a series of malicious tasks by Simon, who threatens to set off several bombs if they aren't completed in time. While the pair is solving the riddles, they realize that it's a distraction from the real threat - Simon is planning to rob the Federal Reserve Bank, and he has a much closer connection to McClane than the cop realizes...

Vengeance was adapted from a script called Simon Says, which was originally intended to be the fourth installment of the Lethal Weapon series before it was reworked to include McClane and Zeus. It received low critic scores, but was a hit with audiences, earning $366 million against a $90 million budget.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Duo: McClane and Zeus.
  • Affably Evil: Simon Gruber is more so than Hans was in the first movie. For instance, when raiding the Federal Reserve, his crew take out all the guards by using tranquilizer guns, and only kill anyone who tries to fight back.
  • Almighty Janitor: The truck driver. He quickly recovers from John holding him at gunpoint only to prove to be an expert on the aqueduct he's driving a truck for and also knows which President John needs to know.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: Much like the previous films, the action takes place during the holiday season. A kid even calls out McClane and Zeus for stealing a pair of children's bikes when it's Christmas.
  • Avenging the Villain
  • Awesome McCoolname: There are probably a few more examples throughout the series, but Zeus Carver stands out. It's almost a name worthy of Samuel L. Jackson. Which leads to this:
    John McClane: Guy back there called you Jesús.
    Zeus: He didn't say Jesús. He said, "Hey, Zeus!" My name is Zeus!
    John McClane: Zeus?
    Zeus: Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? "Don't fuck with me or I'll shove a lightning bolt up your ass", Zeus! You got a problem with that?
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: An alternate ending has McClane threatening Simon Gruber with a Chinese rocket launcher with the sights removed, allowing Gruber to point the rocket whichever way he liked. Gruber ultimately points the rocket launcher the wrong way.
  • Bait the Dog: Averted with Simon, who doesn't pass the Moral Event Horizon like his brother did but still had planted bombs for McClane to find and disarm in public places.
  • Batman Gambit: Simon's plan is dependent on the NYPD worrying more about schoolkids than Wall Street (as well as McClane believing that Simon is out for revenge rather than money).
  • Big Applesauce:
    • Although the New York centrism is fully on display with the other installments, notice how bumbling and ineffective the LAPD and FBI are in Die Hard compared to how well the NYPD is depicted.
    • Not to mention the incredibly thick accent the young looter sports:
    Kid: It's Crissmis, yoo could steal city hwall!
  • Big Bad: Simon Gruber (brother of Hans).
  • Black Helicopter: There is one in the end, and it explodes. At the very least, the first is an FBI gunship.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Simon.
  • Bond One-Liner: "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!" says John as blows up the Big Bad.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played straight with the one Federal Reserve guard who tries to make a futile stand by firing a shotgun down the hallway while screaming like a maniac (and failing to notice Katya opening the door to his left until she slices him to death with a kukri knife). Before Katya slices him, he gets off 14 rounds, when in real life, the model of shotgun he's using only holds nine shells at most.
  • Call Back: When John is forced by Simon to walk into Harlem with an offensive sandwich board reading "I HATE NIGGERS", he at least has the foresight to tape a gun to his back.
  • The Cameo: Z100 DJ Elvis Duran, whose show is used by Simon to panic the city about the school bomb. To this day, he'll occasionally bring up "I was in Die Hard with a Vengeance for five seconds!"
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Ricky Walsh's badge number (which is how McClane realizes that "Detective Otto" is rogue), the 14 stolen dump trucks (to haul out the gold), and the bottle of aspirin.
    • The aspirin is a double Chekhov's Gun, as the FBI / CIA agents note that one of the only known facts about Simon is that he suffers migraines.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • McClane prevents the villain from escaping AND defeats him using nothing more than a clue from an aspirin bottle that said villain gave him.
    • Also, he suggests Zeus pick their cuffs with a splinter in John's shoulder from the cable they slid down minutes earlier. It works in freeing John from his cuffs, but Zeus drops the makeshift lockpick and John still saves Zeus from the explosion by using a small amount of the explosive to break his cuffs.
  • Contrived Coincidence: John is ejected from the flooded dam just as Zeus is passing. Had he missed Zeus and had even a few minute delay, they would have missed their chance to jump to the boat and get the vital clue to Simon's hideout.
  • Dark Action Girl: Katya.
  • The Dragon: The Kukri-wielding blonde Katya.
  • Eureka Moment: Running into a band of underaged looters ("There's no cops anywhere, it's like Christmas! You could steal City Hall") makes McClane realize that the Big Bad's ploy is likely a distraction.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Simon Gruber, after he reveals that the bomb planted in a school was a fake. His Affably Evil approach comes back to haunt Simon when McClane is able trace him back thanks to the text of an aspirin bottle that Gruber hands to John when McClane is tied and distressed.
    Simon: I'm a soldier, not a monster. Even though I sometimes work for monsters.
    • Simon's men, when entering the Federal Reserve, are shown to leave the guards alive by tranquilizing them, and only kill anyone who tries to resist (such as the guard who is knifed to death by Katya after attempting to fire a shotgun at the other robbers while screaming loudly. A henchman pretending to be a foreman also angrily yells at Otto after that guy shoots Walsh, only for one of the "cop" henchmen to inform him that Otto doesn't speak English.
    • Zeus passes off a suitcase bomb to two of Simon's henchmen who are disguised as cops. They take it, because not doing so would have blown their cover. But then, the first guy admonishes his partner for starting to leave it on the sidewalk.
      Rogue Cop (in German): What are you... A kid could find that!
  • Failed a Spot Check: That guard who gets sliced to pieces by Katya died because he was so busy trying to call for help and also shooting his shotgun down the hallway that he fails to see someone opening the door to his left.
  • Foreshadowing: When the Rouge Cop tells his comrade to not leave the bomb on the sidewalk because a kid might find it.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: A TV-edit of the film has Zeus saying "Look, all brothers don't know how to shoot a gun, you racist melon farmer." It also changes McClane's racially-insensitive sandwich board sign from "I hate n***ers" to "I hate everyone."
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: One of Simon's henchmen is sliced cleanly in two by a snapping steel cable.
  • Hollywood Density:
    • Averted when Zeus tries to pick up a loose gold brick that fell out of one of the dump trucks, not knowing how heavy one is. Of course, later on they throw gold bricks as though they were footballs...
    • Either this trope or Writers Cannot Do Math comes into place with the trucks: in 1995, $150,000,000 worth of gold would be about 9,000 tons—far more than even 14 full dump trucks could take. It would take more than twice that many to do the job.
  • Hypocritical Humour: John McClane of all people, when a juvenile thug calls him a "dickhead", tells him to "Watch his mouth".
  • I Can See You: When Simon demands to know why John and Zeus weren't there to answer a pay phone at the specific time he demanded, they dismiss him, asking for their next set of instructions. Simon (quite reasonably, actually) tells John, "You could have just said there was a fat woman using the phone and she refused to get off". Cue the Oh Crap reaction from the two as they realize that Gruber is watching them.
  • Indy Ploy: Lampshaded by Zeus:
    John: I know what I'm doing.
    Zeus: Not even God knows what you're doing!
  • Informed Ability/Brief Accent Imitation: Simon Gruber is identified as an elite East German spy. When Simon appears and introduces himself to Rick Walsh as "Bob Thompson" from the City Engineer's office, Jeremy Irons actually attempts an American accent and the outcome is an stereotypically exaggerated Texan drawl. Given his Laughably Evil nature, he seems to be enjoying himself, joking around in a very morbid and ironic sense in that iconical context and opportunity:
    Ricky Walsh: [tries to wave down the trucks] Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
    Simon Gruber: Detective! [shows up, holding a briefcase] Bob Thompson. City Engineer's Office. [shakes Walsh's hand] We'd like to get an idea of the damage. [Mathias Targo jumps onto the driver's door of a passing dump truck behind him]
    Ricky Walsh: Man, you guys really got here fast! [He and Simon start walking]
    Simon Gruber: Well... it's Wall Street, sir. A lot of money here. A lot of opinion makers the mayor doesn't want to piss off, you know. Is this it? [sees what his bomb has done, and feigns shock] Holy Toledo! [lapses into Jeremy Irons' real accent] Somebody had fun! [turns to Walsh, as "Bob" again] I'd appreciate it if you'd show my associates the way down. [beat]
    Ricky Walsh: Yeah, yeah, sure.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Zeus.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Averted. Inspector Cobb is ordering his men to search the schools and challenges the FBI agents not to pull a jurisdictional stunt. The FBI agent has kids in one of the threatened schools, and he's more than happy to provide assistance.
  • Language Barrier: Between McClane and his German-speaking foes.
    Gang Member: Nicht schiessen!
    John McClane: [shoots him] What was that?
    Mathias Targo: [kicks McClane] He said "don't shoot".
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Zeus - being a civilian - doesn't have to follow McClane once they get to the bridge - as a matter of fact Zeus messes things up a little once on the ship, even after being told not to be the hero. There's absolutely no reason McClane (and definitely not Zeus) needed to go along to Canada at the end.
  • Made of Iron: Targo. McClane stabs a big sharp piece of metal into the guy's leg and it does nothing.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Zeus Carver, despite saving McClane from being beaten to a pulp by black men.note 
  • Mistaken for Racist: Simon's first attempt to get McClane killed is to get him to go to Harlem, a predominantly black neighborhood, and wear a sandwich board saying "I Hate Niggers". Unsurprisingly, he's nearly killed.
    • It should be noted that when they filmed this scene (in Harlem), the filmmakers did not make him wear a sign that said "I HATE NIGGERS". They had him wear one marked up for effects, then added that later, probably for the simple fact that the producers did not want to upset the Harlem residents. The "I HATE EVERYBODY" version was a simple addition when it was sold to networks; the edited for content version could theoretically use anything it wanted.
  • Motivational Lie: Realizing that Zeus won't help him if it's just one white dude blowing up some others, John tells him that one of Simon's bombs was found in a playground in a black neighborhood.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • McClane finds two of Simon's guys in a dump truck waiting to ambush him in the tunnel: "Hey, fellas! Mickey O'Brien, Aqueduct security! Hey listen, we've got a report of a guy coming through here, with, uh, eight reindeer!" *BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!*
    • At the beginning, another nod to the first film: in the first film, Hans Gruber and his crew arrived at Nakatomi in a Pacific Courier truck. In the opening of this movie, when the Bonwit Teller storefront blows up, you'll see an Atlantic Courier armored truck get thrown in the air and flipped over.
  • Near Villain Victory: Even closer then part 2 but only due to the fact Simon was after the gold and was only trying to kill John on the side, not really caring if he lived or died. He nearly gets away with his scheme, but one tiny slip up via the aspirin bottle cost him dearly.
  • The Nineties/Unintentional Period Piece: Payphones everywhere, the suggestion the bomber could set off a bomb with a beeper. The portable phone in the bomb briefcase was pretty cool for its time.
  • No OSHA Compliance: For the subway scene, the gratings over the subway tunnel are light enough to be lifted by a single man in a hurry. The glass window on the subway car shatters with a wild kick. (Of course not the one on the back of the train when John has to throw the bomb off.)
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Apparently, an electrician played by Samuel L. Jackson isn't magically better with guns than the average electrician. Entirely McClane's fault, since he only told him he needed to cock the gun and pull the trigger.
    Simon Gruber: [casually takes gun from Zeus] You forgot to take the safety catch off. [shoots Zeus in the leg] See, that works. Now where's McClane?
  • Outrun the Onrushing Wall of Water:
    • McClane does this with a dump truck in the tunnel after the dam is blown up.
    • Subverted: After being told that a bomb is in a garbage can by the phone booth, both Zeus and McClane try to push people aside and then dive to the ground; when no explosion happens, the terrorist's laughter reveals the joke.
    "I didn't say 'Simon Says'."
    • Later played straight with the exploding boat.
  • Pants Positive Safety: McClane puts his pistol in his waistband instead of in the shoulder holster he is wearing!
  • Pet the Dog: Simon orders a mook to let Zeus walk away twice.
  • Plot Armor: Now the armor extends to Zeus.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted, as the NYPD is shown as being very competent, as opposed to the LAPD.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Simon Gruber plays with this trope like a kitten does a ball of yarn. Although he comes from a family of former Nazis, he harbors no bigoted attitudes in particular. Still, he seems to delight in making people think he is bigoted, mostly because he thinks it's fun to anger people and/or fake them out. When first speaking to Zeus Carver, for example, Simon (who is German but can mimic American Accents quite well, and who knows that Zeus is an Angry Black Man because he's been watching him on hidden video cameras) says: "So whot's yowuh name, boy?" in twangy, Corrupt Hick fashion just to irritate Zeus; he then apologizes, explaining that he's fond of tasteless jokes. Later the trope is seemingly played straight when Simon calls John McClane a "dumb Irish flatfoot," but this is due not to anti-Irish sentiment but to Simon's general bitterness toward John for having killed his brother, Hans, in the first Die Hard movie. Simon admits that he didn't even like Hans, but he is still determined to exact vengeance on anyone who messes with his family, saying "There's a difference between not liking one's brother, and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him off a building."
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Say hello to your brother".
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Walter Cobb.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Although Michael Kamen returned to score this entry (the last one he'd do), the producers tracked in material he wrote for the first two films.
  • The Remnant: Simon Gruber's unit of East-German Special Forces who were trained to speak fluent English for infiltration operations and were disbanded after the Soviet Union fell.
  • Salt and Pepper: McClane is forced to partner up with Zeus, a black man with a none-too-fond opinion of white people.
  • Set Piece Puzzle: The "four gallons from a 3- and 5- gallon jug" variety.
  • Scary Black Man: Nicely averted despite the presence of a tough black character from the hood who's played by Samuel L Friggin Jackson. Zeus is a no-nonsense individual with the courage to get done what he needs to, but he's not particularly intimidating just by his looks or presence, even with a gun in his hand, as he handles it rather nervously as he's not experienced with firearms.
  • Short Lived Aerial Escape
  • Shout-Out: When McClane's running from a Giant Wall of Watery Doom in an aqueduct, the soundtrack drifts into a brief snippet of "Singin' in the Rain".
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: Invoked, they are used by the villain as a distraction technique.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: In the "You forgot to take the safety catch off" scene, Simon stands there looking bored and eating a boiled egg while Zeus holds him at gunpoint.
  • Speech Impediment: Simon has a stutter.
  • Spotting the Thread: McClane steps into the elevator down to the Federal Reserve's vault with a couple of Simon's henchmen who are posing as security guards, including one "Detective Otto". But as they are getting on, one of them gives himself away by referring to the elevator they are riding as a "lift" (British terminology) as well as mentioning a hard rainstorm as raining "like dogs and cats" (when an American would say it's raining "cats and dogs" - the order reversed). This leads McClane to then notice the badge Otto is wearing and catches the reflection of the badge number - 6991 - which causes him in a split second that the guy has killed Ricky Walsh and stolen his badge (McClane had remarked on Walsh's badge number in the van when Cobb and the other detectives were transporting him to Harlem for Simon's first game). He breaks the silence by asking them about last night's lottery numbers (a topic routinely discussed among the cops), and then....
  • Standard Snippet: '"When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (under the other title, "Ants Go Marching") is featured, which when used during the Federal Reserve heist, in particular that scene where Katya slashes a guard to death, makes it seem epic. Note the third film is the first actually set in New York, where John (McClane) is a police officer.
  • Stereotype Reaction Gag
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: Simon forces John and Zeus to solve several of these.
  • Stock Scream: The Wilhelm Scream is heard when McClane is driving through the park when he apparently nearly hits a mime.
  • Strapped to a Bomb: Happens to MacClane and Zeus.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: The terrorists claim they want John McLane to go to Yankee Stadium to collect a clue to stop the bomb that will blow up a school. In truth, there is a sniper at the stadium who will shoot him if he shows up.
  • Treasure Room: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where Uncle Sam keeps a lot of gold, almost all of it for other countries' central banks.
    Simon: Fort Knox — Ha! — is for tourists!
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: With an initially unsuspecting McClane sharing a small elevator with 4-5 guards, most of them significantly larger than himself. It gets bloody once he realizes they're Simon's henchmen.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: the truck driver reacts to McClane gunning down two terrorists with an understated "That guy dead?" Then again, this is New York...
  • Wham Line: After John asks the FBI what "Simon" and his group have to do with him.
    "The name 'Gruber' mean anything to you, Lieutenant?"
  • You Look Familiar: Anthony Peck appeared as a random L.A. cop ("Something about a double cross!") in the first film and and now reappears as NYPD detective Ricky Walsh.

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