Die Hard: With a Vengeance ★★★★½

John McTiernan's "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is a fully engaging, quick-witted action thriller that makes good on the promise of McTiernan's progenitor while moving in a direction all its own. Once more throwing Bruce Willis's John McLane into the criminal breach, the film is a fast-paced contemporary epic that allows for character moments, cultural commentary, and spectacular set-pieces.

Taking place in New York City, "Die Hard With a Vengeance" eschews the wintry, holidaytide environs of the first two "Die Hard" films for summer in the city. It is during this summer that once and future reluctant hero, McLane, becomes caught up in a madman's plot to steal a GDP's worth of gold while blowing up half the city at the same time. Partnering with Samuel L. Jackson's mild-mannered Zeus, McLane finds himself the both a pawn in the criminal scheme and the chief force behind stopping it.

The narrative is full of interesting beats and profits from both its lead characters and a villain playing Simon says with the city of New York. Bringing the original trilogy back to its inception, the story reflects its roots but does more than recycle the first film's plot. The story is robust and plays its hero both as sardonic savior and weary sacrificial lamb. Its pervasive wit serves the enterprise well, allowing the film to comment on race and relationships in a wry and appealing manner while presenting a protagonist who is no longer the epitome of heroic vigor.

McTiernan builds a visual signature that celebrates the grit of New York. This is not the gleam of Nakatomi Plaza; it is a textured world of brick, lived-in urban architecture, and mud. If "Die Hard" reveled in an aesthetic of the new and cutting edge, "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is built on the look of the classic and seasoned. It is a compelling cinematic reflection of its leading man.

That leading man is played with put-upon magnetism by Willis. His portrayal fuels the film, giving it its personality. This personality, however, is elevated by Willis's interplay with Jackson's Zeus who is both a solid partner and ideal foil. The two bounce through McTiernan's plentiful action set-pieces with skill, but also provide the film its soul as two ill-matched allies.

The third "Die Hard" film offers as much fun and teeth-rattling action as the first two films but, happily, expands the formula present in the earlier films. Its hero lands at the end of a developed arc, its script is sharp and expansive, and its looks mirrors the film's themes. Its action is, of course, explosive. "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is an accomplished sequel and great action film.

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