After trying basically the same formula, but more violent, and a five year hiatus filmmakers went a different way for the third installment. Instead of John McClane being trapped in a building of some kind, he’s trapped in New York City, which can become kind of claustrophobic when travel is inhibited by a terror attack. This is also the first time we get to see John in his own city, so the fish out of water theme has pretty much been abandoned. Instead, the plot leans on John’s street smarts and knowledge of the city more than anything else, as he tracks down a terrorist who set off a bomb in a downtown department store and planted a bomb in an unidentified school somewhere in the city. While John has had a sort of sidekick in the past two films, they’ve most only helped him out with information or talked to him on the radio. This time he gets a literal sidekick in Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson), who is with him through most of the run time, and he acts as the sort of fish out of water this time, asking all the dumb questions so the audience can get some exposition. The plot of a villain sending the hero on a wild goose chase, forcing him to check in at various payphones around the city (remember those?) might seem really familiar—that’s because the same thing happened in the original Dirty Harry (1971). Additionally, this entry feels different that the first two film (it’s summer time, we’re forced to believe John went from the NYPD in the first one, to the LAPD in the second, and back to the NYPD, as if he’s transferring schools) because it wasn’t originally conceived as a Die Hard movie. According to moviehole.net, a script called “Simon Says” by Johnathan Hensleigh was originally written in the early ’90s on spec as a vehicle for Brandon Lee, who was, at the time, one of the most promising young action stars in Hollywood after starring in Rapid Fire, a low-budget action flick that didn’t do well with critics but was received quite positively at the box office. Tragically, Lee, the son of martial arts and film legend Brandon Lee, was killed on-set while performing a stunt involving a firearm during filming for The Crow (1993). The “Simon Says” script was back-burnered until it found its way to director John McTiernan, director of the original Die Hard, who thought it was perfect for a Die Hard sequel (McTiernan didn’t direct the first sequel because of clashes with producer Joel Silver) and got Willis on board.
Basically, the whole beginning of the movie (other than the fact that Zeus was originally written as a woman) is pretty much the same as “Simon Says,” with all the changes coming with the reveal of Simon as Hans Gruber’s brother and the fact that the terror plot is just a smokescreen for a robbery, just like big bro liked to do.
A little more trivia, McTiernan wanted Sean Connery to play Simon Gruber and Lawrence Fishburn to play Zeus. He couldn’t get either to sign up, but got Jeremy Irons and Samuel L. Jackson for the roles, respectively.
And for an extra bit of movie trivia—remember the whole plot to rob the federal reserve by causing an explosion in the nearby subway that would make every vibration-sensitive alarm in the area go nuts, forcing the banks to shut them off and reboot their systems? And then all the gold would be loaded onto dump trucks and spirited away via a nearby aquaduct that was under construction? Apparently, the idea was so spot on that the FBI actually questioned screenwriter Johnathan Hensleigh about the details, as it was a bit too spot on and plausible for their liking. On the BluRay commentary for the movie, Hensleigh says, “I said, ‘Well guys, the reason why I know what the vault looks like in the Federal Reserve is because they let us down there. They showed it to us. The reason why I know that a subway spur is very close to the vault and that you could actually tunnel through it is because they showed us the plans and the layout. And the reason why I know there is an aqueduct tunnel coming down through Manhattan that you can drives these trucks through is because I read about it in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. So I’m really not employed by Afghani terrorists. I really don’t have any kind of secret proprietary knowledge that I shouldn’t have.'”
So let’s see the guns:
Despite going from the NYPD to the LAPD and back to the NYPD in 1995, McClane still carries his Beretta 92FS in a leather shoulder holster—specifically a Galco harness system with a double magazine carrier opposite the holster.
Only this time, he actually keeps and uses the holster through most of the movie instead of stuffing the gun in his belt.
McClane has two spare magazines with him, and he reloads the pistol a few times on screen, but not nearly enough for the number of shots he fires, and he never picks up any new ammo or mags throughout the movie, which takes him all over the city and ends somewhere near the Canadian border.
When the terrorist, Simon, forces John to walk down a street in Harlem wearing a sandwich board with a racial slur written on it…naked…John pulls out a trick from his youth and duct tapes a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Model 10 to his back.
When he’s hit in the head with a bottle and doubles over, Zeus pulls the revolver from his back and defends him from a group of men on the street, not wanting a white cop to get killed in his neighborhood.
Just before the remarkable train crash scene in the subway, Zeus is confronted by a twitchy, nervous NYPD officer with a Glock 17, which had become one of the standard carry pistols for the department by 1995.
Zeus talks him out of shooting him by the pay phone bank, at least long enough for the train with a bomb on it to come crashing into the station.
Simon, the leader of the “terrorists” turns out to be Hans Gruber’s brother, who is getting revenge on McClane while executing his plan to steal millions in gold—a plot that is meant to be concealed by the fake terror attacks he carries out—much the way his brother used a terrorist hostage siege to cover up his theft of hundreds of millions in bearer bonds.
Simon uses a number of firearms, but is first seen with a Makarov PM in the bank, just after the subway explosion.
When John finally gets to the port and Simon’s ship, and what he thinks are the containers of stolen gold, he picks up a bad guy’s MAC-10 after a brutal hand-to-hand fight, though he doesn’t get to keep it for long before he’s captured by Simon and his men after discovering the bomb everyone has been looking for is in fact on the ship.
The audience also finds out that, instead of gold in the containers, it’s just scrap metal. Gruber blows up the ship letting authorities believe he sank the gold as a political statement. He actually diverted the gold to a warehouse to he could steal it for himself.
When assaulting the ship with John, Zeus picks up what is supposed to be a bad guy’s Heckler & Koch MP5K from John, which quickly shows him how to use it before they split up.
The gun is actually a Heckler & Koch SP80 fitted with the vertical MP5K foregrip and converted to full auto to pass as an MP5K. You can see there is no paddle magazine release, letting you know it’s not a real MP5. Converted SP89s are used by several of Simon’s henchmen.
At the climax of the film, McClane tracks Simon and his remaining men to a facility near the Canadian border. He ends up facing off against Simon in a helicopter, who is armed with an M60 machine gun, with only a S&W Model 10 snub-nosed revolver and only a couple good rounds.
Instead of shooting at the chopper, John fires at a nearby wire on a pole with the little revolver, which falls into the helicopter’s rotors, bringing it down in a fireball.
After a few quips with Zeus about how they beat the bad guys and how John really should call his wife who he left hanging on hold earlier, the film rolls credits.
The ending always felt kind of tacked on and a little too neat and clean. Also, there’s no reason whatsoever that Zeus—a civilian with a bullet wound to the shoulder—would be allowed to accompany McClane on the police helicopter to chase down Gruber—absolutely none. He’s only there to yell, “McClane!” and to panic when he gets trapped in the downed police helicopter by his seatbelt.
There’s a reason for this: there was actually an alternate ending to the movie that’s quite a bit different.
Originally, Simon gets away, leaving his terrorist buddies to take all the blame and the authorities believing the stolen gold is all at the bottom of the harbor. John even took a bit of the blame, saying the feds ultimately thought he was in on the robbery somehow and that he’d been fired from the NYPD, with his former captain fighting for him to keep his pension.
He discloses all this to Simon after tracking him to Europe and confronting him in a bar before forcing him to answer a series of riddles like the kind he made John answer during his terror spree—only this time there’s a catch.
Simon and John are actually playing Russian Roulette with a “Chinese” rocket launcher. While the launcher is completely fictional, it’s meant to be a knock-off of the single use LAW rocket, with the trigger being a button on top of the tube. However, the rocket launcher John brought has had all its markings removed, meaning neither man can tell which end will eject the backblast and which end will fire the rocket.
The launcher is on the table between them. Every time Simon guesses the answer to a riddle, he spins the launcher. If he gets on wrong he has to press the trigger.
You can watch the alternate ending above. Yes, they actually filmed it.
It’s obvious that, if it were a real rocket, no matter which end it comes out, both men would be blown to pieces along with most of the room and the wall, but there’s no explosion after the rocket is fired, so its plausible its a training rocket. Still, John is unfazed and definitely uninjured by the backblast coming straight at him, which in reality, even from a non-explosive training rocket would have left him with some serious burns and injuries, if not dead.
This ending is cool for another reason. Behind John we can see a decorated Christmas tree, and he has a line of dialogue where he says that after he’s done with Simon, he plans to spend Christmas with his kids. This provides a nice connection to the first two films and brings a bit of Christmas into the second Die Hard sequel.