I am nervous. In the next few weeks something epic will take place, an occurrence which could have a long-lasting impact on my life and could shatter everything I ever knew or hope to know. I, of course, am speaking of the release of the fifth Die Hard movie, “A Good Day to Die Hard.” What did you think I was talking about?
I am not a comic book geek. I’m not someone who is devoted to Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings and who watches and re-watches those movies to explore the “lessons” that can be learned from the walking and talking trees or to finally answer the age old question of whether Han Solo shot first. No, I am far more practical than that—fantasy stories and comic books are things of adolescence—John McClane and his heroism at the Nakatomi Building or at Dulles Airport; now those are practically guidebooks for survival.
For example: Lesson number 1: Never take off your shoes, just in case terrorists attack, you don’t want to be running around barefoot. Lesson number 2: Always have a cigarette lighter in your pocket, whether it is to illuminate an airshaft you happen to be crawling through or to set an airplane’s leaking gasoline trail on fire. Lesson number 3: Tying a brick of C-4 plastic explosives to a computer monitor (not a flat screen) and a secretary’s chair and dropping them down an elevator shaft will explode the first floors of a high-rise, but it won’t destroy the entire building. Lesson number 4: An icicle in the eye is better than a gun in your pocket.
At the ripe old age of 12 I saw the first “Die Hard” movie and I was hooked. Never before had pop culture seen a movie like this and for the next decade, movies were being made with the premise of being: “Die Hard” on a boat (“Under Siege); or “Die Hard” on a bus (“Speed”); or “Die Hard” in an airport (“Die Hard 2”).
But aside from the explosions and the action, the key ingredient that made Die Hard such a successful movie, was the character of John McClane played by Bruce Willis, then only known as Cybil Shepherd’s partner from “Moonlighting.” The thing that made Bruce (as I like to call him) such a successful hero in Die Hard was the fact that he was such an unlikely hero. He wasn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, those larger than life men amongst men with bulging biceps and a third grade vocabulary. Instead, John McClane was a guy’s guy- a smart-ass of medium build with a will to do what’s right. Weren’t you curious as to why Bruce spent the entire film in a white tank-top? To highlight the fact that he was a regular guy with regular muscles; it could have been anyone of us, which made his success so exciting and easy to root for.
Two years later, in 1990, Bruce and McClane were back in “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” and the formula was repeated. It was only a few years later from the events in the first movie and once again McClane is the “wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Which made his success, yet again, so improbable, but so exciting.
But then there was a break; there was time off from the John McClane adventures; and things somehow got off track. Because John McClane would not appear on screen again for another five years and by that time, Bruce Willis was a bona fide star, an action hero no less, and someone who had risen to be considered amongst the ranks of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger.
Between 1990 and 1995, Bruce starred in 13 movies, amongst them were: “Hudson Hawk,” “The Last Boyscout,” and “Striking Distance.” And what was the formula for all of those films? The underdog, most unlikely of heroes, saves the day. “The Last Boyscout” especially was a knock off of the Die Hard movies—“Die Hard” on a football field, maybe?
So by the time the third McClane installment was released in 1995, “Die Hard With A Vengeance,” Bruce had already solidified himself not only as a blockbuster star, but a star with a pattern; his films, while not interchangeable, had become formulaic. And “DHWAV” proved to be no different. Somehow, someway, John McClane changed from 1990 to 1995 so as to be nearly unidentifiable. Instead of it being John McClane in the movie, it was Joe Hallenbeck from “The Last Boyscout,” a drunk with a disastrous home life. In fact, the first appearance of McClane in “DHWAV” is him nursing a hangover, looking like crap, and pounding aspirin dry. This is not the John McClane from “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2.” Was this a function of the writing, the screenwriter seeing the success of Bruce’s previous films and trying to emulate the formula but changing the names? Or was this a function of Bruce simply forgetting how to act like McClane and instead slipping into a character that he had duplicated many times in the previous 5 years? Whatever the answer, the film, while enjoyable, had nowhere near the magic or excitement of its two predecessors.
By the time the fourth Die Hard film was released in 2007, a full 12 years after the third film, John McClane was just a name, no longer a persona or a fully developed character. After such films as “Last Man Standing,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Whole Nine Yards,” “Mercury Rising,” “Armageddon,” and “Tears of the Sun,” Bruce was so entrenched in his standard character that John McClane was a figment of a 12-year old’s imagination; a relic that was last seen nearly 20 years before.
On February 14, 2013, the fifth Die Hard film will be released. I am nervous. John McClane is not only my favorite character, but he is also an icon of a time now long since passed. The time when regular everyday guys stuck in frightening and dangerous situations could succeed and save the day despite all of the odds. A funny and telling line from the first Die Hard movie has McClane reporting to his LAPD confidante on the ground and, in describing the arsenal the terrorists had brought with them, he adds that they had enough plastic explosives to launch Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ironic, don’t you think? At the time, McClane was telling the world that he was just an everyday guy stuck in this situation, doing the best he can to save the day. And yet, just last year, Bruce shows up in the same movie with Schwarzenegger and Stallone (“The Expendables 2”) and he on even ground with them.
John McClane needs to be John McClane. He cannot be Harry Stamper or Joe Hollenbeck or Korben Dallas or Frank Moses. He needs to be John McClane. Because there is only one John McClane—and only he can get away with: “Yippee-kay-ay-mother…!”
Long live John McClane!