A Sad Day To Die Hard: The Unfortunate Evolution Of John McClane

By February 16, 2013
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In 1988, Die Hard changed the game and shot Bruce Willis into action star status. His character John McClane stood out among the other action heroes in the sense that he truly was an average every man. Maybe even that decade’s Joe Sixpack. He was a smart mouthed tough guy who experienced fear and pain but still found the motivation to power through. In other words, he was relatable.

Here we are 25 years later, and the fifth installment of the series A Good Day To Die Hard has just hit theaters. This week, I took a day out of my life and dedicated it to sitting in a movie theater with other action film nerds and watched a marathon of all the Die Hard films in chronological order. Throughout the soda and popcorn fueled day, I repetitively heard a rumor that a there may just be a Die Hard 6 in the works already. That could be complete fiction, due to the utter crap that is John McClane’s latest outing (crazier things have happened). With all this said, I figured it is my duty as a movie lover (and an American!) to conduct a breakdown of the proverbial fall of one of the best action icons of the last three decades.

Die Hard (1988)
Director: John McTiernan

In Die Hard, we’re introduced to New York City police officer John McClane. He has an aversion to flying (so do I) and he’d never been in a limo (neither have I up until a few years ago). Right off the bat, we learn he’s a flawed man dealing with a flawed marriage and he only wants to do his best in fixing things. Because, come on! It’s Christmas! Well shit gets rather crazy in the process when the dashing and bearded Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) steps into the picture with his gang and takes the staff of Nakatomi Tower hostage. And who is a part of the hostages but John McClane’s wife Holly! OH NOES!

Out of frustration, anxiety and fear, the unwilling (and barefoot) John McClane is forced to step up and take down the terrorists by himself. Pain plays a huge part here as McClane has the unfortunate mishap of getting glass shards embedded in his feet, falls a bit down an elevator shaft, gets into multiple clumsily violent fights, and swings off the top of the building using a not so sturdy fire hose. But through the pain, he powers through and ultimately saves the day, and his marriage. Tough, funny and sincere, three qualities that made John McClane an instant fan favorite.

 

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Director: Renny Harlin

I hadn’t seen Die Hard 2 since its original 1990 theatrical run, so I was definitely looking forward to a refresher course. Besides the bit parts of pre-celebrity statused actors (Colm Meaney, Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo), this 2 1/2 hour film was pretty much as I remembered it: airplanes and explosions. It’s two years after the Nakatomi incident and John McClane is waiting at Dulles Airport for his wife’s plane to land when suddenly, his terrorist radar goes off. One quick bloody thing leads to another and McClane is once again on his own to save the world (or you know, the airport) from a nutso military dude, his crew, and a drug trafficking General played by none other than Franco Nero (The original Django!).

Fresh from A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Renny Harlin takes everything in this sequel, covers it in loads of cheese and blows everything up. And McClane’s now a fancy sort of cowboy! Dude can shoot bad guys while rolling around on the ground, he can survive deadly explosion after deadly explosion, including implementing the use of an ejector seat in a plane he finds himself stuck in while surrounded by what I believe was five grenades. And then…THEN, after he lands safely, he gets himself into a helicopter and jumps onto the wing of the plane containing all the bad guys and saves the damn day without having any real issues with balance or inertia. And how convenient the fire trail left by the carnage can now act as a landing guide for all the planes! HOW CONVENIENT! Yippie-kay-yay, mother…shut the hell up!

 

Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)
Director: John McTiernan

After a much needed bathroom break and popcorn refill, it was onto the next one and if I had my say, the last one in the series! If Die Hard is my favorite in the series, Die Hard With A Vengeance is a close second. John McTiernan returns to his rightful spot in the director’s chair here and this installment finds John McClane nursing a massive hangover while hunting down another crazy German terrorist. This is the first film in the series that takes McClane out of the solitary confinements of a building environment and throws him frantically into a city’s sprawl (New York).

It’s five years after the airport debacle and it turns out McClane’s marriage has not worked out, he’s on suspension and has become quite the drinker. THIS IS THE JOHN MCCLANE I LOVE! Flawed, tortured and on a downward spiral! WOOHOO!

Thrown into a cat and mouse game, of sorts, terrorist Simon (Jeremy Irons) continually threatens to blow up all sorts of things throughout the city unless McClane and unwilling partner Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) solve them in time. I still feel it was a smart thing to take John McClane out of the confined space that made the original film a hit. Recycling the same formula again and again is never good. And putting him in this “rat race” so to speak works. Fighting off a nasty hangover through the entire film, McClane once again takes it upon himself to get beaten, bloody and dragged through the mud. But alas, our intrepid heroes come through and kills Hans Gruber’s brother (spoiler?). Blah blah blah, catchphrase, blah blah blah.

 

Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)
Director: Len Wiseman

Twelve years. Twelve goddamn years! I thought we had some closure in the life and times of John McClane but I guess not! Still, Live Free Or Die Hard isn’t an awful movie. It’s just not a “Die Hard” film. First and foremost, the studios thought it was a smart move to inject a little youth into the franchise by adding a technofile hacker dude named Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) into the mix. That’s relatable to the kids, right!? Oh and let’s make this thing PG-13. Sure, why not!

Over a decade has gone by and the first thing we notice about John McClane is that he’s now bald and much thinner than he was in the previous three films. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about seeing a bloody McClane in a wife-beater, sporting some pudgy muscle and widow’s peak that makes me think, “I can be that guy!”. But now, not so much.

In this film, he teams up with Farrell to fight cyber terrorists lead by Thomas Gabrial (Timothy Olyphant). Shit, Olyphant is probably the best thing about this film. But don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Die Hard 4 as long as I continually tell myself it isn’t in fact a Die Hard movie.

But unfortunately, it is a Die Hard movie and that makes me sad. The flawed every man that was John McClane is gone. Shit fuck asshole cocksucker! In this PG-13 film, John McClane doesn’t swear, or smoke, or sport a hangover, or even really seem unwilling to be there! What we have here is a John Wayne/Superman hybrid of sorts.

Disagree with me? Okay, you explain to me how ANY man can survive jumping onto a jet fighter’s wing after escaping it in a big rig truck only to bound off and slide down a collapsing freeway to avoid a big firey ball of death and walk away with just a few scratches!

Oh and about the catchphrase… John McClane has become the catchphrase!

 

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)
Director: John Moore

After the fourth film ended, I needed to go for a walk. I was aware of the early reviews coming through for the newest film in the franchise and I really needed to clear my head and hope they weren’t true.

They were.

It pains me to say this but, A Good Day To Die Hard is a horrible movie.

John McClane has gone to Russia to track down his estranged son only to find himself in the middle of a CIA espionage story…or something. Hell, I can’t quite remember what the story was about because from the first ten minutes or so, John Moore decides to just bombard you with a stupid crazy car chase sequence to crazy action sequence to crazy action sequence and repeat and repeat! I barely remember there being any sort of real setup that made me care about anything happening on screen but my one hope was that the real John McClane will once again show up to kick ass.

He didn’t.

Who showed up in his place was SuperMcClane! No longer capable of fear, flawed, or exuding even an ounce of tagedy, this more grown up and wise father that McClane has become is just…boring and unrealistic. While constantly complaining about his vacation being ruined, he shows for the entire hour and a half how much better at fighting and shooting he is than his CIA trained son. Sure, why not?

But really, lacking any sort of sufficient back story and throwing the remnants of whatever foundation that made John McClane an action film icon out the window, A Good Day To Die Hard has hammered the proverbial nail in the coffin of the Die Hard franchise.

 

After twelve hours in the movie theater, I left thinking about those rumors I heard earlier in the day. If a Part 6 does happen, what will the stupid title be and how will McClane be reincarnated? At this point, the only thing that will get me to return to the theaters is if Det. McClane suffers from some medical procedure gone horribly wrong causing him to mutate into a giant super human like, say, Doctor Manhattan. Big, blue, bald…naked? Because, as unrealistic as that sounds, the concept is already way more entertaining than the newest film.

Okay, I’m done complaining.

Let’s all now take a moment of silence and reminisce…

 

…about the good times.

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.