|February 23, 2015||Posted by Jess under Comics, Movies|
I’m sure there’s absolutely nothing on this blog that would tip you off to this fact, but I can be a bit of an obsessive completionist. One day I’ll wake up totally fixated on something, and find myself utterly preoccupied with it until I’ve devoured every bit of canon available to me.
Recently, and don’t ask me why, it’s been Die Hard. Now, I’d seen the first and fourth movies and liked them a lot, but suddenly1 I found myself needing to watch all of them, right now. SO I DID. Here are some thoughts:
The first and still the best. Much has been made of how great Die Hard is and what it is that makes it work so well, and I’m less interested in rehashing it here for its own sake than I am in looking at how the other movies either replicate or fail to replicate that. But, like, it’s so good. To narrow in on the key factors that get lost in later installments of the franchise:
a) The setting is so clearly laid out; you always know exactly where everyone is and how much time they have, and the contained environment helps to raise the stakes after every set piece, especially as entire floors start getting destroyed. The problem with replicating this going forward is that the “Die Hard in an X” formula gets tired, especially once other movies start doing it too (Air Force One, White House Down, etc.). They needed to find a way to limit the scope while making the stakes bigger than the first movie, and I’d argue that only Die Hard with a Vengeance manages this (until it really, really doesn’t, but we’ll get there).
b) John is just so endearingly human. He’s incredibly resourceful and ludicrously persistent, but it’s clear from the get-go that he desperately wishes there was someone else to deal with this nonsense – his first instinct is to call for help, not to charge in, guns a-blazing. He’s devastated when hostages are killed. And of course, he famously takes a lot of physical punishment throughout – the glass-in-the-feet scene in particular makes him both more human (because he’s so vulnerable) and more heroic (because he’s doing it anyway). He’s not a particularly pleasant person and he’s clearly in the wrong where his marital problems are concerned (P.S. ILU Holly), but he cares, and that, more than the sassy dialogue, is what makes us like him.
First off, A+ name.
This movie is enjoyable in terms of sheer silliness, but expanding it to “Die Hard in an airport” doesn’t really work. I think it’s because all the various settings of the airport feel like different places; there’s no sense of containment when John’s running around in the terminal, control tower, baggage conveyer bonzanza (I assume that’s what it’s called), basement, several different runways, and a church that isn’t even technically airport property – plus you’ve got all the scenes on the planes themselves, further disrupting any sense of continuity of place. Like, I laughed in sheer delight when things suddenly devolved into a random snowmobile race, but when you have enough room to race snowmobiles, you have too much room for a Die Hard movie.
Anyway, because the thing feels so big and messy, the stakes lose their impact. Like, you kind of know that Holly and all the other passengers might die, but you don’t really feel that threat. It doesn’t help that the villain is kind of nothing, and there’s no sense of him and John being locked in combat like in the first one. Or that the other law enforcement officials are unhelpful to the point of ludicrousness; like, at least the jerk cops and FBI agents in the first movie wanted to catch the bad guys.
That said, I absolutely loved the end, as ridiculous as it was. When John turns the spectacular explosion that stops the bad guys as a way to bring all the planes down safely? That’s the resourceful, heroic John McClane I want to see. Which brings me to…
Everyone says this is the second-best Die Hard movie, and for the first 80% of it, I absolutely agree. I may be a bit biased here, but I think the New York setting actually works better than the airport for creating that sense of containment and claustrophobia and rising stakes – but then, it’s my home. Zeus Carver’s store is a few blocks from my apartment; the subway scenes take place on my line. I was here in 1995 and I remember the New York that looked like this movie; I remember those subway cars and the lingering traces of grime from the 70s and 80s and God, that shot of the World Trade Center hit me hard.
But I think it works even if you’re not from around here, because John and Zeus love New York as much as I do. It shows in their knowledge of the city and in how they bicker over the fastest way to get downtown; it shows in Zeus, who has nothing to do with any of this, agreeing to help when he’s told Harlem’s at risk, and in John wringing himself out and reporting to work when a maniac threatens to blow up his home. “John McClane, LAPD” never felt right; finally getting to see John on his own turf feels like a well-earned payoff.
Tragically, the movie completely fails to stick the landing. The stakes are built beautifully: John’s in a flooding tunnel, Zeus is about to be shot at Yankee Stadium, there’s a giant bomb in a school that happens to be the school Zeus’s nephews attend and which the cops can’t evacuate, the bad guys are going to get away with the money…
And then they don’t shoot Zeus…just because, I guess?
And the cops evacuate the school, and we realize there was no threat there anyway because we know Simon’s not watching the school, he’s in a truck filled with gold. Sure, Zeus’s nephews are still in danger, but stakes-wise, several kids < a school full of kids, even if they’re kids we know. And the bomb turns out to be a fake anyway, so...there’s that. And all we’re left with is John and Zeus tied to a giant bomb, which we’re not that worried about because it’s freaking John McClane, and the money being stolen, which we don’t really care about because it’s not a person. The movie sets up all these great, thrilling stakes and then just tosses them away for absolutely no reason, and I found it SO FRUSTRATING. AND THEN John figures out exactly where the bad guys are in Canada, and GOES TO CANADA, where he has no jurisdiction, along with Zeus, who has no jurisdiction anywhere, to straight up murder some people. Like. I know the name of the movie, and I know the super-dark alternate ending where he tracks down Simon Gruber and kills him with a rocket launcher, but John McClane shouldn’t actually be about vengeance. He works when he’s protecting people, not when he’s gleefully slaughtering them. (Yes, A Good Day to Die Hard, we’ll get to you.) The titular vengeance should be Simon’s, not John’s.
Seriously. Such a disappointing ending.
Cards on the table: Live Free or Die Hard in no way feels like a Die Hard movie, and it’s unabashedly silly all the way through, but I LOVE IT. I love the relationship between grumpy old John McClane and whiny, terrified hacker Matt Farrell. I love how baffled he is by technology (covering the webcam doesn’t mute it, John, bless your bald little heart). I love that John’s a cranky old warhorse, but dammit, he still cares. (One of my favorite moments is when Matt admits that he thought this kind of anarchy would be cool and John snaps at him that it’s not cool, people are getting hurt, and they don’t have time for Matt’s nostalgia because it’s time to be grudging heroes, dammit! I love that when John McClane runs out of bullets, he straight-up throws a car at a helicopter. KABOOM! SO SILLY!
But mostly, I love Lucy McClane. I love how stubborn and pissy and bad at relationships she is and how she’s so smart and resilient under pressure. I want the whole franchise to be handed over to her. I want at least three movies where Mary Elizabeth Winstead has to crawl through air ducts in a dirty tank top to rescue Justin Long from robbers pretending to be terrorists. She has clearly proven that she is the McClane kid worthy of the torch, because the other option can be found in…
Yikes, you guys. Yikes. Like LFoDH, this doesn’t feel like a Die Hard movie in any way, mostly thanks to Russia being, like, super big and stuff, but that’s not its most pressing issue.
No, the main problem is that John and his son, CIA agent Jack McClane, are unpleasant, unrepentant sociopaths. The movie is far more interested in blowing up as many things as possible than in presenting a coherent storyline or engaging characters, so you get things like an interminable ten-minute chase sequence that climaxes with John coolly driving a truck over the tops of cars with innocent civilians in them, undoubtedly maiming many. Or the heroes somehow surviving jumping 20 stories and crashing through several levels of scaffolding, only to have John mock Jack for being badly injured (an injury that is forgotten in the next scene, of course).
Jack is given almost no personality. He resists his dad’s cowboy ways and insists on following a plan – but his plans are all terrible, and fail instantly. There’s never any explanation of how he went from the juvenile delinquent John remembers to CIA agent, or when he learned to speak Russian fluently, or why exactly he’s trying to free this political prisoner from Russia. We don’t even learn what the MacGuffin the characters are all chasing is about until two-thirds of the way into the movie.
I love the McClanes, so my heart really wants to give Jack a chance to exist as, like, a complete character with a compelling relationship with his father. But the movie did not deliver.2 It’s okay, Jack. You can cameo in Lucy’s adventures.
I told you I’m a completionist. There are eight issues of this Boom! series by Howard Chaykin and Stephen Thompson, broken into two four-issue stories. The first covers rookie cop John McClane’s adventures during the Bicentennial in 1976; the second covers his adventures as a newly-minted detective during the blackout of ‘77. It’s available as TPBs or on Comixology in single issues.
And, well…it’s fine? It’s certainly a better addition to the franchise than AGDtDH. But it feels like Chaykin was more interested in telling seedy 1970s NYC cop stories than anything to do with John McClane or Die Hard; John is just one of many characters in these rambling slices of life. Way too many characters, in fact; both stories introduce as many tawdry elements as possible but often they don’t actually pay off, and it’s hard to keep track of the various mooks and their elaborate schemes.
I enjoyed these comics, but I would’ve prefered a deeper look at who young John McClane was, and the people who helped make him that way, particularly his totally kickass Latina partner in the second arc. It does end on a very cute beat with him asking Holly on their first date, though she inexplicably has the wrong last name. Anyway, if the world needs more Die Hard comics, I’m totally willing to write them.
- Prooobably because I am also suddenly and inexplicably obsessed with Channing Tatum, and White House Down is basically an extremely excellent “Die Hard in the White House,” and I desperately want Lucy McClane and Emily Cale to team up. Like you do. ↩
- I didn’t even touch on the climax, where they go to CHERNOBYL, but you know it’s okay because John asks if the radiation will be a problem and Jack goes, “Nah.” That’s a CIA promise! ↩