I have no doubt that when the rapture occurs, and we all end up in Heaven, there must be a special place for one John McClane. After all, a man who has endured so much in his life must certainly be up there among the best cinematic heroes of all time. The Die Hard series has, for so long now, been a staple part of action cinema fare that it’s almost impossible to remember a time before it. Since 1988, when John first blew up the Nakatomi Plaza building in downtown LA, with most of the incarcerated hostages still inside, audiences the world over have thronged to see the continued adventures of this one man band army of destruction. McClane has entered the popular vernacular. His trademark catch-cry, “Yippee Ki Yay, Motherf@cker” has pretty much been copyrighted by the series, and is associated immediately with imminent death and devastation.
The problem for McClane was that he was always a rogue. He was always the smart cop caught in a bad situation surrounded (usually) by idiots. Unlike other cinematic heroes like Rambo, and Arnie’s Commando, McClane was a human being first, action hero second. He bled, got tired, screwed up and made mistakes. He never had an answer for everything all the time; in fact, oftentimes he never really knew what he was doing. But he was just trying to make a difference. His everyman persona, portrayed by Bruce Willis in an almost cliche of himself, was what appealed to audiences across the globe.
Well, it would seem that as our major action stars approached middle age, and their respective mid-life crises, that it would soon be time to saddle up once more. Stallone had done so with Rocky and Rambo, Schwarzenegger had decided to go into politics, and Bruce Willis had done so many genre action/adventure/thriller pictures (as well as Signs and Unbreakable for Shayamalan) that he felt it was time to return after 12 years away to the character that he had made his name with. So, in 2007, Willis signed up for the fourth installment, Live Free Or Die Hard (AKA Die Hard 4.0). This time round, directed by Len Wiseman, who had previously filmed Underworld and it’s sequel, Willis would go up against one foe he had no chance of understanding: the cyberterrorist. Of course, the fact that McClane was obviously “too old for this shit” made for a lengthy series of jokes at his expense throughout the film. Paired up with another jokester, Justin Long (Dodgeball & Jeepers Creepers) as his sidekick, the film actually turned out better than people had expected, although there were some significant issues with the movie’s end result.
Live Free was an exercise in how not to make a Die Hard film: make sure McClane cannot swear too much (studio interference made sure this film received a PG rating, much lower than the R ratings the previous films were given) and you can’t be gratuitously gory violent, so keep things simple and all will be well. Problem is, that was like tearing out all McClane’s teeth and giving him a set of dentures. The film was a slick, clean cut version of a Die Hard movie, almost unworthy to bear the tag of Die Hard were it not for the fact that McClane was the main character and he almost says f**k a few times. Even the “yippee ki yay” line was fudged for younger audiences, losing out on so much valuable screen currency it ultimately neutred the effect overall.
The other major issue with Live Free was the abuse of logic by the scriptwriters. People fall from great heights and get up with nary a scratch. Massive explosions going off nearby, and people get up with nary a scratch. People leap from exploding helicopters and walk away with nary a scratch. Spare me; this film is as unrealistic and illogical as any you’ll see soon. Gone was the gritty realism embodied by the original films makers. Gone is the sense of action that saw audiences lap up McClane and his rough diamond approach. Nope, this is a souped up, CGI enhanced eunuch of a film, with about as much credibility as a hooker on a Harley. The final reel, with McClane driving a truck through a freeway, and then jumping onto a flying harrier jet, makes you throw popcorn at the screen and shout “this is NOT a Die Hard film!”.
What Live Free managed to become was merely another great action film, rather than a great Die Hard film. And that was the disappointing thing about it.
With this latest installment, you’d almost guarantee that with Die Hard 4.0, we’ve seen the back of John McClane. I for one am glad he’s gone out on top, rather than hanging around making sequel after sequel and gradually getting worse and worse. Plus Willis is getting a little long in the tooth for this kind of stuff.
Late Edit: I have added to this post the YouTube clip from guyznite.com their tribute to the Die Hard series of films. Please be aware that there is a Coarse Language Warning appropriate to this clip.