The news that Len Wiseman and Bruce Willis are dragging one of the most iconic action heroes of all time back through the mud with Die Hard 6 is many things: shocking, yet not very shocking. Annoying, depressing, cynical, desperate… I could fill pages with adverse adjectives. The fact this new Die Hard is going to be a prequel, dating back to John McClane’s early days on the force, before Nakatomi and probably his marriage and, well, anything this character was built upon in the original is flat out nauseating to even imagine.
This shameful news isn’t anything new out of Hollywood, a place where dreams are brought to life, then systematically destroyed amidst a cloud of soulless apathy and disdain for the general public. I typically don’t give a damn when another sequel to or reboot of a franchise is announced; I get it. It’s about money, quantity over quality. But this is Die Hard, and this has gone too far. No, this already went too far in 2013, when Jai Courtney and a disinterested Bruce Willis blew up Russia in A Good Day to Die Hard. This… this isn’t too far, this is pure madness.
A prequel, aside from being a boring and pathetic idea in general, will finally, after all these years of pain, destroy everything fans of the early films hold dear about John McClane. It’s abhorrent on too many levels to count, but before I get into what has happened and what will happen, let’s remember the good ole days for a moment.
The original Die Hard is a modern American classic, one of the most complete and satisfying action pictures ever made. The story is taut and thrilling, even after thousands of viewings. Bruce Willis embodies the everyman of John McClane, a worker-bee New York cop thrust into an extraordinary circumstance. He defeats a team of terrorists, yet none of the incredible stunts and escapes McClane manages feel trite or void of logic. There is grit and a true sense of reality. When he leaps from the exploding rooftop, his life in the hands of a firehose, you feel his despair. When he pulls those shards of broken glass from his feet, you wince. Because he winces. He’s human, fallible, vulnerable. Willis captures the essence of a real human in the midst of a true battle to survive, and that’s what made John McClane so endearing. Audiences managed to connect with him on another level, a level missing from the bicep-fueled 80s action films of Sly and Arnie.
There are honest connections with McClane. Right before the terrorists seize control of Nakatomi, he has a fight with his estranged wife, Holly. They depart on a sour note, leaving John to lament at his childish behavior, wanting nothing more than to make amends. It’s that precise moment when the siege takes place, adding a certain personal, matrimonial element to John’s desire to get back to his wife. Then there is his relationship with Al Powell, primarily through walkie-talkies. Their rapport turns from utilitarian to personal, building even more realistic and three-dimensional characters. This John McClane was constructed with pathos and humanity. The scene in the bathroom, as John is pulling the broken glass from his bloody feet, is the culmination of three powerful relationships, as he tells his new friend everything he wants to tell Holly in case he doesn’t make it. Again, this John McClane actually fears he may not survive this ordeal; more importantly, his desperation reaches the audience.
Die Hard 2 was inevitable, and a little lighter with McClane. It had to be, given the absurdity of his situation – the same thing happening to the same guy twice. It’s my least favorite of the “original three,” but it’s still leaps and bounds above the latter films. For all it’s Renny Harlin hack-y gloss, there are still moments where McClane resembles the caring and vulnerable person from the original. Namely the plane crash scene, where his attempts to save the flight fail, leaving him quite literally a mess. Die Hard 2 doesn’t work as well as the original, but it’s still very much a John McClane story.
John McTiernan returned to direct Die Hard With A Vengeance, and the pure craftsmanship of one of the most forgotten action masterminds is on full display (forgotten mostly because of that whole jail thing, but let’s not bother with that). Die Hard With A Vengeance still has a grip on that McClane persona, and is an adventure film more than a pure shoot-em-up action flick. It works, and it works well, thanks in part to the addition of Samuel L. Jackson, not a comic relief but an actual human in a situation he never wanted to be in in the first place. Does that description of Jackson’s character sound familiar?
This is where Willis should have stopped, but he’s never been the best decision maker when it comes to film projects (Color of Night, anyone?). Willis did stop for a while, 12 years to be exact. Then, he decided to team up with the aforementioned Len Wiseman for Live Free or Die Hard. It’s also known as Die Hard 4.0, for all you cool techie kids. The story deals with cyber terrorism in 2007, which is incredibly dated already. This time around, McClane’s antics become less human. And he’s saddled with real comic relief this time, Justin Long, who’s main purpose is to point out how old and out of touch McClane is now. Because he likes Creedence, shit like that. Now, instead of thinking on his feet and barely scraping out of situations with ingenuity, instead of being driven by fear of death, John McClane has beer muscles. He takes on a fighter jet… with an 18 wheeler. In the city. And his one liners are no longer witty, they are painfully macho and stilted.
The worst thing to come out of Live Free or Die Hard was the box office success. It practically guaranteed a fifth entry, though that took six years. A Good Day to Die Hard is barely a John McClane movie. It’s barely a movie of any kind, with forgettable villains, poor editing, and Jai Courtney. Bruce Willis is there, and he tells us he’s John McClane, but he isn’t. This person is not a vulnerable cop, he’s invincible. He falls through buildings and flips cars and comes out unscathed. And, worst of all, he’s an asshole. Not a charming, sarcastic asshole to the bad guys, but a real prick. I mean, he punches a Russian civilian because he can’t understand him! Perhaps the biggest departure for the character. And he’s supposed to be saving his son, but he doesn’t give a shit about his son and seems generally annoyed with his presence. Probably because his son is Jai Courtney, and I can’t blame him on that.
All of the humanity, which was a bedrock of this icon, has been dissolved and replaced with a disinterested cyborg. What a piece of shit movie.
Which leads us to Die Hard 6. This will be a prequel, the early days of John McClane. Why? Why in the hell do we care about John McClane before he became the savior of Nakatomi? That IS John McClane! Prior to Nakatomi, John McClane was a pencil pushing New York cop, a “New York cop,” with “a six-month backlog on New York scumbags [he’s] still trying to put behind bars.” He’s T.J. Hooker, and maybe that’s interesting, but he won’t be played as such in Die Hard 6. Since this is still technically a Die Hard film, this late 70s John McClane will be forced into some extraordinary situation involving terrorists. It will be Bruce Willis bookending the story, telling us about that time way back when that he stopped the world from ending.
Which is why Die Hard 6 will destroy what last shred of John McClane fans like myself hold on to from the original films. Sure, it’s just a movie and it’s easy to mentally disregard this film. But it will exist, and discussions of Die Hard will have an asterisk called Die Hard 6. Excuse me… Die Hard: Year One. Fuck off! This film will upend the character, reshape the myth of McClane into something entirely different, which is worse than just gradually sending him off into asshole obscurity. Make it stop.