This weekend, Deadline announced that Die Hard 5 has a new director. Gee, that’s nice, but how about a new direction instead? Die Hard is actually one of those rare action movies that actually boasts a great sequel: Die Hard with a Vengeance. Some even claim that Die Hard 2: Die Harder has some fine points but frankly I just can’t see any of them. Maybe they’re hidden behind all the characters from the first film that were embarrassingly shoehorned into the sequel for no other reason than they were in the first one. No, seriously… why was William Atherton in Die Hard 2? And if he absolutely had to be there, then why was he simply thrown aboard the same airplane as Bonnie Bedelia in a coincidence as absurd as finding Elvis Presley alive and well, living in his old house this whole time with Andy Kaufman, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and just for the hell of it Adolf Hitler as roommates?
But then coincidence is the whole damned reason why the Die Hard franchise is broken. We have nothing but high hopes for Noam Murro, Die Hard 5’s new director. He’s directed some very nice commercial spots for the Halo franchise and even directed a character-based comedy called Smart People (which I’ve never seen nor had any particular desire to), so we know he’s not all about the spectacle… something Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman has yet to exert any energy to disprove. Noam Murro may just have the chops to tell the story of a proletarian everyman thrust by circumstance into an action-packed situation beyond his control only to persevere due to a fortuitous blend of luck, pluck and street smarts. The problem is that person is not John McClane… and it hasn’t been for some time.
Criticize Die Hard 2 and Live Free or Die Hard all you want – no, seriously… I do it all the time – but these two undeniably lesser sequels in the franchise at least had the insight necessary to comment on how ridiculous the franchise had become. John McClane had the introspective abilities necessary to say, “Oh man, I can’t f***ing believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same s*** happen to the same guy twice?” in Die Hard 2, and in Live Free or Die Hard he even took a moment to soliloquize about the ridiculous melodrama his life had become. Why is John McClane a hero? “Because there’s nobody else to do it right now. That’s why. Believe me, if there were somebody else to do it, I’d let them do it, but there’s not.” It’s a nice thought, but seriously, what are the odds that would nobody else would be able to do it four times…?
Here’s some advice: Let somebody else do it this time. John McClane was a revolutionary action hero when he debuted in the 1980’s because he wasn’t an action hero. Bruce Willis was a comedian at the time and John McClane was just a beat cop thrown out of his element. The second time he took down supervillainous bad guys you could write it off as a coincidence. It made John McClane seem like a poor bastard to whom poor bastard things gravitated like unoriginality to a typical action movie. We’ll even give Die Hard with a Vengeance a bit of a pass, since his involvement was entirely his own fault for killing Alan Rickman in the original film. Die Hard with a Vengeance was also clever enough to bring Samuel L. Jackson along for the ride, fulfilling the ‘everyman’ quota with a smart, capable, funny and distinctive character who like McClane in the original Die Hard was tested to his limits by mind-blowing circumstance only to prove himself and overcome personal obstacles by the end.
By Live Free or Die Hard, John McClane became a passive über-hero, sullenly accepting things like shooting a car into a helicopter as the sort of “Yup, Just Another Tuesday for Me” kind of thing that we’d usually reserve for Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. And not just any Arnold Schwarzenegger movies either… this is Last Action Hero Schwarzenegger, living a cliché while completely oblivious to its inherently ridiculous nature. Maybe Die Hard 5 will have a better screenplay, but by now John McClane is simply useless as a protagonist in any Die Hard film. He’s an action hero, whereas the Die Hard franchise was only distinctive as an action vehicle for an everyman. Live Free or Die Hard wasn’t all that bad as a generic genre movie but it wasn’t Die Hard either for that exact same reason. After four action-packed adventures, good or bad, John McClane just can’t pretend he’s a normal joe anymore.
Ongoing series and franchises do this a lot, actually. They take a character who was supposed to be a typical person and initially place them in a position to prove themselves worthy of greatness. But then they keep proving themselves over and over again in sequels and whatnot, and that whole ‘everyman’ quality is eventually thrown out the window. The hero is just too damned heroic to be a stand-in for the audience. Usually this results in some ‘brilliant’ writer hanging a lantern on the problem by declaring the hero a ‘Chosen One.’ Harry Potter fell victim to it, and even Spider-Man eventually found out that he was fated to become a great hero because of a Spider Totem or something. I don’t remember the details because it was stupid as all hell and eventually Marvel Comics simply pretended it never happened, which is pretty funny considering that first they turned it into an enormous event which they couldn’t shut up about for years.
The Die Hard franchise can be fixed. A reboot seems like the obvious choice, but as annoying as that usually is it would be even more nonsensical given the problem at hand. You can’t just recast somebody as a young John McClane and expect them to have the rooting interest Bruce Willis did in the original film. Audiences know John McClane is a badass. If you remade Die Hard he’d practically be prophesized to be a badass (there’s that ‘Chosen One’ business again). No, the solution is to continue the Die Hard franchise with a new character. It would be tricky to pull off, but no trickier than trying to make Die Hard 5 seem relevant with John McClane in the lead role.
So go back to your roots, Die Hard. Find a normal cop with normal problems – girlfriend trouble, kids who hate him, halitosis, take your pick – and put him in a slightly clever but otherwise typical action movie scenario for which he is completely unprepared. Cast outside of the typical Hollywood hero pool. Look, we all love Jason Statham too but his heroism is without question: so instead look to the comedies or at least lesser genre entries for some physically fit, likable yet still kind of dopey schmoe like John Krasinski or Jensen Ackles to fill the role. The selling point of the Die Hard movies was the idea of John McClane and the charisma of somebody like Bruce Willis, but unfortunately actually having Bruce Willis ruins the idea these days, so there’s no point anymore: you don’t have anything left to sell.
No, seriously… save the Die Hard franchise. After all, how can the same s*** happen to the same guy five times?!