Why Does Bald John McClane Annoy Me So Much?
Disclaimer I have yet to see A Good Day to Die Hard. It could be the best in series or it could not. It’s probably not.
Last week Deadgeek and I were having a
violent lively debate about the Die Hard sequels, specifically Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard.
I’m of the opinion that the third one is an exciting action thriller that does enough to justify it’s position in the franchise whereas the fourth is a mindless, messy Bruce Willis action vehicle. While I wanted to discuss the failings of the fourth (a nonsensical script, a weak villain, Kevin Smith) all I could blurt out was “…but he’s bald! He’s very, very bald!”
I’m painfully aware of how weak that argument is. The number of hairs on a protagonist’s head can’t possibly be a measure of quality so why is it always the first thing I think of?
I’ll say it now, controversial as it might sound, I don’t think Live free or Die Hard is very good film. I think it’s a serviceable action film but it feels like a product. A film by commitee. The script started as an original story called WW3.Com before it was opted by Fox and folded into the Die Hard franchise. Good for them, the got Bruce Willis. And while the third film came about in the same manner there is at least a concerted effort to present us with the same character.
I’m not saying Die Hard with a Vengeance is perfect but it feels like Die Hard and that’s because the man at the heart of it is the same man from the original and you can’t say that about Live Free.
In Die Hard McClane is utterly out gunned. He has his pistol and his wits and with them he trumps Hans Gruber and his merry band of European stereotypes. It takes every ounce of his initiative and leaves him a battered, bloody mess come the end credits.
By Die Hard with a Vengeance, yes he is surfing dump trucks and walking away from 60 foot falls but his character is in tact. He’s still a washout, he’s screwed up his marriage again, he quips and complains, he back talks his superiors and he figures stuff out.
Bald McClane doesn’t figure anything out.
Watch Live free or Die Hard again and name one instance where John McClane has to think his way out of a situation or contribute anything other than a gunshot to the plot. There aren’t any. He uses nothing but brawn and bullets to blast his way through the film. When any semblance of plot comes into play Justin Long pops up to take him by the hand and guide him through. Timothy Olyphant’s Gabriel smugly calls McClane an analogue clock in a digital age. This is good, we’re acknowledging that McClane is old and out of step with the hackers, but there is never any pay off to that slight. He never gets to outthink this guy who thinks he’s so clever. The climax has McClane chasing Gabriel, shrugging off a Jet, then shooting him. What happened to guy who called in an Ambulance to cut through the New York traffic or worked out why Wall Street was being targeted?
There is a titanic disconnect between the McClane of the original trilogy and this new 21st century model.
There is a moment just before McClane (literally) throws a car at a helicopter where he mumbles and complains to himself. The is fine and amusing but when it’s the only example it comes off as entirely perfunctory. Like someone suddenly remembered that John McClane sometimes grumbles to himself and mentioned it just before the cameras rolled.
So why blame the hair? Why do I fixate on the goddam hair? Well, it’s not just the hair, it’s the look. Maybe burned out, demoted McClane would keep his head neatly shaved and rock a Banana Republic leather jacket but I somehow doubt it. I’m feeling pretty cynical so I’ll come out and say it. Bruce Willis likes to shave his head and saunter around in leather jackets so now John McClane does and that’s the difference between the trilogy and the new Die Hard in Name Only franchise that we have. Willis isn’t playing a character, he’s playing Bruce Willis. Great, more power to him. But whereas Die Hard was once the ‘Ordinary Joe, Blue Collar’ antidote to the Rambos and Commandos of the eighties, it’s now become one of those Franchises.
Bruce Willis’ shiny Noggin is the visual representation of when Die Hard stopped being a fine action trilogy and became the rinse and repeat action equivalent of the Saw series.