Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Always a Good Day to Die Hard

Alright, yeah, we're doing this again. I do not know why it is always so hard for me to maintain one of these. I've always plenty to say (probably too much as most people that encounter me on a daily basis would say), I've got the gumption to write my nonsense down (so no one will read it), I apparently just do not have the ability to create enough hours in the day to prioritize this against all the other shenanigans I use to burn my life hours away. Craft beer has become a rather large hobby of mine and I want to incorporate that more into my Internet brain dumps. Video games are still very much a thing and with a new console generation finally lumbering forward that should become something I can ramble on about. And, of course, there's still the comicy books.  Most recently, though, there's been the return of some Yippie-Kay-Yay action to the world and I do not think anything turns me into a ten-year old schoolgirl quicker than the words "Die Hard."

As most children of the 80's I imagine/hope did, I grew up believing John McClaine to be the quintessential action movie lead. The "grounding" of his character (as much as any big screen character can be grounded in these circumstances) is what really sealed him and that first movie as hallmarks of the genre. What becomes a story about terrorists and bearer bonds and bloodshed starts out from a story about a man trying to save his marriage which, I would have to imagine since I was seven when this movie originally hit, was an odd scenario at the least. I grew up on those action movies after the fact as well but they were always your usual merry go round of ripped special forces gents - martial arts skills optional - whose range of emotions went from straight lipped as they faced the villain's obstacles to "two millimeter smirk" as they impaled him with a pipe or whatever else was handy. Up until that point the most range that was really seen past the blood spatter were probably in the forms of John Rambo and Martin Riggs what with their anti-social behavior and PTSD. Of course, they were still special forces badasses and trained to kill everything in sight, which they did, but it was still a step forward. John McClaine, however, happened to be a literal and figurative leap ahead from their progress.

The "problem" with John, these days is that he has somewhat become one of those badasses. Much like after you first tour slogging through the shit and mud and getting into firefights like the Riggs, Rambos, and any character Schwarzenegger ever played did and survived, I would imagine you tend to learn something. John learned how to survive another day and grew enough to apparently save him marriage, albeit temporarily, and then he blew up an airplane. Then he drove around New York like a madman and blew up a helicopter. Then he blew up a helicopter, a jet, and had a bloody natural gas plant come down around him. Yeah, it's kind of become outrageous, stylish but outrageous, to the point where some of the old "Die Hard purists" have more or less called shenanigans on these newer installments as they've essentially become those actioners where the lead is a bad ass and knows it and is out to kill the bad guy in the most outlandish way possible. Much as I love the original Die Hard, much as I feel that it is indeed the top of the Action movie heap, I have become fine with this development because, a) I do enjoy myself the occasional over-the-top pile of explosions and gratuitous slow-mo as long as they are well executed piles of both and b) I still think the character is evolving on a personal and broader level, just not the nuanced version we've seen in the first three films.

More or less I am seeing this character evolve in essentially the way we all evolve as people; he's getting older. The first Die Hard presents us with a guy who was in his early-30's (I assume they were going with Willis' actual age, not the age that the character the book the movie evolved from was because I believe he was in his 40's and was trying to reunite with his daughter) and still figuring life out for himself. He had a very early stumble in his adult life with a marital separation which lead to kids he never sees, which leads to him having to do shit like shoot at Carl Winslow's patrol car as he digs deep into himself and improvises the hell out of his survival in the situation. Shitty and extreme as it was though, hanging Eurotrash by a chain and smashing their face into a cinder block wall is good life experience apparently as in the second movie we get a John McClaine who is significantly more confident. He's back with his wife and think he has that aspect of his life hammered down, until naked tai chi guy tries to mess this up for him by slamming his wife and a couple hundred other people into snowy tarmac. When this shit happens to the same guy twice, John is WAY more proactive than the guy who was hiding in air ducts and was sitting around as the LAPD put their RV out for rocket practice in the first movie. This is why the third movie comes as a shock (and is perfect in its approach) because we find this guy who we thought had it all together with the job and the wife and kids has apparently squandered all the good will killing three busloads of baddies earns you and is again separated from his wife and kids, is on suspension from his job, and has become a bit of a boozer. "Die Hard With a Vengeance" may as well read "Mid-Life Crisis With a Vengeance" because that is what is transpiring. He's had a setback - a pretty major one too when you having to stand in Harlem with a racial epitaph strapped to you - but as the movie progresses and John once again finds himself and his temporary partner Zeus scrambling across New York City for the right to keep almost getting blown up he begins to realize with the help of the angry black man that things are never too late to reconcile.

It's this type of progress that makes me able to bite on the adrenaline pieces these last two movies have become and how John approaches them and what is left of his personal life. No, he did no get Holly back but he realized he's survivor - both emotionally and my god physically - and he's content to go ahead. In the fourth flick he's putting his energy into getting his kids back and is starting with his daughter. And even though the logistics behind Timothy Olyphant's computer death plan are sketchy as hell as soon as you put some scrutiny to them, I appreciate that as a foil. What do you throw at the man who has had literally everything thrown at him by now? Technology and a fucking fighter jet, that's what. Tell you what, I love the man and think he is one of the smartest men I've encountered in my life, but after helping my seventy year old father with figuring out his new tablet the past couple of months I can indeed say that technology is evil incarnate for a guy like John McClaine, despite all that he's conquered so far. That's why I can buy into the extremes John is starting to go to when the bullets start flying and the "fire sale" goes off; it's what he knows and he's spent the last twenty-five years of his fifty-plus years of life facing it, knows immediately sometimes you just have to take things to the extreme to beat these assholes and he knows he's going to beat them. At this point of his life and career, it's just experience. This is what he does; this is the kind of confidence I know I hope to exude in twenty years once all the bullshit that is building up your life has passed and it comes down to living it.

And now we're down to John McClaine in Russia. I will say this, as far as all the beats I just described above go, I was completely into this latest installment. It's John doing what has become his life now and picking up one of the final pieces of his life as he goes to look in on his son who has found himself in a McClaine sized pile of shit in the  Motherland. The action is extreme, which I completely enjoyed, it really had good familial beats like the last one did, though sadly the plot wasn't quite as extravagant as the Die Hard standard had set twenty-five years ago. It's serviceable and works as a backdrop for the real plot of father-and-son shenanigans, but it's notable (mainly in the runtime) that this took the backseat to having the McClaine boys shoot a bunch of assholes. It worked for me though, particularly because I felt the action to be well-shot (sans a couple instances of way too slow slow-motion) and I still become a fourteen year old at a Bieber concert when I watch John McClaine ice some guy in an improbable way wearing his standard dirty and bloodied shirt and a smirk. If they do one more of these where John finally brings it all together and gets the last of the clan, Holly, back I think that would make for a fine arc. Either way though, I'm going to be there. John McClaine may now be more like his contemporaries than he was when he showed up at Nakatomi Plaza and turned the genre on its ear but he is still the most enjoyable action lead to watch even as his time is winding down.

So, yeah, all that happened. I don't know how often I plan to keep this up again this time, I just know it's something I never should have wavered on. Basically I need to get better at just talking about something for a couple paragraphs instead of feeling I need to wait until I have a bloody treatise in my head I need to get put down on "paper." We're approximately five and a half hours away from Sony looking to shape the next generation of consoles so I'm sure that'll get me back here relatively soon. Alright, that's that. Cheers...

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