Jul 19, 2013


From my post on Die Hard's 25th for The Guardian:—
'... Loner heroes and explosions are non-negotiable. In fact Die Hard owes it’s iconic status largely to the superimposition of the two. The sight of John McClane backlit by a massive fireball as he hurtles over the edge of Nakatomi plaza is as pure motion poetry. The Towering Inferno featured an all-star cast including Steve McQueen, Stephen Holden, Faye Dunaway and Fred Astaire all trapped inside a burning skyscraper. Die Hard wanted the spectacle without the job sharing. Hence the central running joke: one New York cop was all you needed to defeat a building full of blonde teutonic head-cases. John McClane thus marks the last development of the eighties action hero before he turned into the 1990s superhero. He is as superheroic as you can get without a cape. Instead, he has a white vest — that lasting testament to the continuity girl’s art. When we first see it is as pristine as a trans-Atlantic flight will allow, but over the course of the film, it grows ever more torn and besmirched, a visual record of all that he has braved, as McClane is shot at, punched and blown up. It thus marks an exact mid-point between the bare-chested heroism of Sylvester Stallone and the armor-plated, spandex-clad heroes that were to come.  In the Rambo and Rocky films, Stallone’s exposed flesh defines his masochism, his role as America’s punching bag, soaking up punishment on behalf of a nation traumatised by its loss in Vietnam. Loser could also be winners: that was the message of both Rocky and First Blood, less so of the sequels. 
As the eighties wore on, the sons and daughters of baby boomers soon tired of their parent’s geopolitical hang-ups.  Hans Gruber looks like a terrorist, but he and his blondilocks gang are really after money — a narrative sleight of hand and a nice joke at the expense of long-winded political thrillers like Day of the JackalIn place of Geopolitics? Pop culture.  “Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?” taunts Gruber. “Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually,” replies McClane before letting rip with his borrowed catch phrase.  This would increasingly become the norm as characters in movies established their regular-guy bona fides with audiences by means of their pop-culture savvy. Now it’s so widespread as to be commonplace: People in movies also go to the movies, and quote the movies, so much so that they sometimes threaten to go up a blaze of self-reference. McTiernan’s movie established a hero, and a tone, that proved wildly influential; Tarantino owes it a debt, as does Shane Black and the Iron Man franchise, although I would rule against allowing superheroes into the action movie paddock. The same for purebred sci-fi fantasy like Star Wars and Avatar. Genre is fungible, of course, but my top ten of the best action movies since Die Hard would look something like this:— 
1.   Terminator 2:  Judgment Day 
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 
3. The Matrix 
4. Casino Royale 
5. Speed 
6. The Fugitive 
7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 
8. The Bourne Ultimatum 
9. Minority Report 
10. Run, Lola, Run 


  1. I often enjoy reading this blog, but I just want to check: You do know, don't you, that the possessive form of the neuter pronoun does not contain an apostrophe, yes?