Written By Navoneel Sen (Grade 11)
What is an action movie? An action movie is a movie which mainly involves bloodshed and violence, with the protagonist being a hulky man (usually portrayed by musclebound actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne Johnson) who has got such superpowers that even though they are near to death, they will be saved one way or another. This principle of action movies is seen in the Rambo series and the Terminator series. However, this same principle was broken by a major hit in 1988, titled Die Hard, which was totally changed the principle of action movies. Directed by John McTiernan it stars an outstanding cast of Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bodelia, Reginald Vel Johnson, William Atherton, Alexander Gudonov, Clarence Gillyard and De’voreaux White. In fact, this was the movie that made Bruce Willis an action movie icon today (and his character in the movie John McClane is one of the most popular action heroes in history) and this movie proved that action movies don’t always require a musclebound hulk.
Firstly, the change of actors. Detective John McClane was portrayed as an everyman who lives a mundane life. However, it was not thought so. The role of John McClane, in fact, was given to the popular and most common hulks – Schwarzenegger and Stallone- both of whom turned down. Then they gave the western actors like Frank Sinatra, Harrison Ford, and Clint Eastwood a chance as John McTiernan initially planned the movie to be a regular action movie. When all of them turned down, Bruce Willis was the last option, they could find and after pleading Willis took up the role and gave a brilliant performance no one could forget. Now people might think that there is nothing new in casting Willis as McClane because he is an action movie hero. Well, back then, he was a comedy actor and he was actually nervous about doing an action film. In fact, it is Die Hard that made Willis what he is today. And Willis is also not a musclebound macho, thus making a perfect everyman. Hence, we can say that not all action movies require Stallone or Schwarzenegger, as this movie deals with real-life situations of an everyman when he stuck in a building during his holidays and tries to save the people (his wife in particular) in that building from eight terrorists.
Secondly, the film portrays John McClane as a reluctant hero – a hero who doesn’t want to be a hero. Here McClane is a detective and he is here to take a break from his heroic deeds and is here to spend a normal holiday during Christmas with his wife. However, due to the terrorist attack, he is forced to save his wife and the people in the tower once again (in fact in the second film when he has to do the same thing again in Christmas in an airport, he regrets that he will never have a normal Christmas). However, this is not the usual case in action films. In films like the Terminator series or the Rambo series, the heroes attach themselves to the villains intentionally, without any actual purpose. Hence, here is another point that not all heroes have to be like a hero – McClane is simply doing his own job and he wishes to have a normal holiday at least once in his life instead of fighting thugs.
Thirdly, every villain in the franchise is memorable (the fifth film being the worst one in the whole franchise does not count as most people forget that there is the fifth film). Die Hard was adapted into a film series, that was totally loved by most action film fans not only because of Bruce Willis’ outstanding performances as John McClane but also due to the outstanding performances of the villain actors. The late Alan Rickman debuted in his first-ever Hollywood film in Die Hard (later he would go on to play Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films) as Hans Gruber (one of the best villains in Hollywood history). Before Die Hard, he only acted in British local TV films and plays in local theatres (most of them were Elizabethan plays). But his first film was actually his best film, as he gave an outstanding performance as a spine chilling villain as Hans Gruber, despite the actor saying he was tremendously nervous and this was his worst performance. Then came William Sadler as Colonel Stuart in the second movie, who was memorable, although not that efficient. Then again with a comeback comes Jeremy Irons who portrays Simon Gruber in the third film, the elder brother of Hans Gruber who is planning a heist and also taking revenge on McClane for his brother’s death, just for stealing some bearer bonds. Then came Timothy Olyphant as a computer hacker, Thomas Gabriel who sabotages the whole of America and is probably the most confusing case for McClane as he doesn’t understand technology well. This is not the case in other action movies. In the Rambo series, we only know Sylvester Stallone as Rambo but do not remember the villains as such. This is a different case in Die Hard.
Fourthly, we see John McClane do something no action hero movie will do. HE CALLS FOR HELP! And that too from the police. When he first calls Al Powell, his voice sounds tensed. Now have you ever seen Stallone or Schwarzenegger call for help, that too from the police? The answer is a strict NO! But John McClane is different. He does stunts any common man could do. His only superpower is common sense. He was also comforted by Al Powell over his walkie talkie, thus easing the situation and the pressure over John McClane. This proved that John McClane is a totally different action hero who doesn’t like to meddle with complications, unlike Stallone or Schwarzenegger who actually form some kind of relationship with the villain and without any reason put themselves in danger). This makes John McClane the quintessential reluctant hero.
And lastly, this movie was an inspiration for the later movies and actors – Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne Johnson, and Tom Hiddleston acting in Cliffhanger, Skyscraper, and High-Rise respectively. Many movies copied Die Hard-except in different locations (Skyscraper and High-Rise however kept it in a building just like Die Hard). However, none of these movies have the same quality and beauty as Die Hard.
Thus, we can conclude by saying, not all action movies require hulky men who intentionally disturb the villain, and they don’t necessarily be a vain hero, in fact, they should be simple like John McClane who hate his heroism and in fact, regrets that he will never have a normal Christmas.
Featured Image Courtesy – IMDb