Next up, we've got my favorite hero of holiday mayhem.
John is in LA to visit his kids for Christmas. He's been kinda-sorta separated from his wife, Holly, ever since she took a promotion that moved her to LA from New York, and John stayed in his position with the NYPD. He's still pissed with her for giving him up in favor of a job and knows she's probably feeling exactly the same way about him, but he wants her back and is hoping the trip will give them the chance to reconcile.
John eavesdrops on them, finds out that (mini-spoiler) they're actually after the contents company's vault and their political posturing is a cover, signals the local police by throwing a corpse out the window onto the hood of a cop car, and finally stops the super-thieves from escaping in the helicopters included in their demands in a showdown on the roof.
What makes John special is how seriously outnumbered and outgunned he is at the beginning of that setup and how creative he has to get to compensate.
Die Hard arrived right on the tail of the '80s action movie equation of more guns + more muscles + more fire = better, and it takes a different technique.
John doesn't get to come into the action fully prepared, guns blazing. When things first go to hell, he doesn’t even have shoes on. There's a scene where the bad guys have him cornered, notice his shoelessness, and nearly catch him by shooting all the glass in the room onto the floor.
The John vs Hans conflict is a duel of wits that involves guns and explosives, rather than a simple duel of guns and explosives. John spends most of his time hiding from the bad guys until just the right moment, giving him time for radio conversations with both Hans and the police outside that don't happen under fire. In other words, he has time to be a person instead of a walking death machine, and that humanity carries over when the action does happen.
And there's no lack of action or suspense. I point to John trying to navigate between floors through the empty elevator shaft by using his gun as a rappelling anchor, or stealing the bad guys' C4 and tossing it down that same elevator shaft after them. And that's the simple stuff. Just because John doesn't start the game with all the cheat codes on doesn't mean he doesn't end up taking part in some spectacular crazy. The difference is that he's smart and human enough that when we in the audience start to think "no way, come on!", he's thinking it to. And lucky for us, he likes to think out loud.
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!