Just in time for the new Die Hard sequel, Live Free or Die Hard (or, as its called in the UK and elsewhere, Die Hard 4.0), my favorite film cynic, Guardian Unlimited columnist Joe Queenan, has given us a review of the first three movies. Rather than recap the actual plots of Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, though, Queenan focuses on reminding us of the deaths and damages of the franchise, most of which he claims would have gotten Bruce Willis's character in a lot of trouble, or at least mixed up in a lot of red tape. Of course, this is has been a joke about action movies for over twenty years now; plenty of parodies have knocked the fact that heroes cause more destruction than should be necessary. But Queenan points out one serious issue with the second Die Hard film that I had forgotten. Willis' John McClane pretty much causes the deaths of more than 230 innocent people, including passengers of a crashed jet plane, which is downed by a terrorist who doesn't like McClane's taunting.
As usual, Queenan is taking the movies too seriously (though I'm sure he doesn't really; its just for the story). The fact that McClane is an everybody who saves the day and faces no consequences is part of the fantasy of action films of the era. Critics have pondered the genre as everything from male empowerment following women's rights to individual empowerment following the failure of Vietnam and/or amidst an age of global threats, be they communist or terrorist. But basically action movies, and the Die Hard movies especially, are an all-of-the-above fantasy about what we'd all hope to be able to do if placed in the worst possible situation. Sure, they give a promise of implausible and impossible solutions, but I don't think many people have tried to single-handedly defeat hijackers or other bad guys because of what has been seen in the movies (I guess you could suggest the passengers on United 93, but that would be an honorable exception).
Queenan eventually concludes that the Die Hard movies are so forgivable because of American insurance policies and American prosperity. This thesis would make a decent film studies paper, and it is an interesting point about our acceptance of destruction in the movies, but neither this idea nor the genre's fantasy appeal defends McClane's direct, albeit inadvertent and accidental, effect on those 230 airline casualties. I'm distraught just thinking about it, and I may just have to rent Die Hard 2 to see if its actually true. If so, it could ruin my chances of enjoying another of McClane's adventures, which is sure to be filled with more reckless behavior and questionable decisions.