Is Die Hard’s John McClane the American James Bond?

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Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 4 2012 6:30 PM

Is John McClane the American Bond?

A Good Day to Die Hard 1
John McClane in the A Good Day to Die Hard teaser

There’s a telling line at the end of the bombastic new teaser for the fifth Die Hard film, A Good Day to Die Hard. Bruce Willis, in character as series hero John McClane, describes himself, through the usual smirk, as the “007 of Plainfield, New Jersey.” Then the trailer cuts to two characters—presumably McClane and his son, though nothing’s easy to follow in this string of explosions—crashing through a glass roof to the rousing symbols of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” It’s quite a finish.

But is McClane the American Bond? It’s a clever bit of branding, certainly. By mentioning his Jersey roots the ad emphasizes the working-class everyman quality of the Die Hard protagonist, probably a shrewd marketing move in this economy. While Bond operates on suave charm acquired from upper-class training, wearing Omega watches and driving Aston Martins, Lotuses, and BMWs, McClane is the positioned as a no-nonsense American hero.

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But perhaps there is more to the idea. While Bond specializes in elegantly-phrased quips and sophisticated assassination techniques—throwing a henchman into a bath and tossing in a lamp, say—McClane yells “yippy kay yay, motherfucker!” and shoots the baddies through his own body. If Bond is the experienced, clever assassin, McClane is a Jersey cowboy, an everyman who gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time but survives due to pure grit. As far as I can tell, the Die Hard movies have never featured a Springsteen song, which, in hindsight, seems almost impossible. Instead, the signature Die Hard tune is the unlikely “Ode to Joy.” Recall, though, that this was first intended as a theme for Alan Rickman’s villain in the original, and it has a decidedly ironic resonance for the series.

Ironic or no, it has become the series theme, and in this teaser it serves a purpose not unlike that 007’s legendary music in any number of Bond promotions. The title of the latest McClane movie, A Good Day to Die Hard, likewise echoes Bond installments such as Die Another Day and Tomorrow Never Dies. Studio executives are surely hoping that Die Hard might have the longevity of the Bond franchise, which will soon encompass 23 movies. A Good Die to Die Hard expands the role of McClane’s son, John McClane Jr., played by Jai Courtney, with future lucrative sequels surely in mind.

Can Courtney step into Willis’s shoes—or follow in his footsteps, to use a more appropriate metaphor? We have our doubts. But even if the series fizzles out post-Willis, McClane has already become something like an American Bond. And we already know who to pick in any showdown between the two:

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