VHS Revival wages war with two of the action genre’s ultimate bad asses
It’s a wholly ridiculous concept, but who hasn’t pondered a hypothetical battle between two of their favourite movie characters, particularly when they possess similar personalities and attributes? We have already had Freddy vs Jason and Alien vs Predator, and while those movies sucked beyond comprehension (in a good way, obviously), it didn’t stop us from flocking to the movies in our legions. Part of the reason why we fail to accept these crossover extravaganzas is that they answer questions that don’t need answering. Some things are best left to the imagination, and the fact is you can’t please everyone. For every Voorhees fan aching to see their boy decapitate Freddy with a blunt mallet, there’s a Krueger fanatic longing to see Jason squirm in his adversary’s ethereal dreamworld.
Instead of telling you how these imaginary battles should pan out, VHS Revival attempts to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each character, and though we will provide you with our hypothetical verdict, the decision is ultimately yours.
Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are two of the action genre’s high points, and each would go on to spawn a series of much loved sequels. Die Hard tells the story of John McClane, a no-nonsense New York cop who winds up trapped in the Nakatomi Plaza with a crew of well-oiled international criminals and is forced to become a one-man army as he looks to be reunited with his wife and kids in time for Christmas. Director John McTiernan’s claustrophobic extravaganza was extremely high-tech back in 1988, and the movie introduced a character who broke the mould at a time when musclebound invincibles were the marquee consensus.
Lethal Weapon is an odd couple buddy movie in the 48Hrs vein, one that announced Mel Gibson as a major Hollywood player following success in the Mad Max series. The original was a bloody, hard-edged affair directed with grandiose panache by Superman’s Richard Donner, Gibson’s blue-eyed charm and onscreen chemistry with long-suffering partner Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) elevating it above the competition.
Lethal Weapon would rely more on humour and camaraderie as the series progressed, introducing Joe Pesci’s delightfully insufferable Leo Getz and Rene Russo’s no-nonsense Lorna Cole, additions which kept the franchise fresh as it headed towards an action sitcom formula that saw us further invest in the family element. Die Hard initially gave us more of the same with Rennie Harlin’s Die Harder, before following Lethal Weapon‘s lead and adding Samuel L. Jackson to the fray, utilising the buddy cop mode and Pulp Fiction‘s popularity to dazzling effect, though later efforts would decrease in value.
Die Hard perhaps shades Lethal Weapon as a standalone movie, but thanks to a fourth movie that was many years too late and a fifth that had no place belonging to the franchise, Lethal Weapon proves to be the superior series, making this one about even.
McClane is an everyman, a person who wears his heart on his sleeve and who begrudgingly gets the job done. His earlier incarnation makes promises to God as he prepares to leap off exploding skyscrapers. He wisecracks his way through impossible predicaments with a wry, proletarian wit that makes him highly approachable – unless you’re a bad guy. He is aware of his deficiencies as a father and husband, but he is there when it counts. He can go toe-to-toe with the best of them thanks to his never-say-die attitude and determination to do the right thing. He is a persistent fly in the triple distilled ointment, and though later appearances were somewhat formulaic and starved of what made the character unique, the original trilogy is all the McClane we need to cherish him unconditionally.
Riggs shares some of his counterpart’s qualities but is by and large a different animal. He also uses humour as a motivator, and is just as relentless in bringing down the bad guys. Far from an everyman, Riggs is a semi-psychotic Vietnam vet who possesses superhuman combat skills. He is also one of the best marksmen in the world from long distance, a man who can stand up to electrocution to sprint along a highway with a giant semi-automatic weapon. On the negative side, Riggs is dependent on Murtaugh for stability, with a tendency to self-destruct when left to his own devices. When it comes to balls-out war, he is the man you want on your side, but he might lack the restraint to pick off a gang of terrorists without killing a few hostages along the way. You only have to look at his history with women to realise that Riggs is a dangerous guy to be around.
Verdict: McClane by a nose hair
Overcoming the Odds
McClane’s one-man crusade in the Nakatomi Plaza takes some beating, particularly when the well-drilled operation in question was spearheaded by slick European terrorist Hans Gruber, but he was somehow able to do that, a feat he would repeat seven years later when up against Gruber’s equally crafty brother as he raced around New York City diffusing bombs with Zeus Carver in a sadistic game of ‘Simon Says’. But perhaps McClane’s biggest single feat came during Die Hard 2 when he managed to pull the petrol cap off a moving plane, lighting the fuel trail and watching a whole army of bad guys go up in flames, while at the same time creating a makeshift runway for wife Holly’s plane to land on. Whether it’s swinging through skyscraper windows, falling down elevator shafts or escaping explosions in ejector seats, McClane is one hard nut to crack.
Quite impressive, but let’s not rule out Martin Riggs just yet. After all, this is a man who can escape a weighted sack at the bottom of the ocean by dislocating his own shoulder, using his jeep to tear down a stilted house along with a whole bunch of South African criminals, somehow managing to rescue friend Leo in the process. Even at the age of 42 when he was finally becoming too old for this shit, Riggs managed to take out an army of Triads via death-defying, high-speed chases, while electric shock treatment proves but a feather tickle to our relentless psychotic. Riggs is also able to overcome rabid dogs with nothing more than a panting tongue and a box of dog biscuits. I’d like to see McClane do that.
A Straight-Up Battle
McClane has guts; that much cannot be disputed. He may be as reluctant as the couch potatoes watching his heroics from the safety of their armchairs, but he gets the job done. The way he does it may not be pretty, and many of his greatest escapes began as ballsy potshots; he’s a chancer, but fortune favours the brave, and when it comes to McClane no one is braver, or indeed more reckless. His opponents are usually superior in a variety of different ways, but John has heart, and a lifetime watching cowboy movies has given him the will and determination to succeed.
Yippee ki yay, Mother****ers!
As for Riggs, he’s a badass, plain and simple. Highly skilled in mixed martial arts, he is one of the top marksmen in the world, and when he blows you don’t want to be anywhere near him. Riggs admits he would sleep with his gun under his pillow – if he slept. After all, who else can shoot a smiley face into a target or do a guy in Laos from a thousand yards out with a rifle shot in high winds? Maybe eight or even ten guys in the world by his estimation. After all, killing was the only thing he was ever good at.
Final Verdict: McClane
This was an extremely close call for VHS Revival. On the one hand, Riggs is highly skilled and nigh-on indestructible when he blows, making one-on-one battles a futile endeavour for anyone. That being said, he depends on his partner’s emotional support just a tad too much, and a series of superhuman feats by the all-too-human McClane gives him the victory by a fraction of a fraction. On another day, the result may have been quite different. Now over to you.