Character Battles – Martin Riggs vs John McClane

Riggs and McClane

It is a wholly ridiculous concept, but who hasn’t pondered a hypothetical battle between two of their favourite movie stars, 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, 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 it seems, 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 is a Krueger fan craving to see Jason squirm in his adversary’s ethereal dreamworld.

For this reason, 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 although we will provide you with our hypothetical verdict, the decision is ultimately yours.


Character Battles #1 Martin Riggs vs John McClane


Movies

Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are unquestionably 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 into becoming a one-man army. Director John McTiernan’s claustrophobic extravaganza was extremely high-tech back in 1988, while the movie introduced a character who broke the mould at a time when musclebound heroes such as Arnie and Sly were the marquee consensus.

Lethal Weapon is an odd couple buddy movie in the 48Hrs. vein, and 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.

McClane-Riggs

Lethal Weapon would rely more on relatable humour and the camaraderie of its stars 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 which saw us further invest in the family element of the franchise. 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, although 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.


Verdict: Tie


Characters

McClane is an everyman, a person who wears his heart on his sleeve and who begrudgingly gets the job done. The 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, and proves that he can form a bond with most people. 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 although his 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.

John McClane

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 and 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. Just how many loved ones have been in jeopardy on his watch, by the way?


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 and savvy 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  – albeit with a little help from his friends – 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 creating a makeshift runway for wife Holly’s plane to land on in the same instance. Whether it’s swinging through skyscraper windows, falling down elevator shafts or escaping explosions in ejector seats, McClane is one hard nut to crack.

Die Hard McClane

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, while using his jeep to tear down a stilted house along with a whole bunch of South African criminals while somehow managing to rescue reluctant friend Leo instead of killing him, which can only be perceived as a minor miracle. Even at the age of 42, when he was finally becoming too old for this shit, he 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.


Verdict: McClane


A Straight-Up Battle

McClane has guts; that much cannot be disputed. He may initially be as unwilling as the couch potatoes watching his heroics from the safety of their own home, but he gets the job done. The way he does it may not be pretty, and much of his heroics appear to be potshots which somehow favour our perennial chancer. But as they say, fortune favours the brave, and when it comes to McClane, no one is braver, or indeed more reckless. His opponents may be more skilled in a plethora of different ways, but John has heart, and a lifetime watching cowboy movies has given him the dysfunctional will to succeed.

Riggs Lethal

As for Riggs, well, he’s just a total 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. If he slept, Riggs would sleep with his gun under his pillow. 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 wind? Maybe eight or even ten guys in the world by his estimation. After all, killing was the only thing he was ever good at.


Verdict: Riggs



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. 

Cedric Smarts




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