I’ve been thinking (too much) lately about the first Die Hard movie. It’s a movie that dabbles in almost every cliche it can find, yet it manages to hold itself together. The end – the very ending, where every stereotype gets its comeuppance – is wrapped up as neat as a Christmas present, and John McClane saves the greatest gift of all for his new best buddy Sgt. Al Powell.
At the start of the movie, Al is unable to draw his gun, the equivalent of castration for an 80s action movie character. (The boring details – Al was on patrol, saw a kid with a toy gun, it was dark, he killed the innocent kid, Al’s scarred for life, blah blah blah.) Then came the raid on the Nakatomi Plaza – with lots of blood, death, and bureaucracy – but Al and John, even though they spend the entire movie apart (sort of a reverse Kirk-Spock a la Wrath of Khan), are able to cut through all that red tape to make a spiritual connection.
It is the strongest bond possible between two guys in a 1980s movie, an audio-only love connection featuring two star-crossed contestants on The Dating Game for supercops. And at the end, they recognize each other across a crowded room, and John gives Al back his mojo, in the form of his ability to shoot things. With Karl rising from the dead (perhaps it was his severe German stoicism that fooled the EMTs?), enormous assault rifle in hand, Al (in the film’s most uplifting moment) is able to whip it out and gun down another human being. Through his relationship with John, Al has reawakened his inner killer, and one can hope that this Aryan terrorist is just the first of many more deserving victims dispatched by the hand of the new and improved Al.
Unfortunately Al had only a minor role in Die Hard 2 and was absent from Die Hard with a Vengeance. By this time (an era we can refer to as the Urkel years), Al was obviously in need of another dose of John McClane. Seems you have to nuture your bloodlust, otherwise it comes with an expiration date.