Why The MCU And Modern Action Stars Owe Bruce Willis, Big-Time

Where would we be without John McClane?
Why The MCU And Modern Action Stars Owe Bruce Willis, Big-Time

As pretty much everyone under the (tears of the) sun knows by now, Bruce Willis is officially retiring from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia, a “particularly devastating form of mental decay.” While this is truly sad news, it seems like everyone is taking this moment to celebrate Bruce’s long career in films ranging from The Sixth Sense to 12 Monkeys to the gloriously deranged Death Becomes Her

But of course, Bruce Willis will never not be the guy from Die Hard – and for good reason. Willis’ portrayal of John McClane in the 1988 blockbuster/holiday classic completely redefined the Hollywood action star, paving the way for countless imitators and providing the blockbuster hero template that others, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have used to generate an office building full of bearer bond’s worth of profits.

For starters, Willis proved that you didn’t have to be built like a linebacker to anchor an action movie; just look at some of the other popcorn flicks that came out in 1988, like Red Heat with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rambo III with Sylvester Stallone, and Bloodsport starring Jean-Claude Van Damme’s crotch muscles. Willis, on the other hand, was a last resort for the producers of Die Hard and at the time best known as that comedic wise-ass from TV’s Moonlighting.

When Willis showed up in Die Hard trailers, audiences actually laughed, and not in a good way. The studio was so embarrassed of their lead, posters didn’t include his image, making it seem as though Die Hard was the story of a sentient skyscraper having a nervous breakdown. 

But now this has become the norm for how studios select their action heroes; Marvel routinely casts funny dudes, like Paul Rudd, Kumail Nanjiani in heroic roles – with the caveat that they get appropriately jacked. And it’s not like Robert Downey Jr. was exactly considered a beefcake. Die Hard also set the tone for this new modern action hero; a scrappy regular person, who isn’t immune to getting their ass kicked, and is constantly making amusing quips. It’s hard to imagine Stallone or Schwarzenegger waxing nostalgically about old cowboy movies while facing off against armed mercenaries.

Or pausing in a cramped vent to remark about now knowing “what a TV dinner feels like.”

Making lighthearted jokes in the face of danger is pretty much the guiding principle for MCU heroes. Of course, combining comedy with action wasn’t entirely new; James Bond, for instance, similarly featured a wisecracking hero. But Bond is an indestructible sociopath, whereas John McClane, not only bleeds but is constantly grappling with the nuances of navigating adult relationships (and also his own pent-up sexual frustration). He is a flawed, very human character. How many action movies would pause everything just to let the hero pick glass out of his feet for 5 minutes while confessing his selfishness to a total stranger in case he doesn’t survive?

So while Bruce Willis may be sadly forced to bow out of the game, his influence will continue to make other people billions of dollars he’s not legally entitled to. Thanks for everything, Bruce.

You can donate HERE to Voices of Hope For Aphasia and “help individuals with aphasia rebuild their lives, reconnect with friends and family, and once again play an active role in their communities.”

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Top Image: 20th Century Studios

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