What makes a good action hero? Is it their strong, stoic side? Is it the ability for them to overcome any obstacle with ease? It is actually more than that. Ryan Lamble, an author at Den of Geeks, says in his article, The Problem with Invincible Action Heroes, “we want to see strengths we’d like for ourselves – the ability to fight, bravery, skill – but enough humanity to make them recognizable as one of us”, meaning that action heroes should display the heroic qualities that make them a hero but at the same time be relatable because they are human like us. Claudia Puig of the Los Angeles Times also says in her article, Here’s the real secret to being a great action hero, “It’s their humanity we respond to instinctively. They are who we would like to think we’d be if faced with unimaginable peril.” Just watching an action hero take down every enemy that challenges them with ease is just boring and sometimes, laughable. There has to be something that makes us want to be them.
An example of this is the famous Hollywood hero John McClane from the Die Hard series. John McClane was always portrayed as a reluctant hero. A reluctant hero is defined as an ordinary person with several faults who is pulled into the story or heroic act reluctantly. Even though he is a rugged and foul-mouthed detective he still wants to help people. Throughout the series, John McClane fights with his own personal problems such as his marriage and children while dealing with the villains as well. When he fails to save people from danger he breaks down emotionally. Even during the action scenes John McClane get’s shot and beaten to a pulp and stands up with tenacity even though “McClane is shown exhausted, pensive, frustrated and sore” (Lamble). “We may know in the back of our minds that victory will be theirs by the end credits, but that thought’s eclipsed by their unfolding crisis. It’s during this crisis that the hero’s vulnerability (or lack of it) comes to the fore” (Lamble) and John McClane clearly shows his vulnerable human sides during crises.
In the 5th installment of Die Hard, A Good Day to Die Hard, John Mcclane’s character and personality gets ripped apart. He is no longer the vulnerable, human hero that we saw in the previous 4 installments. He stopped caring about helping people and it is shown clearly when he punches a civilian just to take his car and create a path of destruction to chase down another car. We can no longer relate to him anymore and in our eyes he is just a despicable protagonist.
Lamble says “We can admire power and strength, but we can relate to vulnerability. This, I’d argue, is the vital element in any action movie” and it is something I agree with. We follow the action hero during an action movie. They are the ones who tell the story and we invest ourselves in them and if they are human like us, we end up loving and admiring them. “Viewers need to feel their personal struggle, sense something poetic and urgent — even desperate — about their being. At the same time, we must be convinced of their strength, courage and commitment” (Puig). Just having strength, courage, and commitment isn’t enough: we need to able to see our favorite action heroes at their emotional lows and highs Who are your favorite action hero and what is it about them that make them so relatable to you?