While I like origin stories, prequels tends to be a franchise’s surrender flag. They show that they can’t move the story forward, so they have to go backwards to take us to where we already know. Unless we began someplace mysterious, a prequel is more housekeeping than gripping narrative, tidying up what wasn’t that bothersome in the first place.
Last week, we got the disappointing news that Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman was pursuing a Die Hard prequel that would try to keep Bruce Willis on board, but take place primarily in 1979 and focus on John McClane as a gritty New York Cop. This prequel would then undermine the original, which is that John McClane is an ordinary guy who must overcome extraordinary circumstances.
I suppose five Die Hard movies have necessitated a prequel, but the character in his original incarnation never did. He wasn’t a superhero (something Wiseman clearly misunderstood as seen by McClane jumping along jet planes in Live Free or Die Hard), and spends a large chunk of the film trying to get outside help so that he doesn’t have to take on a group of armed terrorists on his own.
Like Wiseman, Willis clearly doesn’t understand the character’s initial appeal either. On the red carpet for Rock the Kasbah, he told ET:
“It’s a very good idea, a really tricky idea, and I’m very happy about it,” Willis shared. “It’s a really cool idea, because it’s the origin story. It’s gonna happen at the beginning of this. We’re going to bounce back and forth.”
Never mind that if John McClane already did something awesome in 1979, then he wouldn’t just be the “Nakatomi guy” from Die Hard II or anything else. John McClane is a regular guy, not a superhero, and doing an origin story that’s anything other than him busting street level criminals betrays the original movie. But I seriously doubt Wiseman, Willis, and co. care about anything more than making sure McClane farts out another “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.”