So, last month. Mekaela and I are doing our annual Christmas viewing of Die Hard, and we begin–not for the first time–talking about what a genderbent remake of the movie might look like. Not so much from a “let’s cast this” perspective (although, yeah, I’m gonna discuss that too), but more along the lines of “how does the story change if all the characters swapped genders?”
And I thought, Hey, Genderbent Wednesdays might be a kinda fun, very occasional feature on the blog. (Not that I’m absolutely committing, considering how Second Chance Tuesdays died a swift and lonely death, but still. I’d like to try it out.) So, here we are. On a Wednesday.
Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.
First, there will be ALL the SPOILERS. I feel like that should be sorta self-explanatory, and yet here we are. Also, for the purposes of this column, I’m only swapping genders and not sexualities–which is to say, if the character is a straight man, they will now be a straight woman. And while I would be 100% up for a remake where a grimy, blood-spattered Jane kisses the hell out of Holly, it’s not what I’m discussing here today.
Finally, this review only discusses characters on the gender binary; should I continue this feature and analyze a movie with trans and/or non-binary characters, I’ll have to reevaluate how I approach the gender swap. Any suggestions, questions, or concerns are welcomed and appreciated.
A CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Jane McClane (John McClane)
Holt McClane (Holly Gennaro McClane)
Hannah Gruber (Hans Gruber)
Ally Powell (Al Powell)
Ricki Thornberg (Richard Thornberg)
Diane T. Robinson (Dwayne T. Robinson)
Josephine Takagi (Joseph Takagi)
Special Agent Johnson # 1
Special Agent Johnson # 2
THE RAMBLING ESSAY PART:
I will give you a basic plot summary of Die Hard, but if you haven’t seen it, I’m assuming you’re under the age of 20 and your parents are terrible people.
Die Hard is the story of John McClane, a New York cop who goes to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife, Holly, and their two young children. Holly moved to LA when a big job opportunity opened up, but John stayed behind, unsupportive of his wife’s choices, particularly because he didn’t believe her job would pan out. He arrives at Nakatomi Plaza, hoping to reconcile, but before that can happen, Hans Gruber and his band of thieves/fake terrorists take over the building. With the cops and the FBI locked outside, and his wife as one of the 30 hostages inside, John alone must take out the bad guys and save his marriage, Christmas, and the day in general.
Right away, we’ve got stuff to work with.
Die Hard was made in the 1980’s when, presumably, Holly leaving her husband behind to focus on her own career was a pretty big deal. Swapping it so that the woman stays behind while her husband travels across the country for his career is basically the opposite of groundbreaking.
Except when it comes to the kids.
Now, Hollywood loves a Daddy Redemption Story. Sometimes, the dad is a total deadbeat loser, and sometimes he’s just a workaholic who must learn to make time for his children, but when applied to the action genre, it usually means that the dad will save the day, thus entirely making it up to his children for not being around much in the first place. Daddy Redemption Stories usually judge the father briefly, but ultimately we’re meant to sympathize with him, perhaps because the judging often comes from annoying, stereotypical sources: a bratty teenager, for example, or a shrill ex-wife.
What’s interesting to note here is that, despite the obvious setup, Die Hard surprisingly isn’t that story at all. The movie deals with John’s regret that he wasn’t a better, more supportive husband, sure, but it never actually focuses on his regret that he wasn’t a better father, perhaps because absolutely nobody judges him for not being there for his kids. The matter simply isn’t brought up.
Now, do me a favor and try to imagine that dynamic gender-swapped: Officer Jane McClane stays behind in New York–not because she has to, not because she’s legally or physically constrained from leaving, but because she chooses to stay behind–while Holt McClane and their two small children move across the country. Hold that image in your head for a moment, and then tell me you see that movie being made without it becoming a nonstop, 2 hour, 12 minute judgement on Jane being a selfish and terrible mother. Cause I’m struggling to see it, not when women are so often judged in movies for not wanting children at all (Jurassic World, anyone), much less letting their husbands move across the country with their kids, all because they didn’t have the foresight to believe in their man.
Realistically, I see this playing out in one of three ways:
A. Much like Jurassic World, everyone in this story–from Holt McClane to Ally Powell to Hannah Gruber herself–will somehow manage to get in a dig at Jane for not putting her children first. (UGH.)
B. Holt moves across the country alone, and Jane actually drops her kids off with Paul before she goes to Nakatomi Plaza. (Which is . . . okay, I guess, but seems narratively awkward. It’d be easier to leave them behind in NYC with a nanny or a grandparent or something, but that works less well at Christmas.)
C. We take the children out of the story entirely.
Honestly, Option C is probably my favorite of the bunch, although of course you would have to change the plots of both Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard, though I suspect not many people would actually complain about that. For the purposes of this movie, it mostly means that Hannah would have to discover that Jane and Holt are married by some other means than Scummy Ricki Thornberg threatening housekeeper Paul with ICE. But that might be for the best anyway, something we’ll discuss later on.
For now, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?
Jane McClane is on a plane. Not much here changes, except that it’s now an attractive, young, male flight attendant who smiles flirtatiously at her. It’s a super small moment that I’m mostly bringing up because I’m not really sure why it’s in Die Hard at all, unless it’s purely to convince us that John McClane Gets The Ladies, an action hero trope that seems considerably less frequent when that hero is a woman. I’m curious if audience members–those few, tragic souls who’ve never seen Die Hard–would watch this remake and initially assume that our twitterpated steward was a chief love interest who’d come back into the narrative at a later point. Thoughts?
Either way, Jane gets off the plane and meets her chauffeur for the day, Arlene. Plot-wise, I wouldn’t expect Arlene to change too much, although there’d have to be more masculine underwear in the front seat. Boxers or a speedo, I’m not sure, but I’m making an executive decision and ruling out tighty whities. My biggest concern here is that Hollywood wouldn’t be able to resist making Arlene a super-exagerrated Sassy Black Woman. Because I don’t trust Hollywood, nor should anyone.
Moving on. In the actual film, John arrives at at Nakatomi Plaza to discover that Holly is using her maiden name because she’s working for a conservative Japanese company, who might not understand/accept their unusual marital status. Obviously, we’ve hit another small snag because there really is no male equivalent of a “maiden name.” Of course, Holt could be one of those rare few men who change their surnames to match their wives, but honestly, I suspect relaying that information might be more effort than it’s really worth. Probably better to just find a new trigger for Jane’s indignation.
Meanwhile, Jane also meets Ella and Josephine Takagi, and while I don’t have much to say one way or another about Josephine, I find Ella potentially very interesting.
Ella is one of Holt’s coworkers. She obviously has a thing for Holt and is just as obviously jealous of Jane. That, in and of itself, isn’t particularly noteworthy for a female character, but Ella is also something of an obnoxious cokehead who gets herself killed when she tries to poorly negotiate with Jane on Hannah’s behalf. Basically, Ella’s a big skeeze, a scummy lawyer, a used car salesman, if you will, and while that might not the role some little girls dream of, it is very much the kind of role that’s dominated by men. And there are so many types of roles like that in this movie–both big parts and bit parts–that women so rarely have the opportunity to play.
Consider Jane McClane, for instance. Do we have a heroine like her on the big screen? I’d argue we don’t, not really. Which isn’t to say we haven’t had some awesome ladies in the action genre, but you’ve got to remember than John McClane wasn’t a household name in 1988; this was well before the character morphed into a Super Cop who could kill helicopters with cars. Hell, Bruce Willis wasn’t an even an action star yet; he was primarily known for Moonlighting, a comedy so rooted in its UST that every TV show for the next 30 years would invoke its name as a shield against actually advancing their romantic storylines in any meaningful way.
Jane McClane shouldn’t be a superhero. She shouldn’t be eight feet tall or proficient in sixteen types of martial arts or walk away from fights with only a graze to her arm or a tiny, perfect cut to her cheek. Jane McClane is just an ordinary New York cop–profane, temperamental, more than a little abrasive–who finds herself in some serious shit and fights desperately to stay alive. Most lady action heroes aren’t allowed to get so dirty, either figuratively or literally. Most lady action heroes don’t get to brawl or curse or dress dead bad guys up in Santa gear.
What I’m saying is that John McClane is just a bit of sociopath, and I demand Jane McClane gets to be likewise.
So, okay. Jane and Holt are reuniting. Holt puts himself out there, admits that he misses Jane and would like her to stay with him over Christmas. Jane, still upset about the whole [substitution for maiden name] thing, handles it poorly. They briefly fight before Holt returns to the Christmas party, and the bad guys take over Nakatomi. Before we get to them, though, the thing about this fight . . .
I’m not wild about it in a gender-flipped version of the story, primarily because it goes back to my first concern: Jane and Holt’s relationship is the opposite of groundbreaking. If Jane was just an asshole in this one fight, sure, I’d get that. Jane can be an asshole, and it adds emotional stakes to the film: not just “can I save all these people, including my husband” or even “am I going to survive this” but “am I going to survive this long enough to apologize to Holt.” That works for me.
The problem is that this fight is about the very nature of their relationship. Look at this dialogue:
Holt: I had an opportunity. I had to take it.
Jane: Right. No matter the consequences, what it did to our marriage–
Holt: It didn’t do anything to our marriage except maybe change your idea of what our marriage should be.
Jane: I don’t think you have a clue what my idea of our marriage should be–
Holt: I know exactly what your idea of our marriage should be.
I am deeply, 100% unenthused about a story that centers on a badass heroine spending two hours realizing that she’s been this domineering bitch who’s been sidelining her husband’s career for years and should’ve followed him across the country without question when he decided to move. Like, that just makes cringe so hard. That’s some reverse sexism, men’s rights bullshit right there, and I am not here for it.
So, yeah. Any genderbent version of Die Hard would have to change the source of Jane and Holt’s conflict to make this remake work for me. What I initially thought would be effective: dumping the “I didn’t believe in my husband” crap and turning Jane’s “I’m a New York cop” excuse into an actual reason. Like, a woman building a career in a male-dominated industry such as the police force? That’s not easy. Maybe she’s spent years working to gain the trust and respect of her coworkers, and she’s disinclined to have to start from scratch in a new city. Maybe there’s some specific bad guy she’s been working to take down and she refuses to leave without him in prison. I think this could add an interesting dimension to Die Hard; unfortunately, it probably doesn’t work as well in a remake where all the cops outside Nakatomi are all women, too. So, I’m open for suggestions.
Meanwhile, Hannah Gruber and the bad guys are taking over Nakatomi. And remember how I was just talking about parts women don’t usually get to play? Yeah, here we are again.
Sure, we’ve had female villains. They might even get to be the Big Bad, although that’s considerably less common; what is common is to have The One Girl in a group of bad guys: think Mystique in X-Men (specifically, the first one), Faora-Ul in Man of Steel, Ms. Perkins in John Wick, Maggie Q in Live Free or Die Hard, etc. But a full team of lady thieves, mercenaries, and hostage takers? An urbane head honcho and her extremely aggressive right hand woman and a lady hacker and, like, ten other women who get to fight and blow things up and shoot up shit? That’s exciting!
It’s also particularly unusual because, remember, these thieves are posing as terrorists. And this, actually, is my biggest concern with literally any Hollywood remake of Die Hard, because I strongly suspect that in this modern version, our bad guys would specifically pretend to be radical Islamic terrorists. Which, I’ve gotta say, strikes me as a pretty bad idea, even with a “fooled you!” twist. We need to see Muslim characters in Hollywood completely outside the context of terrorism; not to mention, it’d be useful to see the word “terrorism” actually associated with white people again. More WoC deserve big roles, but I’m not convinced that Hannah Gruber should be one of them. And if a white woman is cast as Hannah . . . what are we thinking? Should this be some kind of feigned domestic terrorism, say, Hannah demanding the release of some white pride assholes or something? Maybe some kind of non-Islamic religious extremism? It goes against every fiber of my Alan Rickman loving heart, but perhaps Hannah Gruber should be written as American.
So, possibly American Hannah (who absolutely must continue to wear and discuss mens’ fashions, because YES) kills Josephine Takagi, while Jane kills a few bad guys (notably Karla’s sister). Jane also repeatedly tries to alert the police of the situation. Enter Ally Powell.
Of maybe all the people in this movie, I suspect Al is the easiest character to genderbend. Ally’s primary role is to talk Jane through the action, be a supportive listener, that kind of thing. It’s not an unusual role for a woman to play, although there’s usually a guy on the other end of the line–and that’s exactly what makes this swap so interesting. Action movies that allow women to have or form new friendships is beyond uncommon. I’m not saying it’s never happened, of course, but I am saying the Bechdel Test was created for a reason and this is a genre that fails it pretty regularly. Jane and Ally talking about the FBI’s incompetency and tragic backstories and Twinkies? Give it to me now.
Ally’s most significant change, I think, is that without altering the character’s sexuality, she can’t have a pregnant wife at home. Of course, we could change her sexuality or drop that storyline altogether–as the word “storyline” is giving it way too much credit–but personally, I’m in favor of Ally just being pregnant herself. Outside of Fargo and, like, some first season episodes of Psych, you really don’t see a lot of pregnant cops, and I think it’d be pretty cool. (Although you’d probably have to make some alterations to how Jane convinces Ally to call for backup, but that might be for the best anyway. Because, like, Jesus Christ. Watch that clip above and tell me honestly you think Al Powell is still alive.) Honestly, I’m way more concerned about how Ally’s “I shot a kid” storyline would go over today; I don’t know how to fix it, but I suspect it can’t just resolve with Ally learning the Will to Kill again.
Also, sorry if I’m beating a dead horse here, but having One Girl Cop in the mix? Sure, no problem. Two? Well, maybe. But in this genderbent remake, basically every cop here is a woman, and that’s interesting. Is it flattering? Well, not really. On the upside, we’ve got Ally Powell and, I guess, that one cop with one line who later plays a totally different cop in Die Hard with a Vengeance. On the downside, we’ve got Diane T. Robinson (our suspicious and mildly incompetent Chief of Police), Special Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson (both wildly overconfident), and then the special forces team (one of whom manages to cut herself on local plant life). Generally speaking, I’m not wild about creating a mostly inept female police force, although it does bother me a little less here because they’re being foiled by women, not men.
Here’s something funny, though: as far as the actual action goes, I honestly don’t think that much changes. In film, we rarely get to see women drop C-4 down elevator shafts or get into super violent fight scenes where the hero hangs the villain by the neck, but there’s no real reason our lady action hero couldn’t do those things. (Men, don’t even start with me on some upper arm strength BS. Plenty of us have upper arm strength. Admittedly, I’m not one of them, but that does not negate the existence of other women.) Die Hard comes with a lot to analyze in the setup and a few things to discuss in the conclusion, but the greater majority of the plot really doesn’t change if you genderwap all the characters. You just get a lot of women in a rated-R action film, which, honestly, is just something I’d love to see more of.
Because of this, we’re just going to fast-forward to the final act. Jane defeats Karla in a brutal fight scene; meanwhile, Hannah has abducted Holt, whose shirt has spontaneously bust open for no real reason, except to reveal tits that he, of course, doesn’t have. Jane knocks out Kristoff, kills Eddie, and shoots Hannah out the window. Holt almost goes with her, but luckily, Jane saves the day. Hannah splats, and Holt allows super sweaty, grimy, and bloody Jane to kiss her, something I’ll allow due to passion of the moment, but *shudder.* (It’s the sweat, honestly, that gets me. There are those who find sweaty people super attractive, and I am definitely not one of them.) Then they exit the building into probably our last real discussion point: Holt punching Ricki Thornberg right in the face.
Remember how I said it might be a good idea if Hannah figured out that Jane and Holt were married for some reason other than watching Ricki’s interview? Yeah, this is why. Woman-on-woman violence, no problem. And I’ve got no particular beef with men vs. woman in brutal fight scenes, so long as both parties get serious hits in. But a standup guy outright punching an unarmed woman in the face, even if she’s a shitty person, is a lot harder to work with. I’d feel pretty uncomfortable watching that scene, and honestly, I’m not sure you need it. After all, it’s nice in the original because it gives our leading lady–and only plot-significant female character–some action, but come on. Straight dudes aren’t exactly short on representation when it comes to movies where they get to punch people. If Holt gets the opportunity to punch somebody, I’d definitely want it to be a dude.
And . . . well, I guess that’s it. Ally kills Karla, which is probably the most ridiculous thing in the whole movie, like Jesus Christ, the only person more dead than Karla is Hannah. (Kristoff would obviously be the best choice here, but I don’t love the idea, if only because–unlike Theo–Kristoff feels like the kind of character that the writer just forgot to kill off. And please don’t comment with a “Well, actually, Kristoff died because the actor who played Theo said so.” Cause no. Kristoff totally made it. No one in an action movie dies by simply getting knocked out with a gun, even if that could totally happen in real life. Give me a dead body, or you have nothing.)
Finally, Arlene busts out of the garage and drives Jane and Holt into their happy ending. Yay!
I’m not casting this whole movie because good God, but . . . I do have a few thoughts. Okay, more than a few.
Anybody actually making this movie would be tempted to cast someone super tall and probably already well known for the action genre, like Charlize Theron. And I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch that, cause, like, obviously? But other than my reluctance to fall into that trap where, like, only the same three actresses are considered for Badass Heroines, I’d just really prefer to see someone who doesn’t immediately scream Action Movie Star! to me. My initial instincts are leading me to Nicole Beharie, but I’m open to suggestions. (Other possibilities: Taraji P. Henson, Maggie Lawson, Sarah Shahi. Maybe Adrianne Palicki, too, although she’s certainly not lacking in height.)
Honestly, I’m not totally sure. I suspect someone likable, though. You know, charming. I’m visualizing John Cho at the moment, although that’s not unusual: I generally want to see John Cho in all the things. (I could also say Chris Pine, but that just feels way too obvious.)
Boy, these are some shoes to fill. These are epic sized shoes, people.
I feel like the obvious choice is Cate Blanchett, and I’m sure she could give a solid performance–clearly, she’s an amazing talent–but for some reason, the casting doesn’t totally excite me. Personally, I’m leaning towards either Lena Headey, who is basically magic and sorta did a similar role in Dredd, or Gillian Anderson, who I absolutely adore and would fucking love to see as a Big Bad. (Although, I realize I’m skewing to people with English and Australian accents, despite myself. Well, Gillian has both English and American, I guess, but I admit in my head she was using her British voice.)
I have visualized one actress and one actress alone in this role for years: Chandra Wilson. The only snag here is that Wilson is, I believe, 48 now, which–if I want Ally to be preggers–makes her a bit old for the role. OTOH, women in their 40’s are having babies all the time now, and if actors pushing 30 can play high schoolers, I don’t see why Wilson couldn’t pass for a few years younger.
I’m sure plenty of other actresses could do a great job with the role, but I’ve gotta say: Chandra Wilson would make me really, really happy.
I was thinking Freema Agyeman could fit this role pretty well. Especially since I haven’t seen her in anything since Sense8, and obviously, that needs to change.
Here, actually, is kind of where I want Charlize Theron, though I suspect she’s too big of a star to take a Villainous Right-Hand role. Alternatively, this could be the Badass Side Character with Actual Screen Time that Gwendoline Christie so desperately deserves.
I mean, Jessica Williams. Right? Don’t we all want this?
. . . can we just rename the character Gale Weathers and get Courtney Cox? I mean, come on, people. It’s the Scream/Die Hard crossover you never knew you wanted!
At the moment, I’m leaning towards Judy Greer, who’s a good addition to any cast and, I suspect, could make Ella work in a way other actresses might struggle with. But I’d love to hear other people’s suggestions.
Hm. Liza Lapira, maybe? Or possibly Rila Fukushima? My one and only requirement here is that Uli cannot be played by a fat actress. I would LOVE to see more fat actresses in action movies (or any genre, really), but I don’t want them playing the character who stops to break into the candy display. No one will ruin one of my favorite jokes in the whole movie with some fat-shaming bullshit.
Die Hard is one of my very favorite action movies of all time. It is my favorite Christmas movie, and it’s exactly the kind of movie I’d fear getting remade . . . but there’s a lot to recommend about a gender-swapped remake, too. I suspect what might work best is a remake that wasn’t completely gender-swapped, but definitely had a higher ratio of women to men. I definitely want to keep Jane, Ally, Hannah, and Karla at the very least. I’m torn on Holly/Holt, which means I’m torn on Ellis/Ella. I could go either way on a lot of the other characters, but it might be best if some of the cops were male, especially if we’re focusing on Jane’s identity as a female police officer.
As with all remakes, a literal scene-by-scene adaptation is probably not the right way to go, but sticking with the basic setup while including a few good homages? I could definitely be into it.