I watched A Good Day to Die Hard yesterday and mourned my youth. Could it really have been 25 years since I first watched the cocky, foul-mouthed detective played by Bruce Willis squaring off with a bunch of immaculately attired German male models-cum-terrorists led by the brilliant, literature-quoting Alan Rickman?
I can't remember how many times I've seen the first Die Hard. Likewise the first Rocky movie, the first Rambo, First Blood, also the first Alien, with a statuesque, younger Sigourney Weaver in her underwear. She more recently played a self-caricature in the comedy Paul, about a foul-mouthed alien.
These franchises inevitably went downhill - perhaps not as steeply as Rocky, but still a disappointment. (OK, Aliens, the second in the series, was the exception). Perhaps this is a stand-in metaphor for America's power and promise, always delivered first with an impressive bang, until reality sinks in. First-time readers of the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence felt that bang too, until they learned more about the reality of empire.
The first films in these franchises got under your skin as they captured the zeitgeist. The late 1980s was a time of junk bonds, hostile takeovers, poison pills, Japan as No 1 economic rival, Wall Street greed and American paranoia. Sound familiar?
Die Hard cleverly turned those words and phrases into a script. The German terrorists did a literal hostile takeover of a Japanese corporation, which bought an iconic American building as its US headquarters and renamed it after itself. All was done with precision, except for the unexpected "poison pill" that was John McClane, played by Willis. Oh, and the Germans turned out to be robbers after the company's corporate bond certificates, presumably not junk as they were Japanese.
If the Pentagon is America's point of the sword, then Hollywood is its soft power base. Much has been made of soft power, even by China, which is trying to emulate US soft power.
But those franchises prove otherwise: Soft power is overrated. Sure, they made money, but they also invited ridicule.
The ultimate irony is that Hollywood's action movies are pirated favourites of young fighters from Hamas and Hezbollah.