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by Pauli Poisuo
It’s time for the main event of the day! Today’s opponents are the two quintessential rogue cops in movies -- Detective Martin “Look, this mullet was fashionable in the 1980s” Riggs of the Lethal Weapon franchise, and John “Hey, at least you have enough hair for a convincing mullet” McClane of Die Hard fame. To find out who’s the better rogue, we’ll take a good, hard look at their characters, abilities and accomplishments ... and specifically, how they fare against each other.
In order to keep things as balanced as possible, we’ll treat both supercops as the best-known, best-received version of the character. For Riggs, this means that we’ll ignore Clayne Crawford’s version in Fox’s Lethal Weapon show. For John McClane, we’ll steer clear of ... everything that happens in the Die Hard franchise after the third movie, really. Otherwise, we’d be pitting a mustachioed man-baby against a functionally immortal demigod who takes care of his enemies by ramping cars into helicopters. Sure, this would be amusing as hell for the 3.7 seconds it would take God-mode McClane to pulverize Hipster Riggs, but it would also kind of defeat the point of this experiment.
Here we go!
Detective Lieutenant John McClane has a rogue streak a mile wide, but his ass-kickery is always of the “reluctant hero” variety. When thrown in the middle of a crisis, he’s all about survival: His own, that of his immediate family and associates, and ultimately everyone who’s currently tangled up in whatever disheveled terror plot he’s managed to stumble ass-backwards into. This makes him an extremely dangerous opponent who will literally walk barefoot on glass if that’s what it takes to survive long enough to steamroll his opponents.
“Damn you, Snape!”
The problem is that when the movie-worthy trouble actually goes away, so does McClane’s grit and energy. He starts the franchise as a sardonic everyman cop whose life skills are on the “wife and kids moved away” level. The events of Nakatomi Plaza have propelled him to hero status and national fame in the second movie, but by Die Hard With A Vengeance, he’s managed to do away with his fame, get kicked out of the force, and alienate his wife once again.. So, yeah. Not the most driven guy in the world. In fact, we suspect that if his life wasn’t constantly peppered with high-level crises, he’d be the useless chain-smoking borderline alcoholic he apparently is between the movies all the time.
On the other hand, Sergeant Martin Riggs is driven as hell, 24/7. He’s fueled by the tragic loss of his wife and a hefty scoop of PTSD from his time in Vietnam. The ensuing depression has turned him into a fearless death wish type who actively seeks out danger. He just happens to be so ridiculously good at what he does that he keeps not dying.
The Round Goes To ...
Though his mental state does get better as the franchise ambles along, Riggs is always an active operator as opposed to McClane’s reluctant “Oh, man, here we go again” reactionary motivation. Given the option, McClane would rather stay home and eat spiked pudding while watching porn. Riggs would jump off of a building and shoot six guys before he hit the ground, just for the adrenaline rush. And that is more than enough for Riggs to take this round.
“I wonder if I can make Nevada explode with just a single bullet.”
Being the literal lethal weapon of the movies, Riggs is a beast. Apart from his complete fearlessness in the face of mortal danger, he’s a former Army Special Forces operative who used to be an assassin for the CIA’s “Phoenix Project” in Vietnam. He knows how to use an unholy number of firearms, and his hand-to-hand combat skills are more than enough to defeat Special Ops Gary Busey in one of the most unrealistic police arrests in all of fiction:
Riggs is also a pretty nifty detective, even if LAPD had to install a revolving door for him because his antics keep getting him transferred and demoted. In other words, he’s the kind of guy your average rogue cop wouldn’t even dream of messing with.
Unfortunately for ol’ Marty, the only skill at John McClane’s disposal is the uncanny ability to face highly trained ex-military guys and hand them their asses. Whenever he leaves his apartment to buy cigarettes, he ends up fighting professional killers on the wing of a jet plane. And he’s really, really bad at losing. Even if he loses the hand-to-hand combat bit, he just lights said jet plane on fire.
The Round Goes To ...
Even though Riggs has far superior shooting skills, McClane edges him out with his sheer will to live. Yes, I’m aware that both men survived their franchises (SPOILER!), but McClane could fall into a pit of knives and walk out covered in glitter.
For a decidedly lone wolf, McClane has a knack for acquiring dependable help where needed. Sgt. Al Powell and Argyle the limo driver both pull their weight in the first film, to the point where Powell actually finishes the hitherto unkillable Karl and saves McClane’s life. Die Hard 2 has the surprisingly effective airport janitor, Marvin. And, of course, Die Hard With a Vengeance has Samuel L. Jackson. We don’t care that his Zeus Carver is technically the least physically intimidating Jackson character since the guy who gets eaten by a jumping shark in Deep Blue Sea. He and McClane make a great team. Besides, when you have Sam Jackson in your corner, you immediately have a 42% better chance of winning. Ask him to buy you a lottery ticket, you’ll see.
Riggs, on the other hand, has Roger Murtaugh. Neither is really a sidekick to the other. Instead, they are the yin-and-yang halves of the ultimate buddy cop team. McClane’s posse will come and go as situations fluctuate and crises get solved. Murtaugh is always there when needed, and together, they can deal with way bigger threats than they could separately. Remember how Lethal Weapon 4’s villain was Jet Li, playing his usual “quiet guy who can kick-murder 50 people at a moment’s notice” character? Riggs and Murtaugh totally took him down together, and Murtaugh actually landed the more damaging blows.
The Round Goes To ...
This one’s pretty obvious. If you have to call for backup, you don't want a sidekick. You want a reliable, badass, equal partner who can punch the bad guy until they evaporate like an old school Final Fantasy boss. Riggs takes this round.
The Coolest Scene
Oh, come on. Riggs doesn't even give us a choice: it's the rooftop jump scene from the first movie, obviously.
That scene has everything. It handily establishes Riggs’ borderline suicidal, gung-ho action hero character and his dynamic with the weary, by-the-books Murtaugh watching from below. It has the hero showing his own personality and outlook on life by way of casual danger dialogue with a fellow suicidal guy. It has one of the craziest life-saving maneuvers in movie history. Hell, it even has a random Santa Claus watching the proceedings, just because every single frame in this scene is lovingly carved to draw the maximum “Oh crap, this is awesome!” reaction from the audience.
McClaine's best scene is ... just … go watch Die Hard. Yes, the entire first movie. I’ll wait. In fact, I’ll watch it with you. It’s been three days since I last saw it, anyway.
The Round Goes To ...
McClane wins this round by a long shot. When every second of your camera time is spent out-badassing your last badass badassery ... man, that’s not even a choice. McClane gets it, hands down.
Martin Riggs specializes in dealing with complex criminal organizations that somehow keep having personal connections to him. The heroin smugglers in the first movie had a guy who served in the same troop as him. The South African diplomats in Lethal Weapon 2 actually killed his wife. In the third movie, it’s a rogue coworker selling weapons. Even the Chinese immigrant smuggling ring in Lethal Weapon 4 makes things personal as soon as they can by targeting his partner’s family.
Still, if you ignore the convoluted personal connections, he’s a guy who fights (and thwarts) organizations that are in the business of comparatively realistic crime. Foiling two different drug organizations, a dirty cop gun runner and a triad is certainly admirable, especially when you and your partner have to do it with basically no backup. But still ... isn’t that the sort of thing law enforcement agencies are supposed to do?
Given, usually not like this. I think.
John McClane deals exclusively in crime that’s straight out of a cartoon. In his universe, every single bad guy is a supervillain, and they approach their goals in the most convoluted way possible. A guy wants to steal a bunch of shit from a skyscraper? Hijack the whole skyscraper and tell the world it’s a terror attack! Another dude wants to free a political prisoner? Make nationwide news by plunging an entire airport into chaos! The first guy’s brother wants to pull off a giant gold heist? Why not terrorize all of New York while specifically pulling in the only man in the world who has proven to be an unstoppable one-man army who routinely stops plots like this!
The Round Goes To ...
McClane lives in a world of supervillains, except there’s no Batman to punch them out. There is only John McClane. And he’s more than enough to do the job. Put him in Riggs’situations, and it would just be a normal day on the job for him. Because of that, we have to give the round to McClane.
This is just how John McClane gets to the bathroom on a normal day.
JOHN MCCLANE beats MARTIN RIGGS 3-2
The actual winner is all of us, for immediately rewatching everything in both of these franchises after we’re done reading this article.
But seriously, it’s John McClane. Riggs is definitely stronger, better connected and more skilled, but ... well, that’s kind of the entire point of McClane’s character. Ol’ John is a loser who constantly fights people better than him yet survives. He single-handedly changed what we expect from action movies when he waltzed into the Stallone/Schwarzenegger-dominated scene with his grubby undershirt and constantly blinking stamina meter.
That “what the hell is wrong with the world” look we recognize so well.
If Riggs and McClane went one-on-one, it would be a spectacular fight ... but in the end, John McClane would stuff Riggs into a cannon that he made out of an old vacuum cleaner and a bomb that he found in an elevator shaft. Then shoot him directly into the sun.