Dying with your Boots on pt. 2
And here’s part 2 of my semi-exhaustive, but not really, examination of my favorite onscreen heroic deaths. I many go back later and do a most satisfying deaths, like when the villain dies, but we’ll see.
Until then, courage.
Quint – You all know who he is; you all know what he does. Quint’s a sharker by trade, and after surviving the catastrophic sinking of the USS Indianapolis where more men died in the water from shark attacks then Japanese fire, Quint has vowed that no shark will snack on him.
While he goes out on his boat to hunt and kill sharks in Jaws, he does it wearing two pieces of metal strapped to his chest. In the event he goes overboard, he’ll drown before a great white can finish him.
For all of his expertise, Quint is the last one to realize that the crew of the Orca is dealing with a shark that’s faster, stronger, and far smarter than anything else in the ocean. After the shark rams the boat, causing the ship to sink, the monster throws itself onto the vessel, making it tip, and forces Quint to slip into the unforgiving smile of the beast. As the shark bites down, a normal person would remark to themselves, “oh me, oh my, the lower half of my body is inside this brute.*”
*exact quote my differ from person to person, and may or may not use more “fucks” and “fuckin’ shits.”
Quint, knowing he’s not making it back to port this time, grabs a machete, and starts to hack away at the shark. Each swing powered by inhuman desperation while Quint slowly loses strength after every bite. The shark bites down with finality, ending Quint’s quest to avenge the doomed crew of the Indianapolis.
King Kong – Kong’s home is a jungle full of killer bugs, dinosaurs, and other unspeakable horrors. Now, he doesn’t just live there, he runs that shit. He’s the King. It’s only fitting that he goes out swinging.
Driven to the highest point in the urban sprawl of New York, Kong seeks refuge at the top of the Empire State Building, and learns a very important lesson about machine guns.
The planes flock at Kong, picking away at him. The tiny men in their frail bi-wings don’t deserve this. They don’t deserve to be the ones to rend this mighty king from his rightful throne. This honor should not be theirs, but Kong fights on, swatting planes from the sky, until finally the bullets find their home, ripping across his chest. Kong falls to his knees, his once powerful hands gripping the building, his fingers the only things keeping him from falling. Kong, refusing to let these little pink things claim his death, lets go of the roof, and plummets to the streets below.
Leon – “You’re indestructible! Bullets slide off you; you play with ’em.”
Leon’s the greatest cleaner in New York, and a major hitman on the world circuit. Sniper rifles are for amateurs and cowards. Leon gets close, handguns and knives are the tools of his trade.
But, we don’t ever actually see a lot of this badassness unfold on screen. At the beginning of the film, Leon is a ghost. A wraith that appears out of the shadows, and in the tradition of the finer horror and suspense movies, does most of his work off screen.
Until that final climax, we see more of the man in the hitman as he gets his world tu rned upside down. Leon used to only interacts with people when buying milk, getting a ticket for old Fred Astaire movies, and when talking to Tony, his contact/agent. His closest friend is a houseplant.
Enter Mathilda, the only survivor of a massacre orchestrated by crooked DEA agent, Stansfield, who goes to Leon for help. Now, the unstoppable killer finds himself toting around a 12 year old girl. Tragically, her obsession with avenging her murdered younger brother leads the crooked feds back to Leon’s apartment, and now, Leon has to die for the only thing that let him feel alive again.
SWAT members drop left and right. They’ve never had to deal with somebody like Leon. The police bring in more and more weapons, forcing Leon to have to bluff his way out. Disguised, he makes it outside until Agent Stansfield gets the drop on him, putting a bullet in Leon’s back. Lying there, Leon stares up at the man who killed him, and looks him in the eye.
“Th…this is for M-M-Mathilda,” he manages to sputter, and hands Stansfield something right before the life goes out of him.
Stansfield looks down at the grenade pin in his hand.
Buddy – Buddy comes to us from a little movie called Six-String Samurai. You have never heard a cooler movie title.
Further, you may never see a cooler movie. The dialogue is not the greatest, some of the earlier fight scenes, not even close to the best, and the kid sidekick, can be a little annoying.
And this is a big but.
The movie has the following going for it:
– It takes place in an alternate history where the Soviets nuked the US in the 1950’s, and then had a failed invasion.
– The US is stuck in the ‘50’s mentality, making the Samurai’s enemies look like club bowling teams, cannibalistic Cleaver families, forgotten Soviet army companies, and lost astronauts.
– The last free city in the US is ‘Lost Vegas’ whose King is the King, Elvis Presley.
– Our hero looks like Buddy Holly, complete with suit, and katana duct taped to the bottom of h is guitar.
– Buddy is on his way west to duel in a tournament to become Vegas’ new King.
– Buddy’s main enemy is Death himself, dressed like Slash from GNR.
– The final battle is a finger blistering shred fest on the guitars AND an epic sword fight.
To quote Chris Sims:
YOU ARE NOW FREAKING OUT.
Buddy manages to best Death on the six string throw down, and the sword fight, but only at great personal cost to himself. He stumbles forward, wounded, knowing that he’ll never make it to Vegas. Yet he beat Death, Death, in a guitar/sword showdown for control of his very soul. Who else could defeat him? He slumps down, knowing that he, for a few brief moments, is the King of Lost Vegas, before passing on his sword and guitar to another promising rock ‘n’ roll warrior.
The Iron Giant – The Giant is an enormous robot that fell from the sky, and judging by the small dent in his head suffered a bit of brain damage falling to Earth, leaving his personality somewhere between six-year-old boy and playful puppy.
However, when threatened, the Giant unknowingly reveals his true purpose, he is a weapon, the ultimate weapon. It is unknown if he landed on Earth by accident or sinister design, but the US government is not taking any chances, and dispatches troops, tanks, and jets, to bring down the Giant. Backed into a corner the Giant reverts to his baseline programming and kicks the living hell out of the army until he’s reminded of his friendship with Hogarth, the boy who befriended him. A nuclear missile is launched to take out the now docile and fully in control Giant. Faced with letting the people who tried to kill him destroy themselves, or to show what he’s learned here on Earth, he chooses to be a hero, and flies at the missile to intercept it. The Giant closes his eyes, whispers “Superman,” and proves himself more compassionate than most of humanity.
Wash – “I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.”
I debated putting this one on the list, because Wash didn’t die fighting, mostly because he wasn’t a fighter. He was however the best pilot in the whole gorram ‘verse, and, let’s face it, the man could wear a Hawaiian shirt.
The spaceship Serenity had a motley crew if there ever was one, and most were pretty damn handy in a fight, even the priest, Book, was handy with a gun, and courtesan, Inara, could wield a crazy future bow, but Wash was a lover and a flyer, not a fighter.
His death came suddenly. A spear fired from the Reavers’ ship ending him almost instantly. There was no tearful goodbye to his wife Zoe. No “go on without me.”
Which I think is why so many people had a problem with his death, but that’s how most deaths happen when Joss Whedon’s at the helm. They’re sudden, unexpected, and that’s why they hurt so much, because it feels like a betrayal from what we expect from our TV. Or maybe Whedon’s a heartless dick. I could go either way.
Wash died where he lived, in his pilot’s chair. His last act was to survive pursuit from one unstoppable fleet and lead them to another unstoppable fleet and run the gauntlet of missiles and bullets to get the people he loved to the surface of the lost planet Miranda. Which he did. His last act was doing the impossible.
Katsumoto – the Last Samurai is filled with people trying to die honorably. It seems anytime Americans get their hands on samurais the point is to show these weirdos trying to die with honor.
Katsumoto is, contrary to popular belief, the actual last samurai as he was born into the class, trained his whole life, led other samurais into battle, and was actually Japanese. So sorry, Cruise-san.
Rather than surrender their way of life, and let’s face it, extremely high status and power, the samurai under Katsumoto’s command decided to suit up for one last blaze of glory and take as many enemies down with them as they could. Katsumoto was born for this list. Have you ever seen someone so excited to die? Did you see the way his eyes lit up when Cruise’s Algren tells him the ending to the Thermopylae story, that they were wiped out to the man?
Unfortunately several waves of infantry, setting the ground on fire, and a cavalry charge wasn’t enough to the kill Katsumoto, and there was no way a warrior as skilled and proud as he was going to let some fat businessman kill him or let himself be executed by commoners.
That dog just won’t hunt. Katsumoto’s last request to his new friend from America is to stab him, so Katsumoto can die on the battlefield, in his armor, killed by a warrior, and not a bureaucrat or conscript.
Fairly gangster way to go out.
The Deserved Betters
There are quite a few badass characters who didn’t exactly go out as badasses. Here’s a short list of people who didn’t get the death their badass characters deserved. Badass.
Cyclops – Scott Summers is, on paper, not as cool as Wolverine. That’s a given. Wolverine’s character and powerset is visceral, and visual in the sense that him just having his claws out is very striking. However, in the right hands, Cyclops is the coolest motherfucker on Earth. With Grant Morrison or Joss Whedon writing him, the teacher’s pet becomes a ruthless field general. Xavier runs the school, but Cyclops tells the X-Men who to hit and how hard. He’s a master strategist, and thanks to a very unique education and upbringing, he’s the king of outside the box thinking.
This is not the Cyclops we were presented with in X-Men 3. He was never really given a fair shake in any of the movies, because they were all, let’s face it, about Wolverine. However his death in the third movie is so unbelievably bad. He dies offscreen, murdered by the woman he loves, and all that’s left is his visor. He doesn’t go down stopping Magneto or fighting for human rights. He doesn’t die in front of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, his life sacrificed in service of the dream.
No, he dies by a lake, and for what? To show that Jean’s nuts? Or maybe because he was in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which the director wanted to put another X-Men movie on the back burner until he finished that movie and the execs at Fox didn’t like that one bit?
(I do. It’s the second one.)
Apone – Basically the perfect marine sergeant, Apone was tough, mean, highly observant man that lived for the Corps. His job was to get a group of people together, turn them into the meanest sons of bitches in the universe, and unleash them on all of humanity’s enemies. His dream was probably to die with his plasma rifle in his hand on some distant rock, and have his legend pass into Marine Corps lore.
It didn’t work out that way.
During the first contact with the Xenomorphs in Aliens, Apone gets snatched and taken back to the hive. He doesn’t even kill the first couple that try to get him, and it’s barely on screen. He gets grabbed while Ripley and Gorman talk to him over the Marines’ APC’s crappy VHS feed.
The only mercy his people can offer him is he might get nerve gassed before a monster baby exits his chest at 90 mph. Apone, deserved to die a legend, not as nameless irradiated ash.
Billy Spirit – I realize that I write about the Predator franchise a lot. However, do any of you realize that Predator is nearly a perfect movie? I don’t mean in the sense that it does no wrong in terms of taste or anything, but as a movie, as a product, it’s nearly perfect. Every character has a clear objective: murder and don’t get murdered. Every character is distinct, even if the difference is just bad jokes or a different weapon. The acts are well-defined, and there’s little of the second act drag or dip. In fact, the only thing the movie does wrong, in my humble opinion, is that it leaves Billy, the badass Native America to die offscreen.
Let’s look at the facts. Billy has monotone and mirthless laugh. Under his M-16 is a shotgun. He has a giant ‘fuck you’ knife. He pulls said knife and drags it across his chest while he stands at the end of a bridge to fight the thing hunting them. Billy is no one’s prey.
And we hear him yelp from offscreen.
That’s bullshit. Don’t show me that knife and not show him at least cut the Predator with it. Let him weaken the hunter to give Arnold’s character, Dutch, a chance at fighting him, since Billy is clearly the second most badass member of the unit.
Oh Billy, we hardly knew you.
Posted on February 2, 2011, in Lists, Matt Loman, Movies, Pop Culture and tagged aliens, firefly, i am a leaf on the wind watch how i soar, Jaws, king kong, Predator, serenity, six-string samurai, the iron giant, the last samurai, the professional, x-men, x-men 3, x3. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.