Rick Dixon writes from Cambridge: Let me get the obligatory Terminator catchphrase out of the way right up front – ‘He’s back!’ Now that I have observed the legal obligations regarding clichés when writing about a new Arnold Schwarzenegger film, we can begin…
The Last Stand has opened in the UK on January 25th and – ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-him’ novelty cameos in The Expendables series aside – it heralds Arnold’s return from politics to Hollywood as a headline star. Already released in the US, the film has received less than stellar reviews from high-brow critics but the blame cannot be laid at the feet of the former Governor of California.
The film is built on the type of rock-solid but gloriously retro over-the top premise that would not have been out of place nearly 30 years ago. Arnold plays an ageing small-town Sheriff relocated from Los Angeles looking for a quiet life in a sleepy Mexican border town after an elite Task Force under his command are all but wiped out in a bust gone badly wrong. However, as is always the case with movie bad-asses trying to leave their former life behind them, trouble soon catches up with them. Trouble in this case comes in the form of an escaped drug lord speeding towards the Mexican border in a souped-up sports car capable of hitting 200 mph, with a kidnapped Federal Agent in tow as insurance. All that stands between the escaped drug lord and freedom is Sheriff Arnold, his two small-town deputies, the ex-Force’s town drunk, and Johnny Knoxville as an eccentric madman who conveniently collects military weaponry.
A mixed bag of 80s action sensibilities and modern story-telling, The Last Stand hits the target more often than it misses – just.
It seems to be an annoying trend in modern action that the hero has to have an elaborate back story, an origin story or a long-winded introduction that needs to be established before we can get to what we have actually paid to see – action!
Contrast the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film with 2005’s Batman Begins. Batman 89 opens with a recently established Batman, fully-suited and striking fear into criminals – his motivation and backstory are briefly shown in flashback. Begins sets up several foreshadowing events and themes, Batman’s motivation, and takes us through his training and preparation. Each element of his costume and arsenal being assembled is shown, and the film is well over half-way through before we even see Batman in full costume applying the Bat-boot to criminal backsides! The Last Stand falls somewhat foul of this, suffering a little for it – we are ‘treated’ to a great deal of set-up – exploring Arnold’s past, current routine and establishing the secondary characters. The pedestrian start to the story could be attributed to a reflection of both Schwarzenegger and his character’s age – he’s not as spry as he used to be and this is sometimes acknowledged for comedy value – but the film could have done with being quicker off the grid.
The other major problem is Johnny Knoxville. Quite simply, you either enjoy his particular brand of ‘quirkiness’ or would rather eat worms than see him ‘act’. Pass the worms, please. And the ketchup.
So what works? As you’d expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the big man mostly carries the flick himself on those still-broad shoulders. Arnold has lost none of the charisma that made him a box office draw in the late 80s to early 90s. Ageing he may be, but he has not lost much of his physical presence – he projects an air of weathered and rugged power, like an old lion: slower but still deadly. Admittedly he’s much more reliant on firepower than fist power here but when Arnold does break out ‘The Guns’ to go man-to-man, it’s brutal and remains impressive.
If one thing really needs to work in an action film it’s the action and The Last Stand does not disappoint. This is not the beautifully choreographed but badly shot action of a modern Bourne or Batman movie. The fight scenes are clearly filmed and framed as they were in the action greats of the 80s and it doesn’t look as if the cameraman has decided to strap the camera to his shoulder and join in, as so often seems to be the case in modern film-making – every blow is seen and almost felt.
Only box office takings will tell if this is the Hollywood homecoming that Arnold hoped for. However based on his performance here, the younger generation of heroes don’t have it all their own way just yet – this will definitely not be Schwarzenegger’s Last Stand. Given that it has just been announced that Arnold will be involved with a 5th Terminator movie, I’m obligated to say it again – he’ll be back!