Jan 20, 2013


I am an Arnold Schwarzenegger enthusiast. I've seen literally every film he's ever made, even the early obscure titles like Stay Hungry and The Villain. I sat through the infamous torture that was Batman & Robin. I even went to see The Expendables simply because of the 1-2 minutes he actually appears. (The remaining 88 minutes was nothing more than a bonus at that point.) Lastly, I have probably seen Commando more times than a 70-year-old has celebrated their birthday.

So, is Arnold the "greatest actor in the world" that he, one day long ago, said he'd be?

Of course not.

But he did manage to become the biggest movie star instead, and that's just as good, if not better. When you get top billing in a Batman movie over the guy playing Batman (who happened to be George Clooney), you know you're in a good place.

Through titles like The Terminator and Predator, he not only secured his place in cinema history, but he became synonymous with the action genre. Soon he was able to write his own ticket, and his roles - and paychecks - became bigger and bigger.

Then he did the whole governor thing. For eight years, that was a thing. His future in movies seemed uncertain. Most assumed he would do what most other retired politicians did: write their memoirs (which he did) and then disappear into the background.

Think again.

His fun cameo alongside Bruce Willis in the first installment of the Stallone-spearheaded Expendables didn't scratch the itch of the legions of fans who yearned for his return to the big screen - it served instead only to tease. If you're an action fan, there is no denying that Arnold changed its face and turned it into the cartoonish, over-the-top collection of punchline spewers that still lives on today. And even if you're not an action genre fan, there's no denying that the greatness of films like Predator or the first two Terminators transcended that genre barrier and have become some of the most celebrated films - of any genre - of all time.

The concept of The Expendables was a fucking great one: a collection of our favorite action stars from yesteryear all kicking ass together. Though it worked better as a nostalgia piece than it did as an actual film, it proved one thing: audiences still cared about Stallone, Lundgren, and all the rest. (I'd be really curious to see how many people were driven to see it because of the much ballyhooed Arnold cameo.) If The Expendables was instrumental in proving to Arnold that audiences still desired old school action, then god bless it, because it may very well have led us to The Last Stand.

In the two Expendables films, Arnold's age shows. Boy howdy does it. He has a nice little paunch and some loose skin around his neck. And somehow after living in America for forty years, his accent is no less prevalent. One thing that remains, and will likely always remain, is his charisma. It is palpable. It is a living entity. And in The Last Stand, it remains ever in place.

Schwarzenegger plays aging sheriff Ray Owens, formerly of the Los Angeles narcotics division, before too much death and bloodshed forced him to leave it all behind for a quieter life. His life of solitude is disrupted by the FBI-evading, race-car-driving (seriously) drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez, who is intent on heading for the U.S./Mexico border...which will lead him right through Owens' town of Sommerton, Arizona. 

Needless to say, Arnold has no choice but to stop him.

With The Last Stand, the film wisely acknowledges that Arnold is old. A sheriff in a piss-ant town where nothing much happens is probably allowed to be. While the film never continuously elbows you in the side to make old jokes, the point is made all the same: Owens is older and slower than in his hey day. But he is still a force to be reckoned with.

The Last Stand is being sold as Arnold's return to action starring roles. That is why I and 100% of anyone who saw it went in the first place. This ultimately is the film's blessing and curse. Arnold is certainly the focus of the film, and he certainly kicks ass...but not right away. Though the film touches base with Arnold every so often during the first third of the film, the story focuses much more on the Forest Whitaker/FBI side of things...to the point that you begin to doubt all the marketing you may have seen: Arnold's face on the poster, his overwhelming presence in the trailers.

All I can say is...hang in there. It very much realizes that. It just wants to tease you.

In The Last Stand, we experience the birth of Arnold 2.0. He is aged, yes, and though the film is manic, violent, and very nearly a comic book, it wisely takes time to stop and allow our characters to show genuine emotion when things get tough. Arnold...acts. And you can see that he wants to. You can see he really wants to humanize Owens, as well he should, being that this is the first time Arnold has played your everyman. He's played a commando, a terminator, a special ops bad ass. He's battled clones, Batman, and the devil himself. But he's never played just a normal human being. In The Last Stand, he is, and for someone who idolizes Schwarzenegger's larger-than-life swagger, it's incredibly refreshing. In other words, Ray Owens has progressed the same way that John McClane should have: he's a simple man, aged not just by his years, but by the things he has seen and done, and he is in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when shit is fucked, he's not afraid to express his fears, doubts, and solemn sadness.


The ending sequence, in which Arnold squares off against the main baddie, is incredibly well done. There is no Commando-esque, guns-thrown-aside nonsense, because neither man has one. There's no exhibition of martial arts or impressive hand-to-hand combat. What we have are two men - one young and one old - beating the ever-loving shit out of each other. It is not in the least bit graceful, and contains not the least bit of technique. Instead, it is brutal, and animalistic, and to sound like a fifth grader, incredibly manly. It's about brute force and dominion, and neither opponent disappoints. (Arnold even removes his jacket before the fight commences, which, while admittedly cliche, is incredibly bad-ass.) It really was the perfect way to end the film, because in order for Owens to prove his honor, he had to suffer. He had to take his licks. And he had to take his prisoner alive. To simply blow the dude's head off would have been counter to what Owens, in his golden years, was trying to establish: that he still served a purpose; that he could take alive the man that even the FBI let slip through their fingers.

Mission accomplished.

End spoilers.

In Jee-woon Kim's first English production (following his acclaimed I Saw the Devil), he wisely chooses to shoot Schwarzenegger in the way he ought to be shot: eye level, with little aplomb. He's not a hero, after all - at least not yet - so Kim saves the close-ups for the steely lines that come when Owens realizes he is the only thing standing between a bloodthirsty criminal and the land of non-extradition. Kim lets several shots go on and on, capturing a massive amount of on-screen action in all directions, and he loves the red stuff, which always helps. One gag in particular involving a flare gun and one very dead bad guy is as ridiculous as it is incredible.

Most importantly, The Last Stand is just a hell of a lot of fun. Fun supporting work from Luis Guzman and even Johnny Knoxville infuse the ride with some easy comic relief. It allows you to be okay with blurting out joy when someone explodes on screen. Is The Last Stand the return-to-form for Arnold that we all wanted to see? It's hard to say. Arnold has managed to work in many different facets of the action genre - the gonzo (Commando), the thrilling (The Terminator), and the fantastic (End of Days) -  so it's hard to really pinpoint to which form he is supposed to be returning.

But I will say this: if we lived in Bizarro World and The End of Summer was a brand that actually carried some weight, the official pull quote would be:

"Arnold's best movie since True Lies."

As I write this, the box office numbers for Saturday are still being compiled. But based on the amount of folks in the audience at my showing (day two of release), I am a little hesitant to see them. I'm scared at the prospect of The Last Stand's opening box office take being incredibly underwhelming. I'm scared of it affecting all of Arnold's potential future projects. He's got two more in the can already, and for those I am equally as excited, but I sincerely hope this next phase of Arnold 2.0 will see great success for him - with audiences and the box office. 

No comments:

Post a Comment