What screams cheesy 80s action films more than Arnold Schwarzenegger? Arnie is the symbol of 80s action flicks, films like The Terminator, Commando and The Running Man are now known as definitive of the era. After a cameo in The Expendables that was so small it might as well of not been there at all, and a much more extended role in The Expendables 2, Arnie announced he was fully returning to acting. The Last Stand, directed by South Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-woon, is Arnold’s big comeback film, which is a shame considering that it was released on January 18th in the US, and has so far only made $11 million on a $30-45 million budget.
The film revolves around ageing small town sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger), as he is contacted by the FBI to tell him that a ruthless Mexican cartel boss, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), has escaped from federal custody while being moved to death row. Owens and a small group of helpers get together all the firepower they can get to stop Cortez.
That’s about as much as you need to know plot-wise, but you wouldn’t think it the way the first half of the film keeps banging on trying to make you sympathise with the characters and taking itself way too seriously. In fact, Forest Whitaker and the FBI have more of a focus than Arnold does, which is probably the biggest mistake you can make in an Arnold film. Thankfully, though, after the slow first half, The Last Stand really picks up and delivers what it promised by the truckload: unadulterated, no-holds-barred, gory, over the top, ass-kicking action. No wimpy PG-13 rating like Die Hard 4.0. The film is really worth seeing just for this second half, which features almost no plot developments at all, and doesn’t need them in the slightest. It’s pretty much just non-stop bad-ass Arnold shooting bad guys in the face.
However, even these parts have their problems. The villain is arguably the film’s biggest issue. He’s terrible. He’s not likeable (I know he’s a bad guy but still), he’s not memorable, and he’s way too underplayed. Look at the other Arnie villains. Let’s take Bennett from Commando. From his deceleration that he is, in fact, not dead like Arnie thought, to his massive I DON’T NEED NO GUN at the end, he’s about as hammy as you can get. This guy just isn’t. For Arnold’s big comeback, it nearly breaks free of the chains of modern action movies, but elements like the villain and the way Arnie, for some reason, is not a bullet-repellent super killing machine, dumb this film down slightly from being a full 80s throwback to a slightly jarring mix of tones.
All of this, however, does not mean you shouldn’t see The Last Stand. In fact, the opposite. You should go out right now if you have ever found yourself enjoying an Arnie one-liner and see this film. Whether the poor box office results affect Arnie’s future career or not is hard to tell, since he’s already been announced to play Conan again next year, and we have a Stallone/Schwarzenegger double act film coming later this year in the form of The Tomb. All I hope for is that there’s still room in the public’s heart for a charismatic, muscle-bound action hero that isn’t yet another analytical detective a la Sherlock Holmes. I implore everyone to see this film, even to just goad studios into making for films like this.