Arguably the two biggest 80s action icons of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, are finally teaming up for a full movie together. While they technically already did in The Expendables 2, that was more of an extended cameo for Arnold and this is the first time they’ve ever shared top billing. Both actors have had comeback films this year in the form of The Last Stand for Arnold and Bullet To The Head for Stallone, but both were financial failures, possibly proving the sad truth that there isn’t much money to be made in the ageing stars anymore. Here we have one last chance for redemption, one last shot to keep the 80s throwback action film afloat. Escape Plan (previously titled The Tomb) is that chance, which is funny considering it’s not really an 80s action film at all.
Ray Breslin (Sylester Stallone) is an employee at a private security firm that specialises in prisons. He goes into maximum security prisons, and then proceeds to break out of them, proving that they were, in fact, not maximum security at all. When the firm is approached by a CIA representative and offers a large payment for testing out a new prototype prison that is completely off the books, codenamed ‘The Tomb’, they jump at the chance. However, when he gets inside, he realises that he has been set up, and whoever put him in there has no intention of letting him out. In The Tomb, he meets Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and together they hatch a plot to break out of the prison. An Escape Plan, if you will.
Now, Escape Plan could easily have the makings of a great 80s-esque action movie, what with the high concept premise and the first proper team up of the two biggest action stars of the 80s, but one must suspect while watching that the film was possibly not written for a Stallone/Schwarzenegger collaboration, but instead as a complex espionage thriller, which is how it plays out. The opening is very well done (despite some dodgy title placement), drawing you in with the showing the intricate details of how Sly escaped. Things stay on a high from then on, constantly keeping the tension high and the plot interesting to keep you engaged. If anything, Arnie and Stallone are a bit of a distraction, as you constantly have the annoying little feeling the back of your mind that you want them to pull machine guns out of nowhere and go John Matrix/Rambo on the place.
To be fair, the last twenty minutes or so more than deliver on this front. Even though it misses one of the biggest opportunities ever to have Arnold scream, get to the choppa! (trust me, you’ll know it when you see it), it is immediately followed by one of the most amazing and adrenalin-fueled gun turret scenes ever. It’s moments like these which make all the tension worth it, paying off all the build up with a satisfying and frantic action filled finale.
So is this team up of Rocky and The Terminator as good as we hoped? Well, no, not really, but that’s because they’re just miscast. What first appeared to be the film’s biggest attraction turns out to be the film’s most fatal flaw. Having these two leads gives off a certain impression, and it never meets those impressions until the last twenty minutes. But this can’t really be held against Escape Plan objectively, because it’s actually quite good, but it will get unfairly pigeon-holed as a failed 80s throwback. I would recommend this movie as a thriller on it’s own, rather than an Arnie/Sly crossover film. Disappointing, yes, but bad? Not a chance.