Welcome back Arnold … welcome back
The world of action movies, and cinema itself, has rapidly changed since Arnold Schwarzenegger last starred in a movie. Arnold remains one of the icons of the genre but the genre itself has shifted. Instead of one man armies, or even plucky everymen saving the day, the modern action hero is more likely to wear spandex and have special powers. The biggest films of 2012 involved comic book heroes saving the day; the world may not have moved on but the days of Arnold being the biggest star of them all are probably over. But there has long been a need for a good old-fashioned hero instead of a drama dork in tights to save the day; it’s the reason why The Expendables franchise has managed to find a market.
For a generation raised on action films involving large than life actors and characters seeing guys who save the day because they have superpowers is a bit disheartening; there’s a disconnect between a regular guy (or even an above average guy) overcoming the odds instead of someone wearing spandex who has powers because of some quirky origin. There has to be a place in the world for the action hero saving the day with nothing more than his fists and a few machine guns, right?
Enter The Last Stand … or as it should be known “Return of the greatest action hero ever.”
It’s a fairly simple premise. Sherriff Ray (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was once an LAPD supercop who left the action of the big city to be the lead law enforcer of a small border town. All is quiet usually as his wacky deputies (Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford, Jaimie Alexander) get into wacky shenanigans with the local gun nut (Johnny Knoxville). That is until an FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) screws the pooch and lets a notorious drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) get away and on the run to Mexico. He’s also in possession of a super-Porsche that can’t be caught by them. Only one thing stands in his way: the Sherriff and his deputies. There they’ll make a final stand to keep him from getting away.
It’s simple and effective, not particularly good either, but it possesses the one thing most modern action films don’t have: a genuine action hero. There’s nothing in this film we haven’t seen before and don’t see coming from many miles away. There aren’t any surprises, just notes to hit. It hits them well but this is a film that would’ve found its way to store shelves instead of theatres without its main star. And that’s what separates this film from being a run of the mill direct to video action thriller starring a character actor of some significance: the presence of the Austrian Oak.
Schwarzenegger may not be a brilliant actor but the one thing he has more than enough of is his charisma and presence. Arnold’s sheer presence elevates this film into being respectable because of his presence alone. This isn’t a particular good Arnold role, as he doesn’t do much more than play Arnold Schwarzenegger, but despite being fairly limited in character he adds more than enough charm to make it worthwhile. It’s interesting to see what Arnold does without dialogue than what he does with the pithy one-liners and smart acre responses. His physical presence always has been much more important than dialogue and in The Last Stand we feel the danger because he does.
This is a man who’s seen people die, and die badly, and been the one to kill people in bad ways as well.
It takes an actor with the gravitas of Schwarzenegger to pull it off; in part because he’s been in action films spanning nearly thirty years that we can feel his reluctance to be the warrior he once was. When young men discuss living lives of danger he knows the aftermath because he was once young; he’s seen more than he cares to and his life of relative peace and quiet is more important than being the biggest badass on the block. It’s a similar role to Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven in a lot of ways.
A lot of the similarities come because Kim Ji-woon has crafted the film as a sort of modern western as opposed to a traditional action film. If you replaced cars with horses and wagons you’d have a western based on how the film is designed. From basic plotting points to character motivations this is a western in every facet sans the modern setting and weaponry. Ji-woon has basically crafted his version of Rio Bravo in a lot of ways; from the rooftop shootouts to the final fight between Arnold and Noriega on a bridge this is a western updated for a modern era. It’s no coincidence that the lead character is a Sherriff with a number of deputies that fulfill the traditional archetypes of a western.
In the span of things this is the perfect comeback vehicle for Schwarzenegger. This is closer to Raw Deal instead of Predator in the pantheon of Arnold films. If you had to classify it it’s probably the best of a pack of films that can be called “Lesser Schwarzenegger” like Conan the Destroyer and Eraser. It’s good but clichéd, hitting every possible high note but not breaking the ceiling from respectable. It’s not a great film, marginally a good one at best, but in a year expected to be filled with men in tights battle CGI monsters that isn’t a bad thing.
Sometimes a bit of the old school is worth it.
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Writer: Andrew Knauer
Notable Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Genesis Rodriguez, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford, Peter Stormare, Eduardo Noriega