“Ten years, man, ten! Where have you been for ten years?” so says Grosse Point Blank’s Paul Spericki, in a quote that perfectly encapsulates the feelings brought to the fore after the realisation of how long it’s been since Arnold Schwarzenegger last tore up the big screen in Terminator 3 hits.
Sitting in the screening room waiting for The Last Stand to start, it was nigh on impossible not to be flooded with endless memories of how much of my youth was affected by Arnold – from the joy of seeing Predator on VHS at a birthday party having just hit my teens, scribbling endless drawings of him on the covers of my school books, to Total Recall marking the first 18 certificate film I snuck in to see at the cinema.
If this all sounds a little dramatic, then rest assured there is a point. Schwarzenegger has been absent for an entire generation of cinema goers, so his return, and therefore the way audiences respond to The Last Stand, will be entirely personal; his charisma, unique delivery and heroics may prove a little baffling to those who weren’t raised on a steady diet of his movies.
Thankfully, for those of us who’ve waited patiently for his return, The Last Stand is an absolute blood-soaked delight, an explosive, hysterical piece of action cinema that whips by so fast and so enjoyably, that when the end credits rolled, I was left desperate for more.
Stand’s greatest asset is its unashamed love for the genre. With barely a serious bone in its body, it makes no apologies for taking a high-concept plot, fleshing it out with familiar character archetypes, while surrounding them with over the top set pieces, car chases and more eruptive headshots than I’ve seen in a while. Its sense of humour is clear from the opening sequence, which is immediately cut off by a loud and dominant title announcement, perfectly setting the scene for what’s to come. I really can’t emphasise the word ‘loud’ enough, either – the noise of the supercar at the centre of the action really does boom out, as do the hundreds of bullet casings that pepper the film, an element that so many movies forget to pay attention to.
The Last Stand wastes no time in getting Arnold back on screen, with a surprisingly gentle introduction that sees him in a fittingly laid-back pair of shorts (circa Twins) as a small town Sheriff on his day off, with his character reflecting real life parallels as events head inevitably from a dialogue-driven day job, to full on movie carnage.
Once he’s re-armed and roars into action again, the body count starts ascending, things explode and the blood flies. And my how the blood flies. Even in the dark, the splatter is given a dominance that so many contemporary movies neglect, which came as an utter relief and surprise (as I knew nothing about the film’s certification) and deserves praise in an age when so many films choose PG-13 bankability over guts (I’m looking at you, Taken 2). As an 80s action movie fanatic, I can’t tell you how relieved I was that Schwarzenegger chose to follow in Stallone’s footsteps by returning to the trademark violence that defined the highpoint of his career. Arnold’s always been shrewd about giving fans what they want, but the temptation to play it safe and commercial would have been a disastrous move to make – just look at the outrage that Expendables 2 caused when allegations it would be cut came out.
While it may take a little while for both Schwarzenegger and his character to warm up, they are more than adequately surrounded by quite an incredible and large supporting cast, with the first 20 minutes throwing an endless array of superb (and notoriously hammy, as befits the film) character actors into the mix, chief of which are Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman and Peter Stormare.
Fans of Knoxville may find themselves a little disappointed, as his screen time is relatively short, despite the high billing and publicity he’s been getting pre-release. Guzman and Stormare seem to have an absolute blast, though, with the former rolling out his comedy idiot routine, while the always sinister Stormare choosing to maintain an odd Texan accent throughout – I thought at first it might be a cover for his character, but apparently not – would you tell him to stop, though?
Jaimie Alexander deserves special mention, as after her promisingly brief appearance in Thor, she is given the responsibility of carrying the majority of the film’s emotional weight, and puts in a great performance that helps to flesh out the main story and character developments, which in a film this chaotic and crazy, is no mean feat. Thankfully, when her moment arrives, she’s given plenty of opportunity to flex her action credentials with a sniper rifle and what looks strangely like a STARS uniform from the Resident Evil games. On what I’ve seen so far, I’m crossing fingers that she gets snapped up for the female version of The Expendables – I’ll be keeping an eye on her career from this point on, as female action stars this good are in short supply.
The Last Stand does falter on a few points, though, as Forest Whitaker’s FBI headquarters plot thread feels oddly out of place. Whitaker’s always great to watch, however, and his phone conversations with Sheriff Schwarzenegger result in a great exchange of rude words – there’s nothing quite like hearing Arnie swear, after all.
Also, while Stormare delightfully owns his scenes by gnawing huge chunks out of the scenery, fellow villain Cortez (played by Eduardo Noriega) doesn’t fare quite as well, as Noriega doesn’t quite have the age or the charisma to pull off the requisite level of threat. His character is supposed to be a notorious crime boss, escorted under maximum security, but there’s something lacking in the scenes when he’s trying to utter sinister one-liners.
Liam Neeson has proved that growing older doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still have huge box office success as an action star, and he’s remained a steady part of the mainstream, appealing to all age groups and genders through an incredible array of films (Neeson was in fact originally cast as the lead in Stand), so Schwarzenegger faces a much tougher challenge now to regain his crown as the worlds’ biggest action star.
The good news is that, with The Last Stand, Arnie has picked a fine way to relaunch his career, in a film that ranks as his best in 15 years (since the underappreciated End Of Days) and with The Tomb out in September, and Ten out next year, it’s great to see him back where he belongs.
The Last Stand opens on the 25th January in the UK.
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