The one thing you need to know going into THE LAST STAND is this…
Kim Jee-Woon, the director of THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD and I SAW THE DEVIL has directed his first English Language film and not only does it star Arnold Scwarzenegger, but he’s made an absolutely terrific Arnold movie.
What is an ARNOLD movie?
Well, for me… when I use that term, I’m talking about the kind of films where Arnold is essentially being Arnold in the movie. His charisma, unleashed. It unleashes a slightly superhuman Arnold. An Arnold that can not be broken and that will break anyone that dares to fuck with him. Arnold also has a sixth sense. He’s the sort of man that can find the Waldo in the room. The thing that doesn’t belong. He’s got instincts and trusts his gut. In THE LAST STAND, he plays someone that in his younger days… well he saw some shit. He was on the intolerant side of some drug enforcement and it got bloody and personal. He got shot all to hell and decided to find a small little town where he could make a difference and enjoy life. Only, we know… that’s not gonna work out too good for him. He’s Arnold and in a film called THE LAST STAND… it’s going to come down to the last man standing.
IDEAL. Perfect return vehicle. I can see Arnold’s career path back at this point. THE EXPENDABLES movies were whetting the audience’s appetite. He starts off working with new talent… Films that make us love Arnold on screen again. Playing to his obvious strengths – but also films that are fun for Arnold to make.
I mean, look at this cast… You got Johnny Knoxville, who’s probably good for a few laughs. Knoxville plays a gun lover that’s probably concerned about Obama’s Gun Policies, but then you see… Knoxville is operating a “Museum” – but you get the idea that the only reason he has a museum is so he can fart around with his crazy collection of weapons… like a mini-gun. I love those. When you see this character at the off-set, you might think he’s going to be terribly annoying, but not really. Knoxville is a weirdo, but he is trying his best to be the hero he can be, while still being the weirdo that he is. If that makes sense at all.
You get to work with the man-god Luis Guzman! Guzman plays a deputy working with Arnold and Jaimie Alexander’s Deputy Torrance and then there’s Zach Gilford’s Deputy Bailey. These three form Schwarzenegger’s police force. They’re not ideal. Guzman is a bit of a chicken. Jaimie is absolutely unproven underfire. And Deputy Bailey – he’s a bit too eager for action. Not understanding that the various notion of action can leave scars and death in its wake.
This particular weekend was supposed to be a light weekend. The town’s football team has a huge game on the road – and the town is all but leaving for it. So don’t expect a ton of collateral damage here. But that’s fine because Kim Jee-Woon is subtly making you care for the characters. The people we meet in this city are real people. Harry Dean Stanton’s Farmer. He isn’t just some guy on some land that the bud guys need, but he brings the milk in to the town diner. People have purposes in this film and eccentricities. They’re well drawn small town Americana. And the Sheriff can think the Mayor is a douche, because the Sheriff is Arnold!
Now – unknown to all those characters is the shit storm that’s brewing. Eduardo Noriega plays the 3rd Generation super drug overlord named CORTEZ. When he father controlled the cartel, he indulged his son’s love of supercars and racing – so when Cortez needs to be broke out, this ego maniacal Drug boss is going to do it spectacularly. He’s going to get a car that can out race a helicopter, that has nightvision for driving at night without headlights at crazy high speeds. He’s been trained to drive by the very best… who were probably fed to alligators afterwards. But man, his driving is pretty spectacular I have to say. Eduardo Noriega is that invincible cocky untold billionaire with his own private army and a perfect plan for escaping that calculates every variable… except…
It feels so right to have Arnold back on that screen. The whole time watching, I couldn’t help smiling. Sure, it was a screening I had arranged, hosted and that had Arnold and Knoxville coming to attend… but the reason I was smiling was this.
Sitting next to me to my left was my Dad and a guy I’ve known my entire life named Comic Book John. In the 80s, Dad & I used to work with John promoting his local and San Antonio Comic Conventions. We’d distribute all the flyers for the show and get 3 tables at every show free. Dad and John went way back. Throughout the 80s, the three of us would go see ARNOLD’S movies. Not really any others, but Arnold’s flicks… We loved to watch and then go out and eat and laugh about the audacity of Arnold. John & Dad had the very best time. John kept food on our tables with those shows in the 80’s. And when he “went away” for a stretch – it nearly destroyed our personal economy – but it inadvertently put me on the path I’m on today.
You can read this review and dismiss it if you like. I am somewhat of an Arnold worshipper. He was the first actor I knew to prove my Dad wrong. Dad was convinced Arnold was wrong for CONAN – and it was those conversations for the months leading up to the release of CONAN THE BARBARIAN that taught me to leave the possibility for an actor to surprise me. Like Keanu in MATRIX.
Like most of you – I grew up with Arnold’s films – and like most of you – I like Arnold even in the movies of his that weren’t that great. But I always liked watching Arnold on screen. I just have always wanted him to make even BETTER films.
Now that he’s been a statesman, I would love to see Arnold really make the movies that make the 80’s version of him seem young & naïve. The way Clint Eastwood’s roles did. No matter what we’ll love TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, CONAN and COMMANDO forever, but I’m thrilled to get to see this next stage of his career. THE LAST STAND is the first step in that direction and it’s an outstanding action film.
It’s fun. It is over the top. It is impossible. But that’s so damn Arnold!
I’m happiest though for Kim Jee-Woon, he made his first American film and it kicks a goodly amount of ass – and still feels like his work. From the opening shot outside Vegas… a shot that is actually spooky and atmospheric and foreboding and… funny. That’s a lot to do in an opening shot – but as you watch THE LAST STAND, you’ll find things oddly affecting. You might find yourself caring more than you thought you should. That’s because Kim Jee-Woon is the real deal. This is a popcorn film, but he gets the most out of every single actor up there. He's crafted a film that feels like HIGH NOON, but with say the energy and humor of Hawks' RIO BRAVO and a few crazy Arnold films thrown in for good measure. Tonally, this could have spiralled off into silly land, but serious consequences are in place. The deaths affect the characters and that's Jee-Woon's hand. The car vs SWAT and the Corn Field sequences are real show off sequences for him. But it's his deft use of comedy that I was very impressed with. This is one of Arnold's better films.
The action feels real and possible, while also being over the top. When Arnold tackles a guy off the top of a roof while blowing his brains out – and it’s just one of those scenes in a film with a good deal of mayhem – well, I cheered. The overkill of that moment was the exact sort of thing that was missing. And seriously – nobody does one-liners like Arnold does them. It is cliché to say He’s Back, but it makes me so happy to say so with a smile.
Now that he’s done his service, I’m happy to have him exactly where I’ve always loved him. On our screens! AB KING is going to be so happy with this!