When the poster for The Last Stand features Arnold Schwarzenegger essentially shoving a phallic symbol out into the lobby, you can be pretty certain that the movie isn’t going to center on an intense philosophical debate over the finer points of law enforcement in the American Southwest. No, Arnold is going to use that big gun to mow down the bad guys, and if we’re lucky, it’ll be done with humor and style and make us forget pretty much every movie he made after 1994. And as it turns out, we’re pretty lucky.
Not to say that The Last Stand is going to make your forget classic Arnold films like Predator or Commando or the Terminator films. No, this firmly rests more on the Raw Deal or Red Heat end of the spectrum. Which still place it miles ahead of most of his post-Last Action Hero output. Last Action Hero made a lot of mistakes, but one of the biggest was making the formula that had served Schwarzenegger so well the object of ridicule. Granted, the formula was always a little ridiculous, but that was part of the fun, not being made fun of. Now it was front and center, and we couldn’t un-see it. So when he went back to that formula in earnest, it all felt a little silly. We’d been shown the strings.
So his nearly decade-long foray into politics was probably the best thing for him. It allowed us to form a fond, nostalgic image of him in our heads, untarnished by reminders of the films that helped to sully that image. It was a definite case of absence making the heart grow fonder, and his cameos in The Rundown and the Expendables films only fed it further. Which makes it fitting that Schwarzenegger’s first crack at returning to full-time acting feels like a throwback to his pre-90s heyday.
The Last Stand does seem to want to ease Arnold back into the spotlight. He’s not on-screen as much as you would think. Not in an effort to hide some newfound deficiencies — he’s every bit the action hero he used to be — but to make that eventual action even more heroic. We’re shown scenes of escaped drug lord Gabriel Cortez enacting one brilliant scheme after another, completely thwarting the FBI and making him and his cohorts seem like a near-unstoppable threat. And that time away makes it all the more satisfying when they finally do run across Arnold’s small-town sheriff and his deputies. We’re ready and eager to see them taken down a peg or two with some good old-fashioned 80s-style mayhem. Credit goes to director Jee-Woon Kim for keeping things just the right side of frenetic, and for some really imaginative action staging. You wouldn’t think two cars driving through a corn field could be all that exciting, but Kim turns it into a cat-and-mouse game, cleverly taking advantage of the geography. By the time Arnold is going mano a mano with the bad guy, we’ve been treated to some really inventive kills and some great villains-get-theirs moments.
Nobody’s going to confuse The Last Stand with a classic. And it’s possible a lot of my good feelings towards the film stem from Arnold just showing he’s able to do this again without tripping all over himself; it’s not like he had the highest bar to clear. But it’s a fun throwback to the action films that made Schwarzenegger a star. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be in the mood to see it this weekend. It’s tanking, and badly. Maybe Sandy Hook doesn’t have people in the mood for this kind of film, or maybe Arnold’s too much of a dinosaur for the modern movie-going crowd. Whatever the case, he’s not going anywhere; he’s already got three other films in various stages of production. I just hope he doesn’t let what looks like the failure of The Last Stand knock him off course. Just keep being Arnold, big guy.