The Last Stand (2012)
Upon release The Last Stands opening weekend box office returns were not as much as Lionsgate pictures had anticipated. The long-term worldwide gross was only $48 million, for a movie that had cost over $40 million. There was talk in the mainstream movie press of Arnie's comeback stalling and that the sky was falling for R rated action movies. Theatres at the time were thriving on “Jason Bourne” style thrillers and the ubiquitous Marvel Cinematic Universe. Critics were also mixed in their opinions regarding the film. Some were quite dismissive, citing the very things that an ageing Arnold Schwarzenegger brings to the table in The Last Stand, as faults. Exactly what were they expecting? It's like criticising a dog for barking.
When I saw The Last Stand upon its UK release, it was well received by the audience. There was laughter at the one liners and at some of the death scenes. There was even a smattering of applause at the end. As we left the screening, knowing looks and nods were exchanged. By and large the consensus was one of a job well done, because The Last Stand provided everything that we expected. A modern action movie, with an ageing star, making copious amounts of references to his age and the incongruity of the situation in a humorous way. The set pieces were competent and hard edged, and the overall film was relatively low key compared to the excesses of the star’s former works, such as Total Recall. A recent second viewing has re-iterated my opinion that it was the right sort of comeback vehicle for such a star.
The story is a very traditional set up, that lends itself perfectly to delivering the sort of content that fans of this genre (and in particular this star) actually want. The head of a Mexican drug cartel (Eduardo Noriega) escapes FBI custody, leaving a senior agent (Forest Whitaker) pondering how he will get across the border. The trail points to the sleepy town of Sommerton Junction. As an army of hired mercenaries descend upon the town to facilitate their bosses return to Mexico, it falls to local Sheriff (Schwarzenegger) and his deputies, Jamie Alexander, Luis Guzman and Zach Gilford to thwart their plans. Assisted by eccentric local gun collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) they barricade the main street and make their proverbial last stand.
The Last Stand is surprisingly a little more than just the sum of its parts. Director Kim Ji-woon brings a subtly different look and feel to the proceedings, taking what is essentially a western and tempering it with an Asiatic aesthetic and better than average script (as far as action movies go). The movie benefits from interesting characters who you can relate to and who are quite endearing. There are elements of emotional drama here, that you don't often get in this genre. Arnold Schwarzenegger is actually a better actor than a lot of people think, and his portrayal of world-weary sheriff Ray Owens is pretty good. When a particular cast member dies in the second act, it is handled well by all the cast and it is a surprisingly sad scene. It's not Shakespeare but is light years beyond a lot of movies these days, who are populated by disposable characters you are totally indifferent to.
The less is more (by Arnie standards) approach of The Last Stand works well. It is nice to see physical car stunts and action set pieces when they’re used in these sorts of productions. Yes, there are elements of CGI but not to the extent of other genre movies. It is also a pleasant change to see a production of this kind receiving a higher rating and nailing its colours firmly to the mast. Also, an action movie of this scope with a body count in the dozens rather than hundreds, seems to be far more appropriate for a man of Mr. Schwarzenegger age. The Last Stand is not a perfect movie, but it is certainly not the pedestrian misfire some would have you believe. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger appeal is a generational thing. Upon mature reflection, if this movie had been released on Netflix then it may well have found a wider audience among fans who grew up with his work.