“The Last Stand” will be forever remembered as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle after his stint in politics. This is his first starring role in a decade since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines” and a lot has happened in cinema since he left our screens. The kind of action films that were once Arnie and Sylvester Stallone’s bread and butter no longer exist, and most of our action heroes now come in the form of actors like Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, and Jason Statham, which would have been unimaginable back in the heyday of the eighties. However Arnie always threatened that he would be back, and true to his word here he is, once again trying to muscle in on the genre he used to be king of.
The story revolves around Gabriel Cortez, a very violent and dangerous Mexican drug cartel boss who escapes from his police escorted transfer to a death-row prison, and immediately attempts to head for the Mexican border for safety. With the FBI and SWAT teams hot on his tail, Cortez never once fears recapture as in his eyes his plan is fail-safe. He is attempting to cross the border near a small South Western town called Sommerton with a specially modified car in his possession, complete with a hostage and a band of violent gang members doing everything they can to get their boss to safety. The one thing they didn’t count on was Ray Owens, the sheriff of the lazy town Cortez was going to pass through, and his staff of three who decide to make a final stand at stopping this criminal from crossing the border.
The biggest question I am sure everyone wants to know is whether or not Arnie still has it, and the answer is a big “yes”. Although he is well past his prime and has significantly aged, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still as charismatic as ever and the film, as an Arnie vehicle, is everything you expect it to be; it is big, dumb fun. It is exactly the kind of film he was making back in his prime with over the top villains, bad guys who cannot hit the side of a barn while shooting, good guys who never have to reload their weapons and cheesy one liners spoken after taking out the bad guys. All of the staples of that kind of film exist in “The Last Stand”, and for what it is, it is a hugely enjoyable film. It never takes itself too seriously and seems intent on just entertaining the audience. It is also extremely bloody, which I must admit shocked me a bit, but when thinking back to those older eighties productions they were also very bloody too. There is a great moment in the film when a school bus comes screeching to a halt and the doors spring open and there stands Arnie with a massive gun in his possession as he begins to lay waste to the bad guys around him. As a guy who grew up with the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was that iconic moment that symbolized that Arnie was back.
Besides Arnie, the rest of the cast has to be one of the strangest hodge podge mix of misfits to ever be on screen together. With supporting turns from Johnny Knoxville, (the always great) Luis Guzman, Forest Whitaker and Peter Stormare to a cameo from Harry Dean Stanton, it is a really odd cast and one that never really gels together perfectly. Strangest of all is the fact that Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega was cast as the Mexican drug boss and I am sad to say that for most of the film he is terrible. The majority of his scenes are in a car in front of a green screen so it may not have been the most inspirational working place, but his performance is none the less poor; he just has no presence at all, although he does show a bit at the end with his showdown against Arnold.
While the majority of film goers who go to see “The Last Stand” will be doing so for Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is another major reason to see the film (and was the reason I was seeing it) and that is it is South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon’s first Hollywood picture. After coming off the biggest success of his career with “I Saw The Devil”, Kim Jee-Woon was wooed by Hollywood producers to make a film in the U.S and “The Last Stand” is the final result. While I have already looked at the film as an Arnie vehicle, I now want to look at it from a Kim Jee-Woon point of view and coming off the sort of films this director was making in his home country of South Korea, “The Last Stand” is something of a disappointment. Jee-Woon has actually mentioned in interviews that he was frustrated working in the Hollywood system particularly with the fact that there is so much interference and that a lot of decisions are made by committee. He has said that it was a shock coming from Korea where the director is king, and you can tell in the final product because this does feel like very watered down Kim Jee-Woon. In fact, for the first half of the film it is hard to find any of his directorial imprints and it comes across as very generic. However by the time Cortez makes it to Sommerton, Kim Jee-Woon makes his presence felt and this is when I really started to enjoy the film. Interesting camera angles and moves start to become more frequent and you get a sense that this was the section of the film Jee-Woon felt the most comfortable making.
Jee-Woon has come up with a fantastic sequence towards the end of the film, set in a corn field where Cortez and Owens are driving after one another with zero visibility unaware just how close they are to the other. It was easily my favourite scene in the film, probably because it was so visually striking too. Speaking of the visuals, the cinematographer on “The Last Stand” was Kim Ji-Yong who had previous worked with Jee-Woon on the omnibus feature “Doomsday Book”. While the film is certainly not ugly to look at, it just didn’t have that “WOW” factor that so many of Kim Jee-Woon’s films have. In fact there were times during the film when I thought some of the lighting was a little overpowering and took away from the picture, particularly during the morning sequences before Cortez reaches the town. The light was blinding and made it hard to work out exactly what was happening on screen. There were a couple of times also, mainly during the car stunt sequences, where the film suffered from having a cheap video-like appearance which I am never a fan of.
I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that my three favourite South Korean filmmakers all make their Hollywood debuts this year, and Kim Jee-Woon’s is the first to make it to the big screen. It is actually a little sad to see him make this kind of film especially when compared to the efforts from his countrymen, Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-Ho, who both have seemed to be able to make projects that one, fit in with their style, and two, seem to resonate more personally with them. Also from interviews it appears that Kim Jee-Woon’s experiences making “The Last Stand” were not at as positive as those of his friends and as such, he has stated that he will be heading back to Korea to make his next feature.
Overall, when looking at “The Last Stand” with no bias, I found the film to be hugely entertaining. As I said earlier it is big, dumb, fun. The script is pretty terrible, with casting and performances all over the place, but the charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the film very easy to like and easy to overlook its deficiencies. However, the era of this type of film may be over as “The Last Stand” (surprisingly) flopped dramatically in the U.S which may indicate that audiences have evolved from this type of film and are not willing to go back to what once was, which is a shame because for what it is, the film is great entertainment. Now looking at “The Last Stand” with strong bias in regards to the director Kim Jee-Woon, the film is sadly a big disappointment because the genius that is usually so prevalent is missing for the majority of the running time, although every now and then a Jee-Woon flourish will appear that will make you smile. So there you have it, “The Last Stand” is an enjoyable disappointment, but one I would recommend to anyone looking to just escape life for two hours.