THIS REVIEW CONTAINS NO SPOILERS
As well as writing this blog and presenting The After Movie Diner Podcast I also co-host a weekly film commentary comedy show called Dr.Action and the Kick Ass Kid (I'm the kid) and we normally watch and gently, with love, poke fun at an 80s or 90s action classic.
For me, 2012 was a year of making GREAT new friends and learning more about action films. It was a rich wonderful time. Now, 2013, is about kicking back and watching the stars of those movies, post Expendables, come back to the big screen and excite us all over again. I have done my homework and I am ready to be entertained.
Dr.Action and I have said it time and again recently, 2013 is going to be the year of action and if The Last Stand is anything to go by it is going to be one hell of a ride.
Yes Stallone was back with Rocky 6, Rambo 4 and The Expendables 1 & 2 but in 2013 we get to see him in his first film, by himself, with no previous franchise and no band of super famous friends to back him up, since 2002's lackluster effort, Avenging Angelo. This new film is A Bullet To The Head and it's directed by 80s Action maestro Walter Hill (and there was much rejoicing). As if this wasn't enough we're going to get The Tomb with him and Schwarzenegger somewhere at the beginning of autumn.
The second Planet Hollywood partner, Bruce Willis, who, to be fair, never really went anywhere has GI Joe: Retaliation, the surprisingly entertaining looking RED 2 and, of course, the Valentine's Day return of his most famous creation, John McClane in A Good Day To Die Hard all coming out in 2013!
No-Longer an up and comer to the genre but, after the 1-2 kick of Killer Elite and Safe a bona fide action superstar, Jason Statham is back in 2013 with a vengeance and not 1 but 3 movies! Starting with the insanely silly, fun looking Parker in January and continuing later in the year with the intriguing sounding Homefront, written by none other than Sylvester Stallone.
Which left only Arnie who, after his stint as the Governator, had a grand old time recently parodying himself, to great effect, in The Expendables franchise. Not to be outdone, however, he wasted no time getting back into his fighting trousers with the spectacularly strong looking schedule of The Last Stand, The Tomb with Stallone and Ten. If that doesn't convince you that the Austrian oak ain't going nowhere then let future fair like Unknown Soldier, Captive, Triplets and even the rumour of a Terminator 5 movie convince you.
After The Last Stand however, which I had the pleasure of seeing tonight, January 17th, you won't need anymore convincing. Arnie is well and truly back and I say that without any joke intended. I say it with a passionate fist pump to the air, a hearty, happy chuckle in my gut and my action gland well and truly throbbing with adrenaline. I write this an hour after leaving the cinema and I am still vibrating with the sheer happiness a man gets from watching great action.
The Last Stand IS Arnie's movie. He is absolutely superb and tremendous in the film and with no hint of ironic detachment (because I am not 15 or a hipster dick-bag) his acting is genuinely great, affecting and endlessly watchable. Whenever he is on screen the film is a delight.
That's not to say that when he isn't on screen, during the slightly long and maybe a little slow opening exposition that the film isn't watchable, it's fine but when he appears he knocks it out of the park and into another park 100 miles away where it explodes into a thousand pieces of sheer awesome.
As for the rest of it, well the script, story and direction are all pedestrian enough. It's a perfectly serviceable, if little lazily written and not overly-directed, simple plot with the whole set up being a pleasingly typical, mediocre 80s and even 60s Western throw-back.
Where it succeeds though is that it plays it out as an actual proper film.
Let me explain that.
What I mean is, in The Last Stand, Arnie is playing Sheriff Ray Owens, he's not playing Arnie. Yes there are little mentions of his age etc. and yes he has wacky sidekicks and the odd one liner but the film is a proper action film, with all the humour and exaggeration that implies but without any knowing winks to camera.
In The Expendables films Arnie can get away with playing Arnie and throwing catchphrases and knowing one liners all over the place because part of the joy of those films is seeing one movie contain all of those massive stars having tremendous fun. That stuff belongs in those movies but The Last Stand, to be successful and to put Arnie back on the map where he belongs, as an iconic movie star, it HAD to be played straight. I couldn't be happier typing this to you all now reporting that it IS played straight and is all the better for it.
The violence and action is pleasingly, properly R Rated and bloody. You get car chases, gun play, a fist fight, running, jumping and crashing through windows. Basically everything you want or need from a Schwarzenegger film.
The sidekicks are fine too and the success of the film is through very little character beats you genuinely care about this small border town and its misfit inhabitants. Johnny Knoxville as the town kook isn't too annoying at all and in fact doesn't have anywhere near the screen-time the posters and promotional material would suggest and Luis Guzman is as reliable and fun to watch as ever.
Peter Stormare, as usual, has a tremendous time chewing up the scenery around him like vast gobs of ham and then spitting it out all over the place.
It's interesting as they have surrounded Arnie with some other thick accented fellows, maybe as a way to take some of the attention off his but also, as the head villain is a Mexican heading to the border there are little comments on immigration in the film and that's sort of nice too.
Oh and the women in it are all smoking hot, which is always a BIG plus.
Yes the beginning was on the verge of being too slow and heavy handed, yes Forrest Whitaker is phoning this one in from 1999 and no the plot or the direction didn't exactly blow my mind but it didn't matter because after a little while I was watching the musclebound Austrian dispatching bad guys with a sawn-off shotgun and a ready quip and all was right with the world again.