‘The Last Stand’ is something of an event for a couple of reasons. Firstly it marks celebrated Korean auteur Kim Ji-Woon’s English-language debut, but also, of course, because it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first lead role in a decade.
When Arnie retired from acting though, it seemed like a good decision, he was getting a bit old for the action hero routine, and his best years (and films) seemed to be behind him. Now, with his political terms finished, he’s decided to return to big screen action roles. But is this potentially embarrassing grasp at former glory ill-thought? Honestly? No. Arnie is, as he is so fond of stating, ‘back!’
The simple but effective story involves a Mexican drug kingpin who escapes FBI custody, and flees for the US-Mexico border in a modified super-fast car, as he conveniently also happens to be some sort of expert racing/stunt driver. The only thing standing between him and his freedom on the other side is Arnie and his deputies.
Kim Ji-Woon handles the action scenes very well, and gets in some impressive camera work, particularly during the Las Vegas set escape scenes, then when the action relocates to the border town it becomes much more of a western, with Kim utilising some of that genre’s imagery, but still managing to get some cracking car chases in between. While Kim Ji-Woon does a more than sufficient job, he seems to be taking inspiration from a variety of other sources, and doesn’t manage to leave much of a personal directorial mark on the film.
One of Arnie’s usual strength’s as an actor is self-awareness, having knowledge of his limitations, and choosing parts accordingly. This is no exception, here he takes the role of a small town sheriff (something he did previously in ‘Raw Deal’), who acknowledges his elder and immigrant status. There’s nothing too emotionally demanding for him, and he appears to still be able to perform all the action work competently. It not a solo hero mission for him though, he has an amiable bunch to assist him.
‘The Last Stand’ is a blast of fun, delivering what is really an unremarkable story in a superior fashion, with plenty of good action rounded out by an admirably diverse cast. It is also frequently quite funny, with only a few lines falling flat.
It is an efficient return to, yet update of, Schwarzenegger’s 80s heyday, combining elements of a car chase movie, cop action thriller, and modern western, and while not among his very best films, can certainly be considered a successful comeback.