Arnold Schwarzenegger … an action movie … a huge machine gun called ‘Bessie’ – what’s there not to like?
The Last Stand is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first return to the big screen in a leading role since 2003’s Terminator: Rise Of The Machines. In the intervening ten years he’s spent the majority of his time pursuing political objectives as the Governator of California. However it’s clear from the opening scenes that all that time in a tie has only improved his ability to deliver memorable, nonsensical lines.
The premise for this shoot ‘em up is pretty straight forward: a high profile drug lord, Gabriel Cortez, escapes FBI custody and determines to boldly drive home to Mexico in a souped-up Corvette, with the help of several truckloads of heavily armed henchmen. He engineers his escape by having the prison van he’s being transported in lifted off the road by a crane magnet. His FBI captors decide to chase the swinging vehicle rather than arrest the crane driver – it’s hard to hire good help these days – and so Cortez goes free. But his chosen route takes him through the sleepy town of Sommerton, where the Austrian Sherriff Ray Owens is taking his day off. Good thing the big man never leaves home without a shotgun!
OK, it’s a paper-thin plot, but is it a good movie? I think that film critics have to keep in mind that though projects like The Last Stand don’t win too many Oscars, they do tend to do awfully well in ticket sales. What’s the secret? They tick the boxes with four key morals that even secular audiences hold close to their hearts:
1.Bad people are demonstrably bad – You can’t hide evil, it comes out in everything you say and do. So when Cortez decides to shoot an unarmed FBI agent, he first confirms his victim has a pregnant wife.
2.Good guys may be quirky, even dark but they deserve our respect – Sure, Sherriff Owens is a bit of a blow-hard with an accent that’s thicker than strudel, but he’ll help his young deputy get a new job if he wants one and, more importantly, avenge his death when he decides to run in circles in front of a machine gun.
3.No sin goes unpunished – No bad guy gets away, and I mean no-one. Every loose end has to be tied up with extreme, often excessive diligence.
4.Everyone admits the good guy was right – Regardless of how offensive his comments, or extensive the damage he causes to ‘normal life’ we will always leave the cinema convinced that Arnie did the right thing punching that guy bloody. He had it coming – period.
You can add all the usual trimmings – exotic weapons (Arnie’s Conan sword makes an appearance – woot!), comedic violence (look out for granny with a gun), catchy one-liners (Sheriff Owen says, “Welcome to Sommerton!” and you can predict what happens next). But neglect any of those four morals and the audience will punish you at the box office because their universe has come unhinged.
It’s as if we were designed to appreciate this sort of story, no matter how many times it turns up. Even stranger, when the lights come on we rarely tend to think about our own pervasive evil, the greatest ‘good guy’ who stands ready to save, the prospect of punishment up ahead, or the fact that if it happens we’ll admit it was right. But that, in a plotline, is the Bible.