When Arnold Schwarzenegger left behind his title of “Governator,” everyone was abuzz as to whether or not he would make a return to the big screen.
What's best about Schwarzenegger in this is the balance he and Kim manage to strike when it comes to both Ray's character as written and Schwarzenegger's performance. It's a role that very much uses his age and weathered looks in its favor. There's no hiding the fact that Schwarzenegger, a mountain of a man he may still be, isn't the Atlas he once was. He's old. And Ray Owens is a man who has waded through his share of death and carnage, something Kim manages to evoke from Schwarzenegger with a minimum of exposition and only a few moments. Don't mistake this for some deep character examination or the like and it's actually a little more subtle than some might pick up on, but it's definitely there and it's a welcome addition to a role that Schwarzenegger could have just as easily coasted through on autopilot.
That said, while Ray's past may be grim and a little tortured, that doesn't mean the film at large is a joyless grump. Quite the contrary, in fact. As was so thoroughly evidenced by “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” Kim has a rock solid grip on tone as well as an extremely confident grasp of how to shoot exciting action scenes, qualities that are put to good use here.
There are times when “The Last Stand” skirts right up to being a live-action cartoon, with the only thing missing being some wacky sound effects, perhaps. But it never plunges over that edge and always manages to swing right back into the realm of keeping the stakes high but not quite taking itself seriously. It's bloody violent with a significant body count given how relatively small the film is, but it's still fun to watch. Like I said, a deft balance of tone.
It's just a thoroughly entertaining piece of action cinema. Schwarzenegger still can pull off a cheesy one-liner like a champ and he's also surrounded by a colorful supporting cast including Luis Guzman as one of Ray's deputies and Johnny Knoxville as a local gun hoarder who supplies the armaments for the crew as the make their, ahem, last stand. Knoxville was one of my biggest worries with this, as I assumed he'd be unbearably annoying for most of it. But thankfully he never wears out his welcome and actually gets a couple genuinely funny moments.
“The Last Stand” isn't going to blow anyone's doors off and it's not another classic under Schwarzenegger's belt, but it is a thoroughly entertaining return to form for this icon of cinema. And it's also the sort of hard R-rated action flick we haven't gotten in decades. Very much recommended if you want to remember how they used to make action flicks.