Yesterday I was extolling the virtues of the original Total Recall to my wife when I realized that Arnold’s new movie The Last Stand had come out last month. I didn’t remember anybody saying anything about it, so I checked out its box office receipts.
The results were… not good.
I didn’t see the movie. Obviously, the biggest concern is that perhaps it wasn’t a good film, but honestly a great deal of Schwarzengger films weren’t that good. And they weren’t supposed to be. They were fun, they were exciting, but they weren’t high art. So what was the problem?
There were a lot of analysts talking about target audience age, and competition that weekend and so on, but if the analysts were so smart, they would have come up with that information BEFORE they released the movie. But it got me thinking – If a liger and a grizzly bear got in a fight, who would win?
Seriously, look at that thing!
After that, I tried to figure out why the film didn’t work. From the moment I saw the trailer, I didn’t want to see it.
And then I realized the problem. The 80’s actions guys had a range of roles they could play that we would accept. When we think of them, we associate them with certain things.
Dolph Lungren was impossibly perfect. In real life, he was a martial arts champion with a master’s degree, the physique of a Greek god and enough bedroom prowess to bring Grace Jones AND Madonna to their knees simultaneously. He was born to be the implaccable villain.
Stallone was the guy with the motor that wouldn’t quit, the ultimate underdog. In the end, Rocky defined his entire career. At his best, he’s a blue collar character that beats the odds through sheer determination. And in real life, we’re talking about a man with incredible personal drive and persistance, a guy who does his own stunts, keeps in fantastic shape and never stops hustling. It fits.
It goes on and on. Charles Bronson was the tough guy that didn’t say a lot, but he had this singular humor that separated him from Clint Eastwood, a tough guy who didn’t say a lot. Bruce Willis combined an everyman quality with a unique ability to satirize lousy material – even when he’s participating in it. Steven Seagal was a jerk that fought even worse jerks, which happened a lot in the 80’s.
Schwarzenegger was different.
Arnold Schwarzenegger more than anyone else represented physical dominance. He revolutionized bodybuilding partially with an incredible work ethic, canny supplementation, and genetic gifts that gave him small joints but bulging muscle bellies. Even among bodybuilders, his flawless proportion and symmetry made him look different. He was the guy you wanted to look like, even though it wasn’t happening. He dominated the screen.
To his credit, he knew the ride was going to be over sometime. He kept trying to expand his persona, he tried comedy, he tried horror, he tried drama, he tried sci-fi. He knew he was getting older. He knew he couldn’t keep it up forever. But we needed him to be dominant.
When the Last Stand trailer came out, I didn’t care about his nanny, or his marriage. I kept waiting for that moment when he took his jacket off and showed us that he still had it, that he was still that physical freak. In a strange way, that would right the universe. Arnold was as he had always been. He’d light a cigar, tell a joke and walk off in the sunset.
And when it didn’t happen, I couldn’t handle it. If the Oak was an immobile senior citizen, what about the rest of us? Suddenly he became a symbol of my own mortality.
Its not fair to him, of course. He’s 65. He’s earned his rest. Its not fair to ask him to take steroids again, to carry muscle well into his dotage. But as a man who used his body to cement his place in American culture, its impossible to back out of it now.
Arnold is doing the Tomb. And King Conan. And Terminator 200. But if this is any indication of the future, we may have already seen his last stand.