The Good, the Bad & the Badass: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Last week, we took at the career of legendary badass James Caan. An icon of the seventies, in the eighties we had a different kind of badass, and this week’s subject is arguably the most iconic of these larger-than-life heroes.
It disturbs me when the younger generation of fan boys look at Arnold Schwarzenegger like some kind of “camp” icon. Let's get one thing straight people, Arnold ain't Chuck Norris. He's as legit as they come. While someone like Norris slaved away in a series of B-actioners – the vast majority of which don't hold up today – Arnold made more than a few classics. Even the lesser movies he made during his peak period (from about 1982's CONAN THE BARBARIAN to 1996's ERASER) are pretty outstanding.
In his prime, Arnold was the biggest star in the world. He worked with huge budgets (both TERMINATOR 2 and TRUE LIES set records when they came out) the best directors (James Cameron, John McTiernan, Paul Verhoeven), top-notch supporting casts (like last week's badass subject, James Caan in ERASER) and often really good scripts. He even excelled (for awhile anyway) with comedy, in 1988's TWINS (my first theatrical Arnold experience) and 1990's KINDERGARDEN COP (“it's NOT a too-mah”)
After 1997's BATMAN & ROBIN, Arnold seemed less interested in movies, and focused on his political career, becoming the Governor of California for two terms, before eventually returning to films. Perhaps as a result of his polarizing political career and advancing age, Arnold's struggled somewhat to reestablish himself as an action hero, but even at sixty-six, he's still giving it a go, with this week's SABOTAGE (from David Ayer) looking like his most intriguing film in years.
To me, the T-800 is the ultimate Arnold Schwarzenegger role. Together with James Cameron, Arnold took what could have been a two-bit b-movie villain, and made him something really transcendent. Arnie was so popular in THE TERMINATOR (which – we should remember – was a modestly budgeted indie) that when it came time for the blockbuster sequel, the T-800 went from being an iconic figure of terror, to one of pure goodness in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, with his absolute devotion to John Connor, and his touching self-sacrifice, which still brings a tear to the eye of many a jaded action fan.
It would be easy for me to pick one of Arnold's lesser films, most of which were made in the post-ERASER/pre-TERMINATOR 3 era, but where would be the fun in that? In his heyday, Arnold rarely went wrong, with two exceptions, RED SONJA, and the watered-down sequel CONAN THE DESTROYER. As those movies are universally reviled they don't apply. But one Arnold movie that's really doesn't hold up is RAW DEAL. One of the few true “quickie” actioners he made Arnold is an odd choice to play a small town sheriff (well, former FBI at least) who goes undercover in the mob. For three-quarters of the movie, it's curiously short on action. Worse still is the fact that after seventy-odd minutes of Arnold building a case against the mob, rather than – I dunno – actually using the evidence, he pops The Rolling Stones 'Satisfaction' into his car stereo and goes on a rampage. Even worse, the rampage is so awesome you resent the rest of the movie for being so dull, even if it doesn't make a lick of sense. It's not a terrible movie (it's fun in a cheesy way) but it's one of Arnie's few missteps during his peak period.
Arnie's done a lot of movies that were underrated. One that people mostly ignore is ERASER. A slickly-made actioner, it marked the end of Arnie's golden period with it “under-performing” at the box office ($100 million in 1996 dollars, which would be a blockbuster nowadays). Directed by Chuck Russell, it's a pretty solid film, with a smarter-than-average story, and great direction by Chuck Russell. While the CGI has aged badly, and some of the one-liners are cheesy (“you're luggage”) ERASER is full of great set-pieces, such as the scientifically impossible but insane air plane shootout and the finale with Arnold's two railguns. It's a great flick.
Well this is certainly a no-brainer. Truly, what else could this be but the police station shootout in THE TERMINATOR, which gave us Arnie's immortal trademark, “I'll be back.”
Arnold's got lots in the pipeline, from TERMINATOR: GENESIS, to his first zombie movie, MAGGIE, potentially due out later this year. Bring it Arnold!