Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero is a meta-film that engages in a soft break of the fourth wall, allowing us to examine the ridiculousness of our heroes, their adventures and the fact that they’d fail in the real world. Hero is a commentary on how an optimistic, immature audience represented by Danny Madigan, child, views the ultra-infallible American hero in Jack Slater, cop.
The American Action Hero
Do you know what we love about action movies? Do you know what makes thrillers so engaging?
It’s the fact that they put someone we love and care and trust and root for- the protagonist- against dangerous, sometimes insurmountable odds, often due to the evil, dirty, immoral, greedy bad guy- the antagonist. If the good guy wins, we win. If the good guy loses, we lose. At the core of it all, though, we know that it’s just a movie. A story, a fable, a fantasy. It’s this childlike, naïve belief in goodness, purity and fairness. In a world full of injustice, we need the escape to justice.
In Hero, Danny Madigan literally forgoes his responsibilities in school to watch films in a ratty old theater. An escape from his own rainy, dreary, lonely life. He is magically transported to the action-film world of Jack Slater, invincible supercop who explodes ice cream trucks by throwing idiot henchmen into them. The villains spontaneously combust due to the sheer badassery of Slater’s charisma and charm. Slater can woo any woman, satiate any superior, overcome any villain, drive any car, anywhere. Hero takes a whimsical approach to how the action heroes of yesteryear would take a moment to deliver a snappy line of dialogue before completely obliterating their enemies without remorse.
While the film begins as this commentary on the perceptions of 80’s action heroes and the expectations from our protagonists, it quickly devolves into… a very basic 80’s action film. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike that the climax involved poor physics, bad science and magic to save the day- nevermind the gun-toting prepubescent child scaring off a van full of professional paramedics or an inept Hollywood crowd in the face of a domestic terrorist. But I’m not sure why the decision was made to continue the campiness even into the ‘real world’ in the second half of the film, when Slater and Madigan are transported out of the movie world.
Rubber Baby Buggy Bumbers, Motherfucker
Schwarzenegger gets a chance to demonstrate his acting skills beyond just ‘gruff’ or ‘cool’ or ‘buff’ or ‘guns’. I’ve always loved the bodybuilder, and his modern political and social views have been positively refreshing and inspiring. He’s honestly a fantastic individual, and I think that this may be one of the first times he was allowed to take a role that was more mature than something like Twins or Jingle All the Way or even Terminator 2. He’s still a little blocky, but I can tell that he’s putting in effort to be more complex.
Look. Some people are actors, and some people are personalities. Schwarzenegger is the latter, but still a far more charismatic individual than Taylor Kitsch in Battleship. Schwarzenegger was a brand in his heyday, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s an individual that sold a lot of movie tickets and garnered a lot of votes. That’s not for nothing. In fact, this blockiness in his acting lends itself to the character of Slater, a man who, up until now, has been completely invincible. Up until now, he’s been the father to a hot daughter, a husband to a lovestruck ex-wife, the hero for a city. Turns out, he’s paying a gas station attendant to call the office so he can look cool in front of a cartoon rabbit, just like the rest of us.
Speaking of rabbits, this film features a ton of cultural and film throwbacks that I completely missed- and you may too, if you weren’t around for Schwarzenegger’s golden age. It’s sort of like an older version of the cameos in Ready Player One.
The film drags on waaaay too long and features faaaaar fewer boobies than I expected from a 90’s movie.
You can currently view the movie on Netflix.