It’s not great, but it knows exactly what it is
I need to tell you that Last Man Down is not a great film, and mostly only action film superfans need spend any time considering it. But I mostly need to tell you that up front because from this point on I’m largely just going to discuss all the stuff that I had a great time with in this bizarre vanity project-style low budget love letter to peak oiled up Schwarzenegger era action cinema.
Norwegian bodybuilder Daniel Stisen IS lone post apocalyptic woodsman and ex-super soldier John Wood. Our dude just kind of… chops wood and lifts weights all day at his heavily fortified cabin in the woods, staying out of the global pandemic which has decimated the world’s population and steering clear of Commander Stone’s marauding army who killed Wood’s wife and to whom he used to belong. That is, until Maria (Olga Kent) comes limping onto his property… a wounded escapee with a homing beacon inside her that brings down the hellish fury of Commander Stone’s army upon our protagonists cabin. What is there to do but gear up with a prepping/training montage and set John and Maria loose on hordes of nameless/faceless villains in a Home Alone-style plot that’s more than a little de rigueur today with films like Skyfall, Rambo V, and Becky all taking pages out of Kevin McAllister’s playbook?
And if Schwarzenegger was known as the Austrian Oak, Daniel Stisen is the Norwegian Ham Hock. This bulging, stocky dude doesn’t have the charisma of Arnold, but there are a few things working to his advantage here. It’s clear that everyone involved knew what Last Man Down was going for and this love letter to Commando is under no pretense that it’s anything more than that. So while it’s simultaneously a kind of vanity project for the relatively unknown Stisen, he also clearly “understood the assignment” as the internet is wont to say, and brings to this role a gravelly voice that puts Christian Bale’s Batman voice to shame… even to the point of frequent incomprehensibility. He also blasts a few dudes with a shotgun whilst sitting on the shitter. Last Man Down has an awkward sense of humor, but it DOES have a sense of humor, and it really helps.
Need some further Commando parallels? Rather than a kidnapped daughter we have a tragic wife executed in flashback. But where Commando gives us melodramatic montages of John Matrix and his daughter hand-feeding deer and getting messy with an ice cream cone, Last Man Down has Wood’s wife baking him his favorite cake whilst wearing a gingham dress. Oh, and do you want to talk about muscle fetishization? Last Man Down rekindles that somewhat lost legacy of having a dozen or so characters who are clearly bodybuilders on screen. Stisen glistens throughout in oiled-up splendor. Daniel Nehme as Commander Stone looks ready to split out of his skin at any moment as he rhapsodizes about how “Wood” as a last name is too soft, so he prefers his. And then there’s the hot female henchman Granite (Madeleine Vall) just flexing and killing throughout. Oh and to further fetishize the flesh we get a hilariously ill-timed shower sequence taking place when the enemy could arrive at any moment, but which most definitely shows us Stisen’s highly sculpted ass.
Need some one-liners to satiate that Commando hunger? How about:
“Hey John. You’re one bad motherfucker”
“Sure I am. Grab some water. Things are going to burn tonight.”
Bad guy to Wood: “You need to learn how to die!”
Wood to bad guy, after killing him: “You need to learn how to kill.”
Last Man Down works double time to fill the Commando-shaped hole in our hearts. It’s never as iconic or supercharged as the era it is paying homage to. But it’s worth noting that the filmmaking throughout flirts with effectiveness (under director Fansu Njie) that many other action homages never quite achieve. There actually are some fun kills and iconic moments as Wood lays waste to his enemies. I felt the film featured just enough unhinged chaos mixed with competently staged and shot action sequences to warrant a mild recommend to those who, like me, desperately miss the era of peak training montage.
And I’m Out.
Last Man Down will release On Demand and On Digital on October 19th, 2021 from Saban Films.