Filmwerk’s ‘Action Heroes’ season of retrospectives continue with my take on one of Sylvester Stallone’s less well celebrated, somewhat overlooked movies.
Of course we’re talking about super silly, larger than life cop thriller, Cobra – now isn’t that the most awesomely bodacious title you ever heard?!
I’m not sure exactly what kind of trip Sly was on when the idea for Cobra came along, but to me at least it seems like he was trying to capture and channel a fair bit of that Harry Callahan vibe, bring it bang up to date, add a large dash of violent cool and possibly even launch a third character franchise. The last bit didn’t really work out of course as there’s never been a ‘Cobra 2’. I’m not really sure why, perhaps he misread the lay of the land and produced a character just too lunkheaded and locked into that 80’s violent action hero zeitgeist? One that, unlike Rocky Balboa, and to a lesser extent John Rambo, had little potential for extended longevity and adaptation. I’m not sure why this should be the case, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so let’s back up.
There was a time in my youth, when I thought my action heroes were like muscular, gun toting King Midas’s. Everything they touched turned to gold. Every Arnold film was a cracker, every Stallone a world beater, and these guys were the best actors in the world. This was a red blooded teenager’s conceit of course. The reality was that in 1986, while Arnold’s star was indeed on its primary ascension, it hadn’t quite moved into top gear yet. Stallone however, was basking in the glory of the mega box office successes of Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II the year before: Both movies being huge in just about every way imaginable. However, as had by now become common place, the movies between the Rocky’s and the Rambo’s sometimes struggled to make their mark in the same way. The bar was higher for Sly. Having said that, we are seldom talking about actual box office failure (although there were some of those along the way too).
Case in point; Cobra was a legitimate box office smash, opening at #1 in the States and making a massive profit on its reasonably modest budget. It is however, not thought of as a particularly good movie in retrospect, and was slammed and panned critically at the time, as well as becoming the latest pariah in the war against the glorification of movie violence. Cobra was a definite example of this slight inability of Stallone to fully nail down the winning ‘Rocky’ formula every time. It must be really frustrating to have managed massive success, found the magic mix once or twice, and then hit wide of the mark in some way. Of course it’s hugely unrealistic to expect anyone to have a 100% hit rate either financially or critically (the two so often in Hollywood being inversely proportional), but the burning glare of the media spotlight was always all too ready to slam Stallone whatever he tried (of course, in the case of horrendously ill-judged clangers like Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot such criticism is well deserved).
I remember getting the impression from interviews at the time, and in the following years, that Sly sometimes took criticism to heart more than I felt he really should. Although it didn’t stop him continuing to try different things and attempting to stretch out of the ‘action’ rut he was rapidly getting stuck in. I applaud him for that and the 90’s saw him seemingly relax into himself a little. Possibly with the wisdom of being a little older.
So what’s the movie all about? Well, I assume most folks who are interested in reading a retrospective of it, have at least seen it. However, as it’s not an ‘everybody’s seen it’ type of household name movie like Rocky or Rambo though so i’ll quickly recap.
Stallone struts out as maverick cop, Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti. It’s standard Sly faire in that he’s an ultra right wing, old school, uber violent (when dealing with criminal scum), wrecking machine. He’s judge, jury and executioner all rolled into an aviator wearing, match-stalk chewing, humunkalous beefcake with ‘Cobra’ personalised weaponry and a very cool, nitrous boosted chop-rod car. He constantly rubs his superiors up the wrong way and bucks doing things by ‘The Book’ in order to get the job done by any means. He seeks to level the playing field between the good guys and the scumbags.
He’s a walking anachronism and doesn’t care.
I don’t care either because he gets to spout some terrible macho one liners like:
“You’re a disease, and I’m the cure”
The story sees our guy protecting a witness against a sort of neo-Nazi fundamentalist group intent on somehow bringing about a new world order one murder at a time. Cobra ends up in a gigantic one man battle with the entire group, and once tooled up, does what he does best: Blows all the scumbags away.
The witness in question was played with wooden turgidity by Stallone’s then squeeze Brigitte Nielsen in post Red Sonja stereotyped damsel in distress mode. I always loved the fact that she is certified as being 6 feet exactly in height, while Sly is at best 5′ 9″ and some sources place him as being shorter than that. Bless them, they always looked so funny together! I imagine poor Brigitte had to stand in quite a few holes during close up shots with teeny tiny Sly.
She almost comes across as soft and feminine, but it’s a hard sell. You almost think she should stop screaming and running away, grab the bloody broadsword and start hacking some of these suckers away herself. I guess there’s no way Cobretti’s manliness could deal with such a thing.
The movie is riddled with stereotypes and well trodden beats. It has its fair share of terrible and unlikely plot flaws and contrivances, as well a few incomprehensibly stupid tactical decisions on Cobra’s part that gets people wounded and killed. He also completely totals his amazing car, which still hurts to watch. It’s all actually quite beyond silly, but I guess we all bought into it in our teens right?
Oh, before I forget; I should really mention Brian Thompson as the main baddie, as he is initially quite disturbing and effective, although his character’s power seems to dissipate further into the movie (unintentionally I might add). Thompson had a powerful and pumped up vascular physique that did at least give him the presence to be a genuine menace, and forceful adversary to Sly. Weirdly though, Cobra is one of those Stallone movies where his character isn’t required to be shirtless at all times if ever, so that aspect of his physical armoury is not given free reign.
Having written a few gigantic reviews lately, I’m going to keep this one a little more manageable dear reader, and bring it to a close. Cobra is an enjoyable movie, don’t get me wrong – it’s got plenty of nutty violence and awful (but great) one liners, and I’ve watched it many times over the years. It is of its time, both in good and terrible ways, and you must not bring your analytical brain to any viewing of it, ever!
So will we ever see Stallone return to Cobra’s snakeskin cowboy boots? I’m wholeheartedly of the opinion that although it might have been interesting to see the character develop, maybe to have caught up with him in the more touchy feely 90’s, or even do a 2011 Cobra? Not a reboot either, I mean Stallone as Cobretti, now wizened and grizzled. You know; would he be retired? Would he be an angry chief of police? Or would he be fat, working security at a mall or office building?
Rolling these ideas around in one’s head seems to lend credence to the wisdom in there never having been Cobra sequels. Every avenue of thought leads to a crappy premise.
Ultimately, I’m quite happy to leave Marion Cobretti trapped in a perpetual 1986, I don’t think he would like it anywhere else.
We will end on another quote:
Bad guy: “We are the FUTURE!”
Cobra: “No…You’re history”