Thursday, July 21, 2016

End of Days

End of Days (1999)

In this movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a former police officer who dramatically lost his faith and winds up having to protect a young woman (Robin Tunney) from being impregnated by the devil who happens to be walking around New York in the body of an investment banker (Gabriel Byrne). Said impregnation is scheduled to happen between eleven and midnight on New Year's Eve 1999 and will open up the gates of hell and bring about the, you know, End of Days.

The movie has some gruesome parts which held my attention for a little bit. There's one scene in particular where a guy gets crucified to the ceiling with surgical tools which was almost reminiscent of something out of Seven although not as gross and a lot more ridiculous (which is saying something).

There's also some weird Christian stuff which was vaguely interesting - for example, a woman with stigmata and speaking in tongues I guess hanging out in a church basement - but the movie didn't go into any sort of depth about that. They mentioned that there were more cases, but they didn't show it, thereby failing to capture the sense of impending doom one would expect from a movie called End of Days.

Gabriel Byrne did a reasonably good job playing the devil incarnate. He was definitely less obnoxious than, say, Al Pacino in Devil's Advocate or Jack Nicholson in Witches of Eastwick, but also less intimidating than Peter Stormare in Constantine or Sam Neill in Omen 3. In fact, I feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger would have done a much better job as Satan in this movie - they could have made him a robot devil and called it, oh, say, Terminator: Revelations or Terminator: Judgement Day.

Anyway. The plot was predictable, following all of the cliches you would expect in a run-of-the-mill Satan-walks-the-earth movie. There's a scene with a snake and a weird ritual; a scene where the main character's judgement is called into question due to debilitating alcoholism; the obligatory "I'm not really the bad guy, God is the bad guy" speech followed by the Devil proving that yes, in fact, he is the bad guy; the scene where the main character gets his faith back and is powered by God's love or whatever; the scene where the Devil sheds his human appearance and reveals himself to be a big stupid looking monster. It's all there, and while it's comforting in its familiarity, this movie didn't deviate from the formula enough to be interesting.

The characters weren't strong enough to hold the lazy plot, as we're given almost no information about them. Schwarzenegger's character is mourning the sudden, violent loss of his family, whoopty fuckin ding, how many action movie characters have had that happen? The only reason we're given to care about the female lead is that she's cute and in distress. She's also super rich and if life experience has taught me anything it's that nine times out of ten rich people are fucking dicks so maybe they should've just killed her to prevent the apocalypse.

The worst offender for shoddy character development , of course, was Gabriel Byrne's character. Not Satan, but his actual character. We see him early in the movie sitting down to dinner with some woman and an older dude, he goes to the bathroom and then BAM he's possessed by Satan. He gets no backstory at all. How do we know that he wasn't a violent, oversexed arsonist before he was possessed? We don't. Maybe all Satan did was give him the ability to piss gasoline (that happened in the movie, no lie)? Maybe that was a weird, pre-existing medical condition. We'll never know. The fact that we know literally nothing about the character makes it really unsatisfying when the body gets killed because technically he didn't even do anything wrong. I mean, yeah, he was supposed to be an investment banker, so probably super rich and you can re-read the above paragraph to see how I feel about that, but still, maybe he wasn't, we don't know, nobody does.

Even the action scenes in this movie were ludicrous at best - for example this part where Schwarzenegger dangles by a cable out of a helicopter trying to snag a gunman on the roof of a building - and incomprehensible at worst. There's a scene where Schwarzenegger fights like forty people and the editing was so choppy that it's nearly impossible to tell what was going on. Although, to be fair, I was starting to fall asleep at that point.

The biggest problem I had with this movie, though, has nothing to do with the half-assed writing, or the mediocre acting, or the incomprehensible premise. Although, to be fair, that was a little frustrating too. Like, is the devil trying to father the Antichrist? Or open the gates of hell? Coz like from what I understand of Christian mythology, before the second coming of Christ, there will be a false messiag (or Antichrist) born of a virgin and presumably the Devil, who will be vanquished by Christ when he does show up. But if, as this movie suggests, the gates of hell will swing open the moment Satan's proxy ejaculates into the diabolic receptacle, then really what's the point of siring a false prophet?

I can't believe I'm actually trying to rationalize this movie.

But I digress. The real problem I have is that we are no longer in the year 1692 and the Devil isn't scary anymore. It doesn't matter what you do, you can make him a flame peeing psychopath, the idea of Lucifer actually walking around murdering people is too silly to be frightening. That's why most movies that feature Satan as a major character are a joke, like Ghost Rider, and films featuring Satan that are actually scary focus more on human actions, like Rosemary's Baby and The Witch.

The conclusion that I drew from this movie is that the Devil trumps God as evidenced by the fact that apparently the entire population of New York worships Satan (if I was a savvy New York writer I would make a joke about that), and that he can walk into a church and kill a bunch of priests without the slightest interference from the Almighty. But Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately defeats the Devil so therefore worshiping Arnold puts you on the winning team.


Directed by: Peter Hyams.  Written by: Andrew W. Marlowe.  Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Udo Kier, Miriam Margolyes.

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