Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Stallone in Full McBain Mode

December 18th, 2009 · 7 Comments

We have a complicated relationship with Cobra, and thus hesitated for a beat before deciding to honor it with this week’s Bad Movie Friday showcase spot. To its credit, the movie does a fine job of conjuring up a psycho murder cult, the members of which gather in warehouses to bang together axes in rhythmic unison. But Sly Stallone’s performance here is beyond unsubtle, and the movie’s message deeply odious. The New York Times nailed it back in 1986:

This film shows such contempt for the most basic American values embodied in the concept of a fair trial that Mr. Stallone no longer, even nominally, represents an ideology that is recognizably American. In one scene Cobra pours gasoline over his enemy. ”You have the right to remain silent,” he sneers contemptuously, right before he throws the lighted match that sets his foe on fire. Later the archvillain, a character that is a cross between a James Bond fantasy villain such as Jaws and a raging psychopath, delivers a scorching monologue – a feat of linguistic sophistication that Cobra would have a hard time matching. The murderer depicts the legal civilities that force police to try to arrest prisoners and deliver them to the courts for trial as idiotic. ”The courts are civilized,” the villain says derisively. ”I’m not civilized,” Cobra answers, getting right to the point. ”This is where the law stops and I begin.”

A quick shot of Cobra’s office reveals an enormous portrait of President Reagan on his wall. This touch is probably meant to call up associations between Cobra and the President, but it does the opposite. The only places in which offices routinely have overblown portraits of the heads of Government are Eastern European Communist countries or dictatorships elsewhere in the world – the kinds of countries where Government officials mock the idea that everyone deserves a fair trial – just as Cobra does.

If you have a spare minute, by the way, we highly recommend this 60-second summary of the flick.


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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    This is exactly what I find so interesting about the current run of Punisher comics. The writers know all too well that they’re working with a character who is, by most normal standards, completely reprehensible. He kills people without any kind of legal sanction and has very few regrets about it. Especially given that they’ve started to make the relationship between him and the police more complicated, it’s become a very interesting ongoing debate about ends vs. means in graphic novel form.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: Sad how I’m totally looped out of comics nowadays–didn’t realize there were good things going on with Punisher. I only remember him as one of those characters I sorta couldn’t stand during the ’80s and early ’90s, when I was a big fan of the Marvel mutants. And, of course, through the mind-melting awfulness of the Dolph Lundgren live-action movie–a future BMF entry, perhaps.

    I’ll have to check out the revamped Punisher. Been meaning to take my kid to Forbidden Planet one of these days…

  • Jordan

    Just watch out a bit if you’re going to bring your kid. Those “Mature Content” warnings mean business. It’s actually been a bit of a problem on my local library system because too many parents think that “comics” at a library still mean things like Tintin. They still have the classics, but the scope of what libraries will shelve has broadened quite a bit.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: I fear it’s already too late for my son. He discovered the CD cover for Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” the other day.

  • scottstev

    @Mikrokahn – wow, one google image search for that reference, and I’ll be needing a couple extra therapy sessions myself.

    @Jordan – Ah, the Punisher. Takes me back to my youth. Only the absolutely powerless and self-absorbed (such as I was) can look up to such a psychopath. I wonder what the drop in crime of the late 80’s/90’s did to Frank Castle. Clearly society didn’t need him to clean up the messes it was afraid to face during his debut.

    On a somewhat related note; having recently caught “They Baader Mienhof Complex.” I was struck by the lenient sentences imposed for the initial crime (3 years for a dept. store arson that endangered the life of the watchman). I wonder what would have happened if they got serious time and weren’t released pending appeal, allowing them to skip bail. Of course, harsh prison sentences was a tender subject for post-war West Germany.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Is that movie worth checking out? It’s in my Netflix queue, but I’ve heard pretty mixed things.

    Your question actually touches on something I’m researching now for a major project. I don’t know enough about the RAF cases to comment, but I do know that political radicals were treated very leniently during the ’70s in Europe. Courts tended to grant them leeway, on the assumption that, yes, everyone was upset with the direction the world was taking, and isn’t it just like youth to lash out every now and again? (The French seemed particularly enamored with this sort of logic, at least according to my admittedly preliminary research.)

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