Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Derrick O’Connor, Miriam Margolyes, Udo Kier, Victor Varnado, Rod Steiger
Directed by Peter Hyams
Expectations: Arnold vs. the Devil has to be good, right?
End of Days is one of what I presume is a handful of 1999 films to use the Y2K scare as a basis for their plot. Thanks to finally seeing the film 16 years after its release, where it’s known that nothing happened when we entered the new millennium, this plotline nostalgically reminded me of the days when the American public was controlled by simple fears instead of terrorism. But it also can be seen as a “fictional historical record” of what might have actually saved our collective butts from financial and technological doom. I already believe that Arnold can accomplish anything in movie land, from defeating an alien predator to carrying a baby to term, so I might as well think that he actually saved the world from destruction.
End of Days opens with a baby being born — no, not Arnold’s — and soon after a satanic nurse whisks her away to confirm her demonic birthmark and feed her some snake blood. Y’know, the usual. For all I know, this is what happens every time an infant is born, but for the sake of this movie, I’ll assume that this baby is special. And imagine that, it turns out she is! When she has grown to maturity, this child will be the wife of Satan, but she must remain a virgin until their coupling (which will somehow seal the Earth’s fate). The Catholic church has their own sect of elite priests devoted to stopping them — they kick ass for the Lord — but it is private security officer Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who ends up being the deciding factor in this holy war.
The premise of Arnold vs. the Devil with the fate of all humanity in the balance is a good one for a fantasy film, but I learned just before watching that it was actually supposed to be Tom Cruise vs. the Devil. Cruise did Magnolia instead, and that was obviously the right choice for him (and us). Perhaps the film would’ve done better at the box office with Cruise, but if I was choosing Earth’s champion against the Devil, I’d definitely pick Arnold. The director was also not always Peter Hyams; in the Tom Cruise incarnation, Marcus Nispel (director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes) was to make his directorial debut. I guess what I’m getting at is that End of Days was the result of a lot of personnel juggling, so it’s not hard to understand why the final film isn’t as good as it could’ve been with a more singular artistic vision.
The most obvious example of this mediocre quality is the late ’90s fast-cut editing that mars every moment of action, a mortal sin that thankfully Hollywood has moved away from in the years since. But honestly, this isn’t what bugged me the most about End of Days. That distinction goes to the whole first half of the film where Arnold was basically a non-entity. He’s around, he does a few things, he even gets a couple of good “C’mon!” and “Do it now!” Arnold moments, but the Arnold energy is far from the level of Arnold-tainment we’ve become accustomed to. The film’s main drive during this half is the impending doom of Satan’s plan for the Earth. Arnold is merely a secondary force, and one not capable of doing much to slow down the devil’s progression towards his endgame.
Thankfully, this changes drastically in the second half. Arnold takes the offensive and the film becomes more about him than the demon’s unheeded rise to power. The Arnold-ized plot was far more engaging to me, with no disrespect intended towards Gabriel Byrne, who does a great job at inhabiting the devilish role. But there’s no way anything that Bryne could do — even a mesmerizing CG-aided threesome where the participants’ bodies meld together fluidly — can hold a candle to the simplicity of Arnold gearing up with explosives and guns to take on Satan! I am a simple man with simple desires, and in an Arnold movie the sight of a gearing-up montage always hits the spot. In my version of a perfect world, the tagline woulda been, “He’s goin’ commando on this demonic motherfucker!” or maybe, “He’s taking on Satan… with a grenade launcher!”
Anyway, if you’re like me and you have avoided End of Days until now, I’d say that while the film isn’t much overall, the second half is full of fantastic stuff. Big-time Arnold fans will be thrilled by a knock-down, drag-out fight between Arnold and a middle-aged woman fueled by a lifelong love of Satan, and many other moments of fantastic fun. Just sit tight through the relatively lame first half (that reminded me a lot of The Omen), and you will be rewarded.
I also feel compelled to note that for 1999, the CG in this film holds up rather well. Coupled with some great physical FX work from KNB, and some excellent models, End of Days remains a very capable and not-so-dated FX film.
I was lazy and didn’t get my Eraser review posted before this one, so next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is Eraser, the film that came out before End of Days! See ya then!