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Movie Review: Cobra

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His image in the dusk she seem’d to see,
And to the silence made a gentle moan,
Spreading her perfect arms upon the air,
And on her couch low murmuring, ‘Where? O where?’

-John Keats

‘Where?’ I ask. Where indeed. Often I sit up unknowingly penetrating a waking dream faced with a question: ‘Where? O where?’ That selfsame query spoken by the Keatsian beauty, this time freckled and disjointed. The dream creature answers the damned plea:

“Why, in the curious shell of Cobra,” says the imp.

“Speak, imp, my patience runs low.”

“Look at the film in your hands,” says the imp.

“Tell me what I don’t know, not what I do – there is no film, it’s all a dirty lie.”

“Curse my truisms all you want, but that cut of cinema with ‘Cobra’ scrawled across its face is a fact,” says the imp.

“I’ll never believe it!”

“Use your eyes and not your ignorance,” says the imp.

“But the latter has jurisdiction where the former does not.”

“Glance your hands quickly,” says the imp.

“I refuse.”

Cobra is a container of answers, free to be poked by the open-minded and clear-sighted,” says the imp.

“You imp bastard.”

And so ended the prophet’s sojourn. The sun rose on the night of dreams and brought into being a glistening spectacle: a copy of Cobra.

The where of the moment passes into the known, the instant secreting an answer to the question, a Stallonean punch to the gut of ignorance.

Where morphs into when.

When?

Now.

Listen. His words are speaking:

“In America there’s a burglary every eleven seconds, an armed robbery every sixty-five seconds, a violent crime every twenty-five seconds, a murder every twenty-four minutes, and two-hundred-and-fifty rapes a day.”

Criminological thesis or mission statement? Disinterested academic study or a pretext for shooting the balls off ne’er-do-wells? This is the monologue that opens Cobra, set to the image of a gun being lifted, pointed, and fired at the camera. The resulting bullet tells us that this is probably not a rom-com.

Cobra is not a sequel to Sssssss. Cobra is prime Sylvester Stallone action goodness. A slab of mid-'80s spectacle, cloaked in gunfire and the sheen of Commando. Stallone plays Marion Cobretti (hence why the film is not called Boa constrictor). He’s a renegade cop hunting a group of killers. His methods for law enforcement consist of using maximum force. Rather than negotiation, he prefers a boot to the throat. Immediate results are his forte, forensic attention to detail he has no time for. Police chiefs know he gets the job done but solicit his services only as a last resort, wary of the carnage he’ll leave in his wake.

Cobretti isn’t a vigilante per se – all his actions are authorised by a police badge. But yet he stands apart from the system of law, of the bureaucratic machine of justice, a figure independent of the restrictions brought upon his peers. His remit comes not from above; it’s occasioned by the degeneracy of society. As already quoted, the film starts with his lament for a nation plagued with crime and debauchery. The place assigned him is that of enforcer of laws flouted and ignored, a balancer of crime’s monopoly. Or, as he so poetically puts it when face-to-face with a gun-totting psychotic:

“You’re the disease, I’m the cure.”

Such diseases are in distressing abundance in the world of Cobra. It’s as if the Warriors were singing threnodies to society’s prosperity. Darkness prevails, murder is hobby, leisure ruled by larceny. Cobretti’s villainous counterparts are anarchic thugs led by Brian Thompson’s Night Slasher, a serial killer figurehead for the collective. They run around the city revelling in the joys of homicide, randomly attacking the hapless and the helpless. Cries of “the new world” rise from each life extinguished, a possible philosophy hidden beneath the coarse exterior. Seems they aim to pressure society into a complete meltdown, a dip into total degradation. It’s a form of anarchy eyeing up a glorious utopia placed somewhere between Frogtown and the Thunderdome.

Cobretti’s offensive, cherished like a pet, takes a knock when he must defend witness Bridgette Nielsen. They take a Blind Fury-esque trip into the American country, a place of long roads and diners, pastures of isolation dotted here and there solely with the farts of truckers. Fortunately, Thompson and the gang have a police insider who keeps them informed of all movements. The result being that our action glands have little time to feel hungry – blood-soaked satisfaction awaits in a punishing denouement that takes place at an industrial plant.

Cobra represents the wasteland of nothing, a space brutally absent of charity and cheer. We are in the abode of 80s nihilism, that Reaganist space where the human is divested of value. A stark canvas where rules no longer exist, the stench being one of foul fumes trumpeting the strengthening patriarchy. Violent justice is flexed in the name of justice long-assassinated by silent inaction. Welcome to the vast nothingness. No excess of description, no surplus of morals, Cobra typifies the attraction of 80s action cinema. But it’s an attraction living in the present, looking back through the glittering celluloid travesties of recent times.

Given the option, I’d rather watch a film I know is morally bankrupt than have to tolerate sanctimonious shite like Crash (the Haggis one). I’d rather have Cobra’s brutal celebration of violent justice than face the contrived moral dilemmas of something like Righteous Kill. The drab, posing morality of such films looks tedious in comparison with the colourful nihilism of Cobra. Those films don’t even have a soundtrack of thumping power ballads!

Gritty action flicks of this era are a nihilistic desert in the geography of cinema. Cobra and its various cousins, from Raw Deal to The Punisher, are filmic grunts, immune to degeneration. They improve with age, becoming sweet syrup for thirsty cinephiles. Artefacts of rough visual composition and swirling-camera action sequences, they are the nodes of nothingness into which we project our enjoyment, our laughs, our gleeful shouts of encouragement. They are grand annihilators of a lecturing cinema that bores as much as it annoys. Let Stallone kick to death the patronising tone of pseudo-moral ostentation and nauseating self-importance. Cobra’s cartoon fantasy is to be enjoyed guiltlessly, Stallone’s playful antics creating no more than a mere image in the dusk.

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About Aaron Fleming

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Cobra is one of the worst films I ever had the unfathomable misjudgement to actually fork over money to see. It is as subtle as a ramraid with an F-250 and as intelligent as a Paris Hilton monologue.

    Unlike the contemporary Schwarzenegger vehicles such as Commando and Raw Deal, Stallone at this point was, unfortunately for the viewing public, still taking himself deadly seriously. I think he truly believed the garbage he was perpetuating on screen here.

    Quite a contrast from his later Tango and Cash, in which his character deliciously made fun of… Rambo!

    Nevertheless, you may well be the first writer in the history of movie criticism to invoke Keats when discussing Sylvester Stallone. Enormous kudos for that.