‘End of Days’ Review: Hasta La Vista Satan

Posted in The Screening Room by - December 04, 2015

When you’ve been the looming titan of action movies for nearly two decades like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you start to must start to wonder how to mix up the formula. You’ve played the good guys and the villains, killed men, machines, aliens, and plenty worse. Heck, you even tussled with Batman and pregnancy – what more could be left? How about an all-out throw-down with the biggest bad: Lucifer, himself.

That’s essentially the entire pitch to 1999’s End of Days: put Mr. Universe up against Christianity’s master villain. A Terminator versus Diablo deathmatch sounds pretty wicked on paper, but it seems it might have been a bit of an overshot.

End of Days has Arnold’s bodyguard, Jericho Cane thrust into a world of holy mystery, after confronting a would-be assassin who turns out to be a reclusive priest on a mission. Suddenly, he’s forced to save Christine York (Robin Tunney) from bloodthirsty monks, cultists, the police, and even herself. It all culminates with a showdown between Jericho and Satan (played by Gabriel Byrne) in the middle of an elaborate Catholic church just before the ball drops on New Years’ and the end of the 20th century.

Really and truly, this is the setup for a great action flick; just bombastic enough to overwhelm the inherent ridiculousness of the whole conceit. The devil uses everything at his power to gain control of Christine and fulfill the prophesy that will let him reign over heaven and Earth, including resurrected followers, sudden explosions, temptation of the heroes, and even psychic projections. Jericho, as an ex-cop-turned-gun-for-hire, has his raw strength, sleuthing skills, array of weapons, and just a touch of renewed faith to carry him through.

But, unfortunately, that’s not fully realized in End of Days. Sure, each of these pieces comes to play by the end of the film, but none of them feel as ridiculous and awesome as they should be. Satan stays mostly in a human host throughout the film, severely limiting the effect he can have on the physical world. His cultists and even the contracted souls of Jericho’s dearest friends are wildly ineffective. Heck, Arnie himself has few-to-no good shoot-out scenes, barely flexes his brawn, and occasionally comes off as just plain laughable (his introductory scene builds to a climax where he’s being puppeteered out of a flying helicopter, trying to grab the assassin-priest running between the New York rooftops.

Not only that, but the film has some really choice bits of terrible writing. Beginning with the names (Jericho; Fr. Thomas Aquinas; Christine York, which is used as a pun/reveal of the devil’s plan… thing), it only escalates from there. Why does Satan need Christine? A convoluted prophesy that makes her the host of the Antichrist (I think?). Why 1999? Well, clearly you see “666” upside down in your dreams, so duh! Hell, eventually the characters even start highlighting them, as Jericho has the presence of mind to ask how the priests or Satan know that the consummation has to be completed by midnight in the Eastern Time Zone. The response? There isn’t one. The priest takes it like a bad joke from a non-believer and just moves along. The whole thing is trite and stupid, and that’s not even touching on the questionable nature of Christine’s character. The poor girl could have been an interesting facet, but she’s boiled down so far to be Satan’s prize and Jericho’s ward that even when she’s making decisions, they’re simply inaction to have someone else look after her and direct her life.

Of course, in our final fight, Satan remembers he can move around as a GIANT, INVISIBLE HELL-BEAST, and takes it to Jericho and his guns. The effects certainly show their age here, and the fight isn’t given the time it deserves to be completely awesome. It all resolves in a nice bow, but there’s at least some dignity to the final resolution for Jericho.

All that being said I really can’t help but enjoy this movie, in some weird way. It’s not as exciting and fun as some other Schwarzenegger flicks (hell, even if you didn’t like Terminator: Genesys it’s got better action than this), and it doesn’t live up to its potential in virtually any way, but it’s still redeeming enough that I can’t discount it out of hand. There are some great one-liners from both Arnold and Byrne, it’s pretty well-paced over all, and all of the characters are very well-cast. Heck, even most of the bad parts are at least worth laughing at.

I won’t end this review on some terrible pun and tell you it’s “a hell of a ride,” or that it will “burn its way into your heart” but that’s more because they’d be highly inaccurate statements. No, when I look back at the time I spent watching End of Days, I realize that, while it might be blunt as a Bible, it’s still an enjoyable, if entirely ridiculous, little 90s action flick.

Final Verdict: Watch It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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