Crime is a disease and he’s the cure. George P. Cosmatos and Sylvester Stallone team up for cult classic Cobra. Marion “Cobra” Cobretti is a street cop who plays by his own rules. After witnessing a murder, Ingrid, played by Brigitte Nielsen, is placed under the protection of Cobretti who suspects that this latest murder might be linked to a dangerous cult led by the Night Slasher. What ensues is an hour and a half of high-octane action. Can Cobra find the killer without risking Ingrid’s safety or will the Night Slasher and his crew catch their latest victim? Here is Cobra!
Stallone’s career is a rollercoaster ride; from the cultural phenomenon of Rocky to the schlocky Expendables, the quality of Stallone’s films are usually hit or miss. Stallone had originally been attached to Beverly Hills Cop as the lead. When tasked with rewriting the script, he had removed most of the comedy beats in favor of a darker action film. Realizing that the action sequences were beyond the studio’s budget, they passed on his script. Stallone would take these ideas and use them for Cobra. Cobra’s production history has been well-documented in the past with stories of Stallone’s unprofessional behavior to a rumored x-rated cut that had to be cut down to have a wider audience appeal. Despite all this, Cobra still manages to be an exciting action film, flaws and all!
Stallone’s face and name may be on the poster, but it’s Brian Thompson’s terrifying performance as the Night Slasher that leaves an impression. Thompson’s physicality, cast-iron jawline, and booming voice are just the icing on the cake; the glue that holds this performance together is Thompson’s intensity. In the showdown between Cobra and the Night Slasher, the villain gives an impassioned monologue of how the strong will survive and how the weak will perish. Thompson’s delivery of that monologue works so well because it’s delive. The beads of sweat dripping from the Slasher’s face as well as his baritone voice further drive home the point that this man might not even be human at all. He’s a hunter and he won’t stop until he’s killed his prey. A couple of extra scenes could have further established the menace of the Night Slasher, but Thompson is still able to be effective with the little material he is given.
Cobra’s original runtime was over two hours but had to be cut down to 87 minutes for more theater screenings. While the film was now viable for wider distribution, it came at the cost of underdeveloped subplots and characters; particularly the romance between Cobretti and Ingrid. Stallone and Nielsen were in a relationship during the filming of Cobra but their onscreen chemistry would make you think otherwise. Stallone has been a romantic lead in the past with Rocky, but with Cobra, it doesn’t feel appropriate for the character. Brigitte Nielsen herself has nothing to do other than be the damsel in distress. If it had been so crucial for these two to fall in love, it would have been best to flesh out their relationship with more screen time together.
The Night Slasher is the leader of a murderous cult, but because of the film’s lean runtime, there’s little time spent in developing the murder cult or how they function. The most insight the film provides is the fact that they bang their axes in unison which, while creepy, hardly passes for world-building. If the basic idea is that they want to kill people, that’s fine, but a few sequences of these people doing bad things would only help in amplifying the personal stakes.
Amidst all the studio meddling, they knew better than to botch the main selling point: the action sequences! Cobra has it all: shootouts, car chases, and excessive explosions. Whether you love or hate a Stallone film, there’s no denying that his action sequences will always be high quality. The car chase between Cobretti and the Slasher’s troops is a fun showcase of practical stunts and good editing. The camera follows the chase from all over the Long Beach area as both cars are driven through oncoming traffic and dangerous roads. It’s an adrenaline rush that only an 80’s film can achieve. Stallone’s attention to detail as well as his willingness to perform many of Cobra’s stunts are a large part of why his action films continue to resonate with audiences.
Cobra is a bit of a mess, but when one takes into consideration just how difficult the filmmaking process was, it could have been much worse. Brian Thompson delivers a devilish performance that will terrify you and Stallone once again plays up his action hero persona to great effect. I’m the pantheon of 80’s action, it’s easy to see why it’s received cult status. The shorter runtime might not have served the film well, but the film’s set pieces and characters are enough to hold the film together.
BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The opening shootout at the supermarket feels all too real in our current world which is why it works so well. This sequence feels closer to the darker tone that Stallone was apparently going for when he first wrote the script for Cobra. Marco Rodriguez, the actor portraying the Supermarket Killer, deserves every award you can give him! He’s only in this one sequence but he takes full advantage of it by dishing out a performance that is off the walls. The moment Cobretti comes in to save the day is the moment you can finally breathe a sigh of relief because you know he’s going to save the day. Even if you get nothing else out of Cobra, this sequence is undoubtedly the high mark of the film.