In the 1980s, Los Angeles was out of control. Minorities were walking the streets with no fear, left untouched in bars and clubs, and parking in legal designated spaces without any sort of hassle or intimidation.
That all changed when Lieutenant Marion "Cobra" Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) came onto the scene. Part of the LAPD's infamous "Zombie Squad" (named as such because they are "the bottom line," whatever that means), Cobra drives through the mean streets in his 40s-era Batman car (license plate "AWSOM 50"), matchstick in mouth and pistol in waistband. He's everything our society values in a police officer: carelessness, violence, and a complete lack of administrative oversight.
|Surprisingly not from a gay porno.|
We are introduced to Cobra's devil-may-care attitude in one of LA's many random grocery store hostage situations. The shooter seems less concerned with harming the customers and more senselessly unloading into as many milk jugs and Doritos bags as possible. He fires into cartons of liquor bottles, which of course, given 1980s action physics, explode.
|"NOOO!! My secret nitro glycerin-based whiskey formula!"|
Hiding behind an ornate Pepsi™ display and calming his nerves with a refreshing can of Coors®, Cobra shows off his negotiating skills by assuring the gunman that he's going to kill him the first chance he gets. Cobra of course fulfills his promise, blowing the gunman away and adding in a "drop it!" a full 1/15th of a second before pulling the trigger.
|"Alright Cobra, just stay cool. Cool like a nice cool glass of Pepsi: The Choice of a New Generation™."|
Cobra's amoral attitude toward law and order makes him the perfect foil to the Axe Gang, a nihilistic group of psychopaths who kill indiscriminately in an effort to bring forth a new world order. Exactly how many people need to die before the world realizes the need for societal change? Thirty? Fifty? 3.2 million? The Axe Gang never specifies. Nor does its leader, only known as "Night Slasher" (Brian Thompson) resembling a chainsaw sculpture as viewed through a fun-house mirror.
|Anarchist meticulously cuts eyeholes out of pantyhose disguise.|
After a successful robot pimp photo shoot, Amazonian fashion model Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen) drives home and has the misfortune of witnessing one of the Axe Gang's latest crimes. Actually she doesn't witness much of anything, but she does see the Night Slasher staring creepily at her in the middle of the road. That's reason enough to experience the full wrath of the gang's psychotic fury.
|"Bender honey we love you!" "Shut up baby I know it!"|
After their first failed attempt to clandestinely snuff her out in the photography studio garage (using axes, the stealthiest of weapons), the gang pulls out all the stops, using every tool in their arsenal to kill her and anyone that might be within a 50 foot radius of her, including Cobra (BIG mistake).
|Coors, Pepsi, and now Coke? What the hell am I supposed to drink, movie?|
While the Axe Gang is a wonderfully pure representation of evil for evil's sake, its vague philosophy makes for some unclear motivations and poor planning. It would be a much more terrifying gang if it wasn't so terrible at being a gang. Despite seemingly unlimited resources--guns, manpower, vans, cars, motorcycles, spies, axes--it fails to kill a single witness, even long after its forces swell beyond any and all practicality. The gang members want to kill Ingrid because she saw Night Slasher's face, but what about the witnesses to their numerous public displays of violence and destruction as they attempt to kill her?
They are even awful at using axes--their collective nom de guerre--clumsily swinging them into steam valves and sprinkler systems with about a 5% success rate.
|They must have a deal with a hardware store.|
The Axe Gang represents that terrifying contradiction known as "The Enemy," a force terrifyingly stupid and unstoppably inept. This is fortunate for Cobra (representing "The Us") who is really not that much smarter than the gang. In one scene Cobra insists the Axe Gang has a spy inside the police force feeding it information, and then immediately accepts a female police officer he's never met into the inner sanctum of his witness protection plan (guess who she's working for?). In fact, the entire police force doesn't seem terribly on the ball; they squabble over Cobra's antics but still go along with whatever plan he concocts. Protect a witness? Do we have protocol for this? Nah. Just drive her upstate or something.
Cobra represents a bizarre shift Stallone made in the 80s from violent yet thoughtful character pieces (Rocky, First Blood) into works of sloppy fascist chest-thumping. Clocking in at 82 entire minutes by the end credit roll, Stallone probably managed to crank this out in a fortnight and still have 6 hours left over each day to work on his glutes.
Arbitrary Rating System
Body count: 52 (according to IMDb; I didn't actually keep track).
Supermarket Killer: Get back! I got a bomb here! I'll blow this whole place up!
Cobra: Go ahead. I don't shop here.
Cobra: You know that's bad for your health?
Cobra: (pulls cigarette from his mouth) Me.
Night Slasher: You want to go to hell? Huh, pig? You want to go to hell with me? It doesn't matter, does it? We are the hunters. We kill the weak so the strong survive. You can't stop the New World. Your filthy society will never get rid of people like us. It's breeding them! WE ARE THE FUTURE!
Cobra exchanges witty repartee with a local street urchin.