COBRA, I Guess? / by B. Roche



I wouldn't say I'm "into" Sylvester Stallone. Not for his acting ability, though he does have a specific raw talent I can't think of in anyone else. Still, his choice of roles and rumored controlling attitude over his films are kind of a drag.

But. His 1986 cop movie Cobra kept driving by my field of vision.

Last year, the great bad movie-appreciation podcast How Did This Get Made? did a Cobra episode.(I always enjoy HDTGM, but sometimes they try too hard to look for awfulness in movies that isn't fully there.)  

A few months later, I was sick and caught about 20 fevered minutes of Cobra on STARZ. It was kind of . . . awesome?  The imagery was almost surreal in its slickness. The film hurtled forward, not slowing for breath or concerned for my comprehension.

And then recently I got into the Junkfood Cinema podcast. With a name like that, you know they did a Cobra episode. JFC gave the movie a fair but enthusiastic rundown.

Fate is not a road, but an intersection. I had to give Cobra a full watch.

Having done so, I find Cobra isn't really a "paragraphs of analysis" kind of movie. So here, for an action movie with relatively few guns, are my bullet points: 

  • STYLE: Sunsets. Aviator sunglasses. Neon. Heavy filters. Light through venetian blinds.  L.A.  Even on a shabby blu-ray, Cobra is gorgeous. No exactly Tony Scott-level gorgeousity, but pretty great. Definitely director George P. Cosmatos' best-looking movie. 
  • Cobra is refreshingly brief at 87 minutes. Probably too brief.  There's almost no room to breathe. The concision is a crutch, barbecue sauce on old meatloaf. But what sauce.
  • Stallone, as Cobra, is introduced as a hero supercop who plays by his own rules. Yet his specific hero cop skills are undefined.  He's on the “Zombie Squad”, but what does that mean?  All the cops in the movie do all the same stuff.  


  • Based on textual evidence, Cobra's actual skills setting him apart from the remaining police force are:
    • Being out of uniform
    • Driving his own car (a souped-up '57 Mercury that seems impractical from both a gas-consumption and maintenance point of view, and nowhere near as sleek as befits a renegade)
    • Chewing an unlit match (Cobra does not smoke)
    • Wearing sunglasses indoors
    • Eschewing backup, so he can go mano-a-mano with psychotic criminals, against which pretty much anyone would want, like, a buddy. I mean, strangers spot each other when they bench-press. Police officers don't want to roll into almost certain death without at least one partner? 
    • Cutting leftover pizza with a hunting knife instead of an easy to use, widely available, presumably inexpensive pizza cutter.(I'm pretty sure it's Rambo's knife, so game, set, match, star of Rambo)
    • Straight-up punching superior officers in the face when they try to compliment him. (Two notes on Cobra's nerdy Superior Officer. Every criticism he has of Cobra's police work is 100% correct. Yet he always lets Cobra have his way. Superior Officer could - literally - pull rank on Cobra at any time.  He never does.)
    • Having the real name of Marion Cobretti, and somehow none of his friends tease him about it. Brigitte Nielsen gives him the slightest hard time and after that it's dropped. If you had a male friend named Marion who called himself Cobra, every time he came up in conversation, you'd say, "You mean Marion?"
  • I swear I am trying to write a sincere appreciation of the 1986 film Cobra.
  • But see, Cobra's questionable skill-set includes the behaviors of a megalomaniac, a king who's held the throne for so long he's forgotten how to think like a citizen. Stallone may not have had that in mind when he made Cobra (and he wrote it too, officially, as the credited screenwriter) but that's how it works, outside of the genius tight editing and eye-popping visuals, because of its un-ironic depiction of a real-world superhero. Marion Cobretti is Superman without a cape and the morals, but the same hair.   
  • The music is extra poppy. It compares unfavorably to Michael Mann’s movies, which have music that is just as '80s yet individualized, artistic. The music in Cobra was tailored to run as videos on MTV (a channel Cobra wouldn't know exists).  
  • The comic relief between Cobra and his partner is dreadful. The too-frequent non-comedy is at odds with the grim plot device of the serial killer cult.
  • Buried the lede there. The villains in Cobra are a serial killer cult. They gather for secret rituals in abandoned warehouses, clanging axes together. They're sort of the Manson Family minus the charisma. They terrorize the city with random murders, until one night Brigitte Nielsen witnesses them in action. Then she becomes their only target, and (movie trailer voice) Cobra is the only solution to an equation without a protractor. 
  • The one special thing Cobra does in the movie, which ain't nothing, is to figure out that all the random violence in the city is being committed by this one killer cult. I knew he had it in him.
  • I loved the villain gang. At least in concept. I think the intent is to boil all crime down to a concept, and Cobra is similarly reduced to an all-purpose avenger. In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cameron Frye is so uptight that, "if you put a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond." Cobra is that diamond.

All that to say, if you're sweating through your sheets and haven't eaten in two days but just feel like watching something, Cobra I guess?