Still holds up, for the most part.
You have to set aside a whole lot of junk science to appreciate it, but as a late-80s actioner, it works. Yeah, the feeling of the thing is very much what the 1980s thought the future would look like, complete with over-large glasses and plenty of aerobics and tights, but whatever. That’s all set dressing and as charming in its own way as the beehive hair-dos of 1960s sci-fi. And many of the sets are clearly sets.
The film includes a lot of really subtle set-ups, and the plot is winding enough to force you to pay more attention than most examples of the genre, but if you do pay attention, it all falls into place nicely at the end.
A couple of scenes are real clunkers. The reveal of fat-woman-Arnold goes on way too long. So does the ending choking scene where Arnold and his paramour lay gasping for breath way too long. There are a lot of subtle little beats intercut into that scene, all of which matter, but all of which just make the writhing about feel silyl and pointless.
Kuato’s death on the other hand, delivers a solid emotional punch all out of proportion to the man’s screen time. Part of that is the long build-up before you meet him, but I think part of it is also the emotional whiplash of his introduction. The weird, slime-coated fetus dangling from a guy’s belly invokes a feeling of revulsion, but the soft and gentle voice that radiates warmth and command adds a depth and humanity to the creepy little bastard. As does his powerful psychic abilities and evident concern for his people. All in all, it’s a nice little touch, and an example of how puppet-work can be used effectively.
One thing that struck me during the re-watch is how silly one common objection to the plot really is. The smart guys protest, “A Martian colony wouldn’t be built without a whole lot of greenery to naturally replace oxygen!” To which I can only reply, “A major American metropolitan area wouldn’t just let malcontents and criminals go wilding through the central business district as a warning to the suburbs that they’d better behave lest the mayor turn the hordes outward.” And yet, here we are. Maintaining a tight grip on something as crucial as the air-supply is exactly what the corporation that runs Martiantown would do.