Commando (1985)

Commando (1985)

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That deer is pure evil.
That deer is pure evil.

Twitter Plot Summary: Bennett, the world’s best villain, fights Arnie’s John Matrix. Lots of generic grunts die, stuff blows up.

Genre: Action/Thriller

Director: Mark Lester

Key Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, Alyssa Milano, Rae Dawn Chong, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, James Olson.

Five Point Summary:

1. Right? Wrong!

2. Dead… you thought wrong!

3. John! I’ll be ready John!

4.  Welcome back John, so glad you could make it.

5. John I feel good!

My one recommendation when watching Commando is to go in with an open mind. That’s not because it’s high art or has a complex storyline – quite the opposite. Rather, if you go into it without any expectations you should thoroughly enjoy it. As big dumb action films go it’s probably one of the biggest and dumbest, but it’s so much fun you can forgive all of its obvious continuity errors, the equally obvious stunt doubles and the fact the story wafer thin. The film exists for you to just switch your brain off and revel in the silliness.

The story: John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is a retired black ops commando who now wants to live the quiet life and look after his young daughter Jenny (Milano). It just so happens that somebody has been bumping off all of Matrix’s former team and he’s the next target, so General Kirby (Olson) drops by to warn of a possible attack and leaves two soldiers behind for security. Literally within seconds of Kirby leaving, Matrix’s home is attacked and his daughter kidnapped. Matrix is press-ganged by deposed General Arius into assassinating the current democratically elected president of fictional country Val Verde. But Arius is not acting completely alone – he is supported by Bennett, one of Matrix’s former team. The only backstory we get is that Bennett was thrown out of the unit for enjoying killing a little too much, and ever since he has sought revenge against Matrix. Simple.

As is typical for most of the films in this genre, there is almost zero characterisation. We know Matrix was a commando and he’ll do anything to protect his daughter. Beyond that, nothing. Where’s Jenny’s mother? It’s a question that doesn’t need an answer, let’s face it. For all we know he adopted Jenny after a commando raid where her real parents were killed. Who knows? Bennett, also, is a sadistic killer who wants revenge. Nothing more needed. His grunts – Sully, Henriques and Cooke – are just there to act as obstacles for Matrix and to pad the film’s running time out. And also build up to the big fight at the end, of course.

Bill Duke. Black man. Legend.
Bill Duke. Black man. Legend.

Of the remaining key cast, it’s perhaps Rae Dawn Chong’s Cindy that gets the most to do, although that’s not really saying much. Thankfully she isn’t used as an obligatory love interest – Matrix has no time for base human emotions like that – instead after she’s indecently propositioned by Sully (he really needs to go on a “how to meet and talk to women” course) she is dragged along on the adventure, unwillingly at first, and helps Matrix rescue Jenny. For the most part she’s the exposition character, asking what’s going on, where they’re going and helping Matrix piece together the clues as to where Jenny is being held (“Look, here’s a photo of an amphibian airplane”- Well done Cindy!). General Arius has very little to do. He has a bit of exposition with Bennett explaining his reasons for staging a coup in Val Verde, but he’s generally an impotent character. Even his fight with Matrix is poor. With his apparent lack of knowledge regarding tactics and the use of weaponry, is it any wonder he was deposed in Val Verde? That just leaves Jenny, who is the MacGuffin that pushes the story on. Well, from Matrix’s side of things anyway, all Bennett and Arius do is sit around and wait for Matrix to turn up. She does nothing really except take after her father and badmouth the villains.

If you’re anything like me you’ll find various elements of the film rather hilarious – the opening credits are a montage of Matrix spending time with his daughter, the music is happy and carefree. Then, for no apparent reason, the music takes a sinister turn just as Matrix and Jenny are feeding a deer. That deer is obviously evil. The soundtrack itself is quite an odd one – there’s an abundant use of kettle drum which I don’t recall ever hearing in another film. Please let me know if you’re aware of any. There’s also a small role for Bill Paxton as a flustered radar operator, just before he started getting the bigger roles when Aliens rolled up the following year. Other hilarious moments worth looking out for is Arnold watching the door close on the plane, almost as if he’s hoping his intense stare will make it explode, or at the very least stop closing. He also wears an incredibly loud beeping watch – it’s only loud in close-up, but if you seriously owned a watch with that loud a beep it would be a permanent distraction. Also keep an eye on Arius’ soldiers – there’s an alarming amount of facial hair on show, and most of it appears to be stuck on haphazardly. Almost as if this army of over a hundred men was in reality only about 10 guys…

So THAT'S why the film's called Commando!
So THAT’S why the film’s called Commando!

This was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first film where he had top billing, so in essence this is where his action movie legend began. The script is rife with Bond-esque one liners and dry retorts, which Arnold deadpans perfectly. Everything he did after this seems to follow a similar template, give or take, but this is pure Arnold. But whilst Arnold is top billing, most of the kudos goes to Vernon Wells. Bennett is the best villain in cinema history, no question. He’s not really menacing (although Vernon Wells does try), instead he comes across as a kind of overweight, Kiwi Freddie Mercury, whispering his way through half his dialogue and shrieking like a banshee when he’s in the midst of a fist fight with Matrix. His outfit says it all – leather trousers, fingerless gloves, a chain-mail vest and dog tags literally on a dog collar. He’s also nigh-on invincible, electrocution does nothing except supercharge him. By comparison, the previous 80-85 minutes of the movie are just filler for the final battle between Matrix and Bennett. I think it’s supposed to be a tense fight that could go either way, but it’s just funny. Really, really funny.

If you’re of a certain mind then there will be no convincing you of the merits of this film. You will look at the blatantly obvious stunt doubles, the ridiculously high body count, the awful continuity, that we see one explosion from fifty angles. You will scoff and you will complain, and that’s fine. But you’re missing out big time. It’a s shame that the proposed Commando 2 didn’t amount to anything, as a continuation of the increasingly silly adventures of John Matrix would have been amazing.

Favourite scene: Matrix and Cooke slugging it out in a motel room. Those guys eat too much red meat.

Quote: “Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last?” “That’s right Matrix, you did!” “I lied.”

Silly Moment: The climactic fight between Bennett and Matrix. Effeminate grunts and silly violence aplenty.

Score: 5/5

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