Monday, 25 February 2008
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Screenplay: Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vernon Wells & Rae Dawn Chong
Quite possibly the quintessential 80s action film, Commando still remains (almost 23 years on) one of Schwarzenegger’s most solid and entertaining films. About as pure as action films get and along with other 80s action epics, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Die Hard, Commando helped set the template for the modern action film. Brisk pacing, one liners, massive stunts and a high level of violence were synonymous with action pictures of the 80s and 90s and Commando is one of the finest examples of this genre.
Schwarzenegger is retired Colonel John Matrix just living the quiet life with his young daughter Julie (Alyssa Milano). She gets kidnapped by a bunch of mercenaries who want to blackmail Matrix into doing something bad. He refuses and sets about destroying everyone and everything in his path until he is reunited with his daughter. Set over an eleven hour period, the time in which Matrix has to get his daughter back, Commando neither dillies or dathers in providing the requisite action and stunt thrills it promises. Streamlined to the extreme and utilizing Schwarzenegger’s charisma and knack for one liner delivery, the film pulls no punches in showing the violent methods Matrix will go to in order to rescue his daughter. He is a one man army who is able to take out trained killers, armies of soldiers and the odd phone booth with just a machine gun, a couple of grenades and his bare hands. Director Mark L. Lester (SIS: Extreme Justice, Night of the Running Man) directs in an efficient manner, giving us just enough dialogue, comic relief and character building before throwing us into another scene of well orchestrated mayhem.
And what mayhem it is, all buoyed by Schwarzenegger’s dominating physique and star making charisma. Having appeared in the Conan films and made a name for himself the year before in breakout hit, The Terminator, this was the role that shot him to superstardom. Obviously still getting to grips with dialogue, which is kept to a minimum, he is still testing the waters of being a movie star here but delivers with his sheer presence and ability to bounce back in every action scene. No matter what Matrix is put through, he is an unstoppable tank of a man who gets up, dusts himself off and sets about eliminating the next set of bad guys. The action sequences are stellar and show the skill and commitment of the Hollywood stunt world. Set pieces include the fight/chase at a shopping mall, Schwarzenegger’s fight with bad guy Cooke (Bill Duke), Schwarzenegger’s rescue from a police truck (complete with four barrelled rocket launcher) and the famous Matrix vs. an entire army finale.
The film also has a memorable cast of supporting characters including Rae Dawn Chong’s plucky air stewardess sidekick who haphazardly gets tangled up in Matrix’s plight and gets the film’s best line. When Matrix is fighting Cooke and the two are trying to out masculine one another, she exasperatedly states, “I can’t believe this macho bullshit.” David Patrick Kelly (The Crow) is memorable as the weasel like Sully who gets the best death scene but has the worst fashion sense. His suit was surely gaudy even by 80s standards. Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior) is perhaps the only one not to fare so well. He’s good but as bad guy Bennett he comes across just a little too camp to be a truly memorable villain. Still, he gets the best one liner from Schwarzenegger. Bennett gets pinned to a furnace with a steel pipe emitting steam and Schwarzenegger simply deadpans, “Let off some steam Bennett.” Brilliant.
Bennett, a few 80s trappings and some dodgy back projection are the only chink’s in Commando’s armour. Action films like this simply aren’t made today and Commando is one of the true giants of the golden age of big budget Hollywood action cinema. With all the aforementioned greatness there is also James Horner’s distinctive score, the infamous tool shed sequence (complete here in the uncut version) and one of the best taglines ever: Someone, Somewhere, Somehow is going to pay. Now that tagline is enough reason to see this action classic alone.