Let’s all be honest with each other; Commando is a ridiculous piece of shit. It’s loud, it’s stupid and whenever you think of a basic 80’s action movie, chances are you’re thinking of this one and
even in the sweaty, bulging, pantheon of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies it’s easy to consider it something of the village idiot. Not as relentlessly cool as The Terminator, or subversively intelligent as Total Recall or as downright perfect as Predator, it’s often seen as a over the top joke compared to those other 80’s masterpieces.
Well, the jokes on us, because taken in all it’s retro, Teutonic glory, Commando has become a glorious, shining monument to bullet spraying 80’s excess; a literal pop culture blender of almost every single cliché the genre has to offer.
The plot is so simple you suspect it was written in crayon: retired super trooper John Matrix (no, seriously) has a picturesque, single parent life with his precious daughter (a bewilderingly young Alyssa Milano), however bad guys come and do bad guy stuff and kidnap her so Matrix will assassinate some guy in South America or something. Matrix, essentially the Usain Bolt of killing people, escapes and has only 11 hours to find his daughter before she’s killed.
…And that’s it. The script is leaner than Schwarzenegger’s BMI and is exhilarating in it’s single mindedness of keeping things moving. Most movies would take a breath here and there, but Commando hasn’t got time for that, oh no. Why slow your roll and have a villain explain what’s going on when Matrix can just blow a hole in his head, make a quip and move on? Similarly, when finally subdued and on a commercial flight to whatever shit hole he’s headed to he immediately murders his handler in plain sight and jumps out through the landing gear as it takes off.
It’s a breath-taking example of video game plotting. Literally. Matrix can’t progress to the next scene until he’s killed one of the many henchmen this film has to offer and so we get him fighting, running and quipping until he kills the “boss” character and then he moves on the next bit.
Now this could all get painfully repetitive if the characters (or should that be characatures) wasn’t on point but thankfully Commando makes all of their villain so diverse you wonder how any of them could have possibly met. Be it the odious Sully, a womanising creep with short man’s disease, or Bill Duke’s cold as ice suit, Cooke they are all instantly hissable but all pale in comparison to Bennett, a Freddy Mercury moustached lunatic in string vest chain mail who spits his lines like he’s having the world’s most evil orgasm.
Yet another string in Commando’s bow is just how endlessly quotable the dialogue is. Arnie and virtually everyone else spit out zingers faster than a uzi shoots bullets and is almost all of it is prime head scratching genius. “Remember Sully, when I promised to kill you last?” rumbles Arnie as he dangles a helpless bastard over a cliff by his ankle. “That’s right Matrix, you did!” whimpers the lackey. “I LIED.” Comes the inevitable response and the crowd goes wild….
Schwarzenegger, while certainly limited when compared to conventional acting standards, is magnificent here. A living special effect burdened with an accent that won’t even let him pronounce his own daughters name correctly (Jenny becomes “Chenny” when run through that muscular Austrian larynx; could they not have cut him a break and named her Sue?), Arnie is the only man that could have made this lunacy work.
Of course, these days Commando is best treated as a sort of comedy to achieve optimal results, how else can you possibly take the finale, where Matrix slaughters a whole army singlehandedly, seriously and the film seems totally aware of this as Rae Dawn Chong as a shrieky sidekick calls bullshit on everything she witnesses.
And still the movie ladles on 80’s madness: Arnie arms up from a high street gun shop that worryingly keeps rocket launchers on site, an out-of-bullets Matrix switching from guns to gardening tools like he’s in a Friday the 13th sequel, an utterly gratuitous scene were Arnie rows to Bad Guy Island in nothing but his underwear, it’s all here.
Dated? Yes. An early reference to Boy George as “Girl George” is left field as it is unnecessary.
Silly? Certainly. Schwarzenegger is slow and huge and yet no one can seem to hit him despite firing enough bullets to vaporize a blue whale.
Entertaining? Dizzyingly so in a wonderfully throwback way – the credit sequence in which Matrix strides out of a forest, axe in one hand and an entire tree on the other shoulder and then proceeds to frolic with his daughter – is unbeatable comedy in it’s purest form.
All this and a fantastic steel drum led score by the late James Horner too…
Kick back, don’t be a movie snob and prepare to let of some steam…