Well this has been a very macho week or so of reviews hasn’t it? First the film that spawned a billion space marines, Aliens, then we had some general all round macho bullshit in the form of G.I. Joe Retaliation and today we get to the real red meat eating macho bullshit. The Arnold Schwarzenegger cinematic masterpiece known only as Commando. Click the link for the review.
Commando tells a story. I think that’s enough synopsis for this film review… FINE! A load of ex-military types have been getting murdered and they’re coming for one John Matrix (Arnie). They kidnap his daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano), and tell Matrix he can have her back when he assassinates the leader of Hollywood’s favourite fictional South America country Val Verde for some guy called Arius (Dan Hedaya) so he can waltz in and take over this fictional place. Arius is helped by fat Freddie Mercury, also called Bennet (Vernon Wells). Arnie doesn’t like that so he shoots them a lot. End of film. Happy now.
That’s probably the shortest synopsis I’ve written for one of these reviews. It really should be too. A film like this is purely about the roller-coaster ride. Like G.I. Joe Retaliation, Commando isn’t an objectively good film. It has some of the corniest, poorly delivered dialogue you’ll ever here. A plot so thin it is only just strong enough to hold it’s 90 minute runtime. Even much of the action is shot in a basic and unimaginative way. But, that doesn’t make the film bad. It is hard for anyone to deny the sheer enjoyment that Commando conveys. Yes the dialogue is cornball nonsense (“Don’t break radio silence until they see me” “How will I know?” “Because all fucking hell is gonna break lose”) but it’s delivered with that trademark Schwarzenegger charisma that’s too loveable to deny. He’s called the Austrian Oak for a reason. Because he’s big like a tree… also, he’s a wooden actor.
It’s this careful balance between awful and awfully good that gives Commando the near legendary status of being, pretty much, the archetypal 80s action movie. Nothing John Matrix does is anything less than macho. The first time you see him he’s carrying a chainsaw and most of a tree. Normally you’d call it a tree log, I realise, but this is like 10 feet long. It’s mostly a tree. Then he chops wood like a lumberjack, except with less bra wearing. We realise someone is stalking up behind him, he does too… and then… Oh it’s Alyssa Milano! John’s daughter. OK, so after that he’s admittedly sharing ice cream and feeding deer with her, not very manly, but that’s because this is the allotted 2 minutes of character definition that the films director (Cult legend Mark L Lester) has allowed for. Once that daddy and his daughter rubbish is out the way it’s right back to Arnie shooting people and pushing engine-less cars down hills in order to have that car chase the villains tried to deny him.
Every moment of Commando swings back and forth from ridiculous to preposterous but upon watching you’ll agree that there is no other way you’d want it. There’s continuity errors and visible springboards for those recently hit by grenades but it all adds to the film’s shambolic charm. Shambolic is probably too harsh a word to be fair, but it’s hard to deny that the film has it’s production shortcomings. But hey, it was the 80s. How glossy do you want your action films to be from that era? Commando has one job to do, that being to entertain the living shit out of you, and it does it very very well.
Now we have to talk about Bennet. This guy, he’s a marvel. Vernon Wells, along with the rest of the cast to be fair, clearly realised that they weren’t going to come across too well if they tried to out act Arnie. So instead they play him at his own game by camping the hell out of the script. I accused him of being a fat Freddy Mercury for a reason. He walks around this film sporting some of the gayest apparel ever placed on a man’s body outside of the Village People. Not many people can pull off a chain mail vest with a belt holding it in place whilst sporting the type of facial hair that would get you instant access to the London Astoria back in it’s G-A-Y clubbing days and still be a match for Arnie in the macho bullshit department. OK, so physically Vernon Wells is nowhere near Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, he’s barely more physically imposing than Hey Arnold. But man he sells the hell out of his villainous role.
I suppose we should mention the love interest in this film. It’s a young air hostess called Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) who’s pretty much here to act angry, conflict with Arnie for a bit and then step back while he kills a lot of people at the film’s finale. Thankfully she never steps into the irritating sidekick role so many a Willie Scott before her has done. She even manages to save Arnie’s arse at one point with a (not so) well aimed rocket launcher shot. She is there to be a token female character along for the ride and she handles the role well enough. Like the rest of the cast Rae Dawn Chong was aware enough to understand not to overplay her role too much.
Overall it’s hard to dislike Commando. It has a charming quality to it’s schlock and it does what it needs to do. People have argued with me before that I shouldn’t hate a film like the first G.I. Joe when I love a film like this. That makes no sense to me though because G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is a charmless film that has very few saving graces. Commando is a film that, for every flaw, has something amazingly joyous to counteract it. Commando doesn’t take itself too seriously of have allusions to being a top level piece of film making. It is also made by people that cared enough about what they were producing to not phone in every aspect of production. Commando is an honest film and that is all a film like this needs to pull of it’s goal of entertaining the hell out of you. Endlessly Quotable and endlessly enjoyable, Commando is the perfect movie to watch when you just wanna see explosions, violence and manly man-ness.