Last of the Monster Kids

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Saturday, April 18, 2015


Commando” is the greatest movie ever made.

Okay, I don’t mean that. Maybe what I should have said instead is that “Commando” is the most entertaining movie ever made. This probably isn’t true either. A film lover is someone that loves film and few films fill me with as much love as “Commando.” Released the same year as “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” the film would help codify the troupes and convention of eighties action flicks. If the Terminator, Conan, and Dutch didn’t exist, John Matrix would be THE Arnold Schwarzenegger character. Along with the film he’s in, Matrix sums up everything that Arnold is about: Hilarious one-liners, massive action, piles of body, homoerotic undertones, and a script that doesn’t fuck around. It is pure entertainment from beginning to end and I’m going to tell you why.

John Matrix was once a one-man murder machine, a leader of a black ops team that flew around the world, killing anyone the government commanded them to. That’s behind him now. Matrix, a widower, lives with his daughter, Jenny, in a big house in the mountains, enjoying a simple life. However, things soon change. Matrix’s old commanding officer tracks him down to warn him that his old comrades are being killed. This is a ruse to lead the bad guys to John’s home. Their plan is to kidnap Jenny, blackmailing Matrix into a plot to assassinate a South American president, reinstating a dictator. That’s a game that Matrix doesn’t play. He escapes, determined to rescue his daughter and destroy her captors. And no one is going to stop him.

“Commando” is hilarious, let’s get that out of the way first. After playing a Hyborian barbarian and a killer robot from the future, Arnold decided he wanted to play a normal human. Or a “normal” human anyway. Because Arnold still looks like the five time Mr. Universe he is. That means John Matrix is a mountain of muscled, tanned, sinew. He’s introduced carrying a fucking tree and cleaving stumps in half with a single axe swing. However, this is actually a misleading start, as we are soon introduced to John Matrix: Single Father. Watching Arnold dress in pastels, eat ice cream, and feed a deer with a tiny Alyssa Milano by his side is absolute hilarity. What makes this an even bigger joke is that Arnold spends the rest of “Commando” being the most unstoppable killing machine to ever grace cinema screens. Some of the camp in “Commando” is unintentional but much of it isn’t. Take, for example, Arnold’s parade of unforgettable one-liners. Nobody writes lines like “I let him go” or “Let off some steam” without knowing they’re funny, especially coming out of Arnold’s mouth. By this point, the Austrian superstar had involved into the perfect one-liner and bullets spewing machine. “Commando” is Schwarzenegger at the peak of his star power and limitless charm.

The film also has a clear understanding of the star’s appeal. In most movies with “Commando’s” plot, the hero would work within the villain’s evil scheme. He would subvert the bad guy’s expectations from within until the right chance to strike. John Matrix doesn’t give a shit. Immediately after being told to play along, he coldly shouts “Wrong!” and shoots the guy in the head. He makes an absurd escape from a flying airplane, goes on a rampage through a mall, slowly works his way through the line-up of bad guys, steals several vehicles and a large arsenal. Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t be contained by any extortion plot. Playing along would not suit his persona. Instead, “Commando” has Arnie on the offensive from the beginning, crushing his enemies and seeing them driven before him.

Arnold’s pure star power is enough to carry any movie but “Commando” is smart enough to pack the supporting cast with great character actors. The succession of henchmen Arnold has to work his way through includes Cooke and Sully. Cooke is played with a steely determination by Bill Duke, who never sheds his psychotic glare. Contrasting this serious performances with the movie around him makes Duke a hilarious straight man to Arnold’s quip-shouting super-soldier. David Patrick Kelly as Sully, meanwhile, is a hilarious sleaze. Kelly is a creep, hitting on Rae Dawn Chong in an especially skeezy way. Sully is actually a small part, Arnold letting him go fairly early on in the film. But Kelly’s performance is especially memorable. Speaking of Rae Dawn Chong, she is basically the audience surrogate, grimacing in disbelief at the crazy shit happening to her. Despite Matrix approaching her like a violent crazy person, she likes the guy, helping him out. Yet she’s not afraid to call the characters on their action, decrying the “macho bullshit” at one point. Chong’s charms makes the character’s shaky arc acceptable.

“Commando” is ridiculously entertaining throughout, especially when you have Arnold pushing a truck down a mountain side, tossing a phone booth over his shoulders, or swinging around a mall like Tarzan. However, it’s all build-up to one of the most amazing action finales of all time. Covered head-to-toe in weapons and ammo, his face streaked with war paint, Arnold sneaks into the villain’s island lair. At this point, “Commando” becomes a massacre, heaping more insane action on-top of itself. Buildings explodes. Arnold employs knives, a rocket launcher, grenades, and at least five different types of guns to dispatch his opponents. When cornered in a tool shed, Matrix even picks up saw blades, a pitchfork, a machete, and best of all, an axe-to-the-crotch. From the beginning, he’s an unstoppable war machine. But the last act really has the character cut loose, decimating a literal army. Before it’s over, Matrix even sheds his armor, his rippling, tanned muscles being his only defense. His array of giant machine guns, many of them held with one hand, never run out of bullets and the bad guys seemingly never hit him. It’s the best vicarious power fantasy anyone could ask for. It pushes the already over-the-top “Commando” even further over the top into previously unseen levels of joyous action movie cheese.

Oh, shit, I haven’t mentioned Bennett! The deposed dictator might be the villain that motivates the film but he is not Matrix’s arch-enemy. That honor falls to Bennett, one of Matrix’s ex-soldiers that he fired for being too psycho. (Considering Matrix literally murders over a hundred people in this movie, that’s saying something.) Bennett is played by Vernon Welles, an Australian actor very capable of playing nut-jobs. The rivalry between the two characters is personal to begin with, Bennett taking a lot of pleasure in punishing his old boss. In the finale, after destroying the entire army, Matrix and Bennett face off. It’s ridiculous fight, mostly because Arnold is a giant, steroid-infused murder machine and Bennett is a little guy with a mustache and a chain-mail vest. The lengths the movie goes to make this seem like a fair fight is equally absurd. At this point, Welles’ performance heads off for wackyland. His face is caked with sweat, his eyes beam, and he shouts in an insane bellow, the most bonkers moment in a movie that is already pretty friggin’ bonkers. And it concludes with the most perfect Arnold one-liner ever.

The cherry on “Commando’s” perfect eighties action sundae is the fact that it’s gay as hell. Aside from Arnold’s frequently displayed bulging pectorals, there’s lot of other homoerotic subtext. Matrix’s wife is dead. Though he spends much of the movie paling around with Rae Dawn Chong, there’s never any sign he’s romantically interested in her. (Also of note: Despite Chong’s character looking like a normal young woman, two different men call her a hooker. Because it’s not an eighties action movie without a little casual misogyny.) Arnold spends most of the movie pursuing other men. Bennett acts less like a resentful villain and more like a spurned lover. Matrix basically talks Bennett out of murdering him, a ludicrous moment dripping with sexual tension. Bennett seems especially obsessed with Matrix’s testicles, threatening to shoot them. Right after that, our hero impales the bad guy with a long, hard, thick penis metal pipe. The unintentional (?) gay subtext in eighties action movies is just one more thing that makes them special these days.

The only baffling thing about “Commando?” That it never got a sequel! The movie was a big hit in its day and remains one of Arnold’s most iconic roles. It was proof that Schwarzenegger and Schwarzenegger alone was enough to carry a film. Reportedly, a script for an unrealized sequel was written, that may or may not have evolved into “Die Hard” along the way. The movie did beget a “G.I. Joe”-style toy line, that had Matrix leading a team of heroes against evil ninjas. Despite the action figures seeming tailor-made for a Saturday morning cartoon show, that didn’t happen either. Instead, “Commando” became one of the ultimate cult classics of eighties action flicks. I’m a proud member of that cult. And, lo!, did Saint Schwarzenegger kill. Thou shall letth off some steam! [9/10]

[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[X] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm

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