Mindless and over-the-top action movies were commonplace in the 80s. But, in that pantheon, few define the genre in that era or are as awesome as Commando. It was released in 1985 and was a huge box office hit. What is it that makes it is so amazingly awesome? Well, I am glad that you asked that!
WARNING! Contains some spoilers!
The plot is fairly standard and indicative of the genre, especially for this decade. Retired Delta Force operator Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is enjoying some time with his young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). All of a sudden his former superior Major General Franklin Kirby (James Olson) tells him that members of his former unit have been getting killed by unknown mercenaries. Soon after a bunch of baddies led by a former member of said unit, Bennet (Vernon Wells) attack his home and kidnap his daughter. Bennet threatens to kill Jenny if Matrix won’t carry out a political assassination for him. Our hero, of course, won’t. He instead decides to go find Bennet, now working with a South American dictator, kill all bad guys, and save his daughter.
I know if you have never seen this movie, it sounds like any other flick like it. But, it really is so much more! The film knows that it is just a fun action flick and never takes it too seriously. In fact, it relishes in taking in all of the 80s action tropes and going full-blown with them. Here are the following things that make Commando as great as it is.
Matrix & Bennet
At it’s heart is, of course, is Schwarzenegger. Fresh off of the success of the James Cameron masterpiece The Terminator, he was well on his way of becoming a major Hollywood star. Schwarzenegger is a blast as Matrix. He delivers the classic one-liners with such deadpan manner and style that it immediately adds to the humor of the film. And, he plays awesomely against Vernon Wells as Bennet, who is one of the best villains in an Arnie movie, ever. Wells, who played the mohawk wearing bad guy Wez in the classic The Road Warrior, has some great lines himself. His climatic knife fight with Matrix is one of Arnie’s best villain battles. The end result of him getting impaled with a steam pipe, gets Matrix to say, ”Let off some steam, Bennet!” Which us leads into:
I know that action movies, and ever some horror flicks, love having one-liners before or after each kill. But, Commando might be the king of them, or at least has a pretty high-ranking in the action cinema court. There are two that really stand out for me, and I probably quote them at least once a week, in a bad Arnie accent, of course.
The first one is after Matrix snaps the neck of one henchman on a plane. He leaves him sitting upright on the seat with a hat covering his face. Matrix then tells the flight attendant, ”Don’t disturb my friend. He is dead tired.” Simply thinking about scene causes me to laugh my ass off.
The other favorite of mine is having told one of Bennet’s other men, the insufferably swarmy Sully (David Patrick Kelly), that he is a “funny guy” and will “kill him last”. Well, he doesn’t! In fact, he holds him upside down by his foot then drops him off of a cliff. But not before telling Sully, ”I lied!”. Thus teaching us an important lesson about not believing people who say that they will kill us last! I could probably write a book about all the great lines in Commando. Even main villain Bennet gets some good ones in, but its time to move on to the next awesome factor:
Before this motion picture Mark Lester made the violent, exploitation teen gang flick Class of 1984 and the Stephen King adaptation Firestarter. Commando ranks among his best work, as he keeps the action unrelenting. The movie is not interested in romantic subplots or other wastes of time. Instead, Matrix jumps off moving planes, rips out telephone booths, and is in a car chase that involves a bazooka! The exciting, fun, and pulse-pounding action happens at homes, malls, and on an island.
The Body Count
According to MovieBodyCounts.com Commando racks up an impressive 88 kills! The film is also gleefully explicit in delivering its carnage. This is most apparent in the unrated version, which finally hit Blu-ray in 2015. Gory gunshots, impalement, throat slashing, stabbings, scalpings, amputation, and an axe to the balls occur throughout the movie. Aside from the usual guns and knives Matrix also uses rotor blades, a pitchfork, an axe, and a machete! That sounds more akin to what Jason Voorhees uses than a typical action hero.
There are other more random moments of greatness. For example, we have a moment where Matrix pets a deer at the beginning that is wonderfully cute and sweet. We get Rae Dawn Chong spending most of the film screaming and acting very annoying. OK, maybe that isn’t an example greatness, but, it certainly does scream ”80s action”! Speaking of 80s action, you have to have a scene with the hero is getting his weapons and a montage of him strapping them on. Commando gives you both of these cause it is that damn awesome! It even spawned it own action figure line, from which I owned one figure. No R-rated film would ever spawn a toy-line for kids today!
Commando is a blast from start to finish. Few action flicks combine all of the elements discussed here, in as fun a manner. So, shut-off your brain, grab a beer, kick back and enjoy the very embodiment of 80s action! And, don’t forget to “Let off some steam!”
Where do you rank Commando ? Comment below.