Directed by Mark L. Lester.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Vernon Wells.
In a race against time, a retired special forces commando must track down his daughter’s kidnappers and gain revenge on the exiled dictator of a small South American country.
Catapulted to stardom following the success of James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster The Terminator (1984), Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next move was to cement his place as the icon of the macho action film with this no-holds barred take on the ‘one-man army’ theme. Directed by Mark L. Lester and produced by hit-maker Joel Silver, Commando was first released in 1985 and has since achieved cult status, due in no small part to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film and the sheer charisma, screen-presence and killing capabilities of it’s leading man.
Arnie stars as John Matrix, an ex-special forces commando now living in the mountains under a false identity along with daughter Jenny (a young Alyssa Milano), where they enjoy an idyllic life feeding deer and eating ice-cream. However, when members of Matrix’s old unit start turning up dead it’s only a (very brief) matter of time before his sanctuary is compromised. Soon a group of militants led by former team-mate Bennett (Wells) track Matrix down, attacking his home and taking Jenny hostage. If Matrix wants to see her alive again he needs to assassinate the leader of Val Verde – a small South American country – on behalf of disposed dictator General Arius (Dan Hedaya). He’s going to cooperate, right? Wrong!
Matrix is forced to board a plane for Val Verde, but after escaping (and killing) his chaperone he leaps from the launching aircraft and forcibly enlists the help of off-duty flight attendant Cindy (Chong) to make his getaway. After a shaky start to the relationship, which sees Matrix confront an entire shopping mall worth of security guards, Cindy begins to trust Matrix and aids him in his quest to track down (and kill) the conspirators and rescue his daughter. Fortunately Cindy can also fly a plane, which gives Matrix the opportunity to unleash all nine circles of Hell upon the entire Val Verde military.
Crammed to the brim with explosive action, hilariously appropriate one-liners and a body count in excess of numerous actual wars, Commando epitomises everything that was great about the eighties actioner. This is brainless entertainment at it’s very best with a string of memorable bad guys for Matrix to despatch with creative abandon, including the aforementioned Bennett (a moustachioed mercenary adorned in chain mail and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Freddie Mercury), Porsche-driving sleaze Sully (David Patrick Kelly), and disgraced Green Beret Cooke (Bill Duke, who would team with Schwarzenegger two years later in Predator).
Growing up in the 80’s, Commando made me believe that John Matrix was one of the three most dangerous men in the world. Almost a quarter of a century later Mike Tyson has six losses and Mikhail Gorbachev a Nobel Peace Prize. Matrix is John Rambo turned to eleven; a pure killing machine who would have little problems against an army of T-800’s, and while First Blood (1982) may be more accomplished overall, for sheer balls-to-the-wall action Commando is in a league of its own. It set the tone for Schwarzenegger’s later films with a perfect mix of action and humour, and paved the way for a flood of b-movie imitations to stock the video rental shelves for years to come. Clearly, Commando is as far from typical cinematic classics like Citizen Kane (1941) or The Godfather (1972) as can be, but in terms of the macho, homo-erotic, over-the-top action genre of the 1980’s, it has no rival.