a critiQal film review Commando (1985)

Plot: Retired Special Forces soldier John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) lives with his daughter Jenny (Milano) in isolation, but his privacy is disturbed by former commander Franklin Kirby (Olson), who warns him that his fellow soldiers are getting killed one by one. After Kirby leaves, Jenny is kidnapped by former Latin American dictator Arius (Hedaya), who wants Matrix to restore him to power. Instead, Matrix sets out to take down the rogue leader and rescue his daughter.

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  • ...with a charismatic lead, a better than expected female tag-a-long, and snappy one-liners for days, this continues to be one of the best action-as-pure-entertainment movies of the 80's.

For an action fan, the 80’s were a highpoint. We had two battling superstars – Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – each trying to outdo each other with their crazy over-the-top action as popcorn-chomping entertainment flicks. And, just when it seemed Stallone had won the battle with his return as John Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Schwarzenegger released the quintessential over-the-top action piece of the 80’s: Commando.

Having grown up in that era, I was actually a bit shocked I hadn’t reviewed Commando yet. Well, no better time than the present, right? Right.

While Arnold Schwarzenegger has grown a little long in the tooth these days (The Last Stand (2013) showcased how much time has actually passed since his heyday), in the 80’s he was in his prime, and Commando was a good vehicle for him. It showed he could have a bit of heart, yet still deliver the catchy one-liners and dole out violence with the best of ’em.

Giving him a daughter (a very young Alyssa Milano) was a smart idea as well, as it made him seem, well, more human. And that was definitely needed in ’85, only a year after he delivered his first performance as the robotic killing machine The Terminator (1984). Here, he’s still got an eerie calm under pressure, but the introductory sequence, which shows him laughing and having a good time with his daughter, really helps set him up as a protective dad who will do anything to save his daughter.

Rae Dawn Chong co-stars with Arnold in Commando, and manages to bring a healthy amount of laughs to the role. While Arnold gets to spout classic one-liners, Rae gives viewers the laughs they need right when things are getting tense. Sure, it’s a bit of a stereotypical role that most female actors these days would shy away from, but back in the 80’s, this was a prime acting gig, and Rae Dawn Chong nailed it with just the right amount of humor and hysteria.

There are some familiar faces amongst the rest of the cast in Commando. Bill Duke (who would join Schwarzenegger again in another iconic 80’s movie, Predator (1987)) pops up as the cooly villainous Cooke; Dan Hedaya gets an accent and plays evil deposed dictator Arius, and Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982)) shows up as old teammate Bennett. They each do a decent enough job in their roles, but it’s really Schwarzenegger’s film to run with, and that he does.

While it’s kind of obvious at this point that the storyline is merely a backdrop for several different action pieces culminating in a grand battle, Commando is entertaining enough that even viewers today can overlook the sillyness that seemed to accompany all the action flicks of the 80’s. Sure, they barely reload, and bullets actually seem to curve around them, but in this case, it just doesn’t seem to matter. There are loads of explosions, and a body count that hits 100 by movie’s end. All in all, this is action at it’s most popcorn-munching fun, even now.

With loads of fun action, a hero who can’t do any wrong, a better than expected female tag-a-long, and some familiar faces in their younger years and snappy one-liners for days, there’s a reason that Commando has become one of the most enduring pure action flicks of the 80’s. Intentionally over-the-top, Commando remains darn entertaining even to this day.

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