RogerBW's Blog

Commando 06 September 2023

1985 action, dir. Mark Lester, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong: IMDb / allmovie. A tragic love story.

I have a history with this film: it was one of the first, maybe the first, action film I saw in the cinema. It became my template for the boxes that an action film should tick. I certainly can't claim that it's perfect, but I have a lingering fondness for it that's probably more than it deserves.

Indeed, to my modern narrative sensibility it's very heavy-handed: the introduction carefully sets up the bad guys as not caring about bystanders as they murder what seem to be random civilians, while Arnie (I mean, his character has a name, but he's basically Arnie) loves his daughter. (Don't ask what happened to her mother; she's never mentioned.) (The Arnie Drinking Game: take a drink when Arnie commits a feat of strength against an inanimate object. Take another drink when he delivers a one-liner. Though this came out when Roger Moore was still the current James Bond, so…) Solly is not just one of the bad guys, he's a rapey asshole.

On the good side, there's some sort of logical flow to the whole process. Once things have been set up – the three-act structure is very apparent here, with breaks on leaving the airport and on getting to the Goose – the middle third is about following the clue to get to the next fight, and then picking up a new clue. Solly leads to the motel and Cooke, which leads (roughly) to the warehouse, which leads to the island.

And Bennett has that one interesting moment of contempt – he's a professional soldier, even if he's selling out, unlike the amateur soldiers of Arius' revolutionary army.

But also of course every army surplus shop has a range of military weaponry in the back room, stored loaded and ready for use. And this was the film that popularised the M202 rocket launcher, in real life a largely failed incendiary weapon, but here and in films that imitated this one given devastating explosive and arti-armour loads. And passenger planes do not work like that.

Why is the island off California anyway? Both the warehouse and the island are full of Arius' guys who would presumably be intended to turn up with their gear in Val Verde fairly shortly after the president is killed, and even if it's all air-transportable you wouldn't want it to be eleven hours' flight away. But if you put it closer, you break the plot…

The love story? Bennett, played of course by Vernon Wells fresh off his part in Mad Max 2, is very clearly in love with Arnie, but as a victim of and participant in performative masculinity he can only express it through violence.

Oh and there's a woman involved. Though this is one of the things that Arnie's films generally got right and for my money Stallone's got wrong: they accept the innate silliness of the big tough guys beating their chests (manfully) and each other (up), and Cindy's comments echo the viewer's own reactions. There's an acceptance that while it's terribly serious this is also ridicuous. And that's why I carry on enjoying it.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

See also:
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1985)

  1. Posted by John P at 09:55pm on 06 September 2023

    Is that the one where the main henchman looks like Freddie Mercury on steroids? And wears what appears to be a badly knitted vest? Is that supposed to be chainmail?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:23pm on 06 September 2023

    That's the one! I think it is meant to sugest chainmail, but it's very obviously loose grey wool…

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