Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, James Olson
For all of the great films introduced in the 1980s, this decade remains plagued with far too many movies focused on flash with absolutely no substance whatsoever. Something meant to be action for action’s sake, but successful films need more than just the basics, which Commando fails to deliver even with the plethora of Schwarzenegger one-liners employed.
Living a quiet retired life, John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) learns about the murders of his former colleagues. He begins to uncover something heinous when his daughter gets kidnapped by an angry former leader and he must use his refined skills in complete destruction to save her.
The story of Commando becomes incredibly clear, as it serves as a revenge and kidnap film utilizing the services of an action icon. Something one could get behind if you just want to see explosions and bad acting for 90 minutes, but it, unfortunately, does not offer much else. Getting enjoyment out of watching this film comes solely from the expectations you have walking into it and what you hope to receive. However, even with the expectations of knowing the lack of substance this film would bring, I still found myself disappointed in just how shallow and hollow this movie proved to be.
Foundationally, the film sets up Matrix and the amount of respect he has accrued throughout his career. It’s done in short order but much of his background remains quite ambiguous as we go through this story, which does not help a film already struggling to give anyone depth. Each of the characters in this movie have as many layers as the weaponry used to destroy others. They only appear as tools for a story only seeking to show off violence as something to watch. When Matrix reaches the place for the epic showdown this story sets up, I found myself not caring about anything because the main character remained fairly anonymous for the entire story and he simply kills a bunch of faceless men. It begs the question: what is the point of this film? To show violence in its complete epicness? Other films accomplish this with much more substance.
It ultimately becomes a shame because I typically enjoy Schwarzenegger-led action films, because he takes on some interesting subject matter within them. Even something like Predator, which may seem like a basic action movie on the surface dives into some interesting ideas regarding masculinity. Even for all of the cheesiness he often employs in his films, they tend to have a larger theme hidden beneath the surface. Commando lands in the forgettable pile of his features, as one cannot find anything below the layer of it being some action explosion. It typically comes down to the filmmaker enlisted to take on the project and if they provide the larger layer of importance to the story. When he’s worked with filmmakers like John McTiernan, Paul Verhoeven, and James Cameron, they provide the foundation where Schwarzenegger can thrive. It becomes evident, especially with this feature that Arnold cannot elevate crappy material.
I wish there was more to discuss with Commando, but it proves to be all icing and no cake, and I simply prefer there to be more substance even in mindless action films. This movie does not even try in its pursuit to give Schwarzenegger a vehicle to pop his muscles and show off how menacing he can be. Some might enjoy the action because it employs things people liked about the 80s, from the cheesiness of the action to the terrible punchlines delivered on top of cartoonish action. I surely do not begrudge anyone who finds enjoyment in this movie, because there are several films that struggle in the same way this film does, but I feel more forgiving towards. It could come down to when you first watched this film, and for those who saw it in their teen years may enjoy it for the ridiculous action, but as an adult first-time viewer, Commando feels like sloppy empty calories. I can get them somewhere else, which will warrant the gross consumption instead of this disappointment.