I originally wrote what follows little intro here ten years ago while conducting one my now long-defunct “Wayback Review” installments. Most of those were random Star Trek episode but I opted to turn my attention to the Arnold Schwarzenegger combat classic, Commando, on the occasion of its then 25th birthday.
It’s ten years later and this flick has only further cemented itself as one of the best shamelessly over-the-top action movies of the 1980s. I can still watch this without any prompting or reason other than it’s just silly fun.
Commando was released 35 years ago today on October 4th, 1985. I didn’t get to see this during its original theatrical run because by October 4th I was three days into my extended stay at Parris Island, South Carolina, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps and their awesome travel agency and vacation club for new members.
It wasn’t until I made it to my first permanent assignment at Camp Pendleton in California in the spring of 1986 that I found this gem at a discount theater (remember those). VHS rentals soon followed before I finally obtained a copy of my own, and years later I upgraded to DVD when they released an “unrated” cut of the film. The only reason I’ve not yet ugraded to Blu-ray for this title is that said extended version is not available in this format, and to that I say, “The hell is that about?”
So, here we are…35 years after the film’s release. Does it hold up? Let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane and see for ourselves, why don’t we? Though I’ve gone through and tweaked things here and there and freshened up a joke or two, this is pretty much the “live-watch review” I wrote ten years ago:
Colonel John Matrix is a retired bad-ass. Living with his daughter Jenny in a secluded cabin in the middle of Nowhere, he just wants to be left alone, but that’s not to be. You see, three of Matrix’s former Special Ops soldiers have been murdered. Somebody’s targeting Matrix and members of his team, for reasons unknown, and even though Matrix and his men have been given new identities (also for reasons unknown). Matrix’s old commanding officer, General Kirby, warns him whoever’s behind this will soon find him, too. Kirby leaves two Special Ops dudes with Matrix for protection while he heads “into the city” to coordinate with law enforcement in some mysterious manner which will prevent the killers from reaching Matrix.
By my watch, the first Special Ops dude goes down about twenty seconds after Kirby leaves. His buddy takes rounds, too. So much for the protection plan. Matrix instructs Jenny to hide while he retrieves a pistol and rifle from the fucking arsenal he’s got in the back of his tool shed. Now suitably armed and ready to receive visitors, Matrix returns to the house to get Jenny, and finds a guy sitting in her room. The dude and his pals have Matrix’s daughter, and they’ll be holding her for safekeeping as a guarantee Matrix will cooperate, right?
To this day, I feel sorry for the idiots who take this guy’s kid. That’s just some dumbshit idea-hatchin’, right there.
“Wrong,” Matrix says and puts a round through the asshole’s head, and we’re off and runnin’, bitches. Matrix is goin’ Bandit….Reynolds Style!
Matrix bolts outside, seeing a pair of vehicles hauling ass away from the house. When he finds the kidnappers have ripped the innards out of his own truck, he does what any sensible person would do in a similar situation….he pushes the truck down a slope and jumps behind the wheel, steering the truck (sort of) as it careens without brakes down the side of the mountain. Try that shit on for size, Duke boys.
Movie geography being what it is, Matrix is able to attempt side-swiping or simply colliding with the getaway cars twice during their transit down the mountain and its various switchbacks or whatever. He almost pulls it off, too, but instead ends up in a ditch. The kidnappers try to apprehend him and he makes a few of them regret that shit, but the numbers aren’t on his side and he’s finally wrestled to the ground. Matrix looks up to see one of his old Special Ops buddies, Bennett, dressed like Freddie Mercury trying to fit in with Hell’s Angels. He faked his death while helping these mercenary dicks to kill the other members of Matrix’s team. Apparently, he’s still pissed Matrix tossed his ass out of their unit years ago, and he’s just been itchin’ for some payback.
Oh, and today’s Pay Day, because this can’t be a 1980s action movie without a tagline like that.
After being shot with a tranquilizer dart which—if I’m not mistaken—might well be used to sedate moderately sized whales, Matrix wakes up to find himself chained to a table and with a bunch of ass-clowns looking down at him. Leading the ass-clown posse is a weasly-looking prick named Arius, a former dictator who once was unseated from his regime by Matrix and his team. He wants to return to power in his home country of Val Verde, and he’ll do that once Matrix assassinates the current leader. Matrix resists at first, of course, but since Arius is holding Jenny hostage and threatening to kill her, he sees no choice but to agree to the “assignment,” which in 80s MovieSpeak means every single swinging dick in that room along with a lot of other swinging dicks wandering through this movie are all doomed.
Matrix is taken by Bennett and some of Arius’ mercenary ass-clowns to the airport, from which he’ll fly with one of said ass-clowns to Val Verde in order to carry out his mission. Before Bennett can leave, Matrix warns him: “I’ll be back, Bennett.” Hey, that’s a pretty good line. I wonder if it’ll catch on? Escorted by two of Bennett’s doofuses (doofi?), Henriques and Sully, through what passes for airport security in 1985, Matrix is taken to the gate for his flight to Val Verde. Sully sticks some money in his pocket, advising him to have a few beers and give the gang more time with Jenny.
Why is it always the scrawny shits who talk tough? Dude, you really went there? Really? Any dad in the real world is gonna gut you for saying something like that. Say it to an Action Movie Daddy and you might as well just cut off your own balls and save everybody some time. Matrix offers up one of his better lines from the whole movie: “You’re a funny guy, Sully. I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Aw, yeah.
Matrix and Henriques board the plane and get to their seats, where Henriques warns our hero to keep his mouth shut. Matrix responds my caving in the dude’s nose before breaking his neck. Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark. Matrix 2 – Bad Guys 0.
The plane starts to taxi down the runway, leaving Matrix with few options for getting off. In this Hollywood, pre-9/11 world, he’s able to get up from his seat *and* take the elevator to the plane’s lower level, where he accesses a maintenance hatch near the front landing gear. I can see some of you out there rolling your eyes at the absurdity of this, but if you’ve managed to make it this far and not scoff at Sully’s leisure suit, you can get past this next part. Speaking of Sully, he doesn’t see what happens next, as he’s heading out for a little “me time.” So, he misses Matrix crawling out through the access hatch and down onto the landing gear. The plane picks up speed and he waits for his chance, and wouldn’t you know it? Its runway lets it take off right over some marshland. Good thing it wasn’t the I-5, eh? Shucking his sport coat, which isn’t needed for the forthcoming ass beatings he’ll be administering in due course, Matrix sets the countdown timer on his watch for eleven hours, the approximate duration of the flight to Val Verde. His mission now? Find his daughter before the plane lands and Arius and his people figure out they’ve been had.
In the airport, Sully contacts Arius and lets him know Matrix and Henriques are on the plane, bound for Val Verde. Arius, along with Bennett and Jenny, are boarding a boat for who the hell knows where, with Arius figuring by this time tomorrow, he’ll be back in power. Jenny figures by this time tomorrow, Arius will be breathing through a new hole in his taint. Which one’s right? I know where I’m putting my chips. All in, bitchez!
Sprinting back across the tarmac to the airport, Matrix is hoping he might catch Sully before the little toady bastard can get clear of the airport. Lucky for Matrix, Sully’s got his eye on a hot flight attendant. He’s so distracted Matrix has no problem following him to the parking garage. I mean, let’s face it: you have to be some kind of blind-ass stupid not to see a guy like Matrix tailing you. That, or horny.
In the garage, the flight attendant tells Sully to tie a knot in his dick, and no sooner is he gone than the flight attendant feels a hand on her neck: Matrix. He needs her help to continue following Sully, and in order to be inconspicuous in her dinky little convertible, he does what most of us would do when faced with such a challenge: he rips out the passenger seat so he can get down low enough not to be seen. I mean, that’s right out of my very own covert automobile surveillance handbook (soon to be available exclusively in the Kindle format from Amazon.com!). Sully hits the streets, with Matrix and his unwilling helper, Cindy, following close behind. They make their way to the Galleria, which as all Arnie fans know is the same mall that a cyborg from the future—looking a lot like Matrix—will one day fight another cyborg from the future while trying to protect the future savior of the human race.
Sully, on the other hand, is just here for a drink, some shady business, and hopefully to get laid.
Once in the mall, Matrix and Cindy track Sully to a restaurant, where Sully is meeting with a business partner of some sort. Matrix sends Cindy in to try and draw Sully out to where he can beat his ass, but she instead goes to one of the mall cops and tells them about Matrix and what a crazy fucknugget he is. While Sully and his friend conduct some under-the-table business, the mall cop checks out Matrix and calls for backup to try and take him into custody. As the covert mall-cop cordon tightens around Matrix, Sully notices Cindy skulking about the restaurant. “I knew it!” he proclaims. “It’s gotta be my suit. Chicks can’t get enough of these fine threads.”
As Matrix watches the restaurant from his hiding spot, he becomes aware of the mall cops closing in on him. They try to escort him to Mall Jail or wherever, but Matrix knows if he lets these guys take him, he’ll never hear the end of it at the monthly Retired Bad Ass Special Ops Dudes meetings. “Mall cops? Really? I’d rather get beat down by the gate guard at a Hollywood film studio, bro.” And so on.
Sully, trying out a new set of moves on Cindy, suddenly notices Matrix beating the shit out of a platoon of mall cops, and realizes he’s been followed and Matrix has blown “The Plan” all to hell. Son of a bitch! He’s gotta call Arius! He fumbles for his cellphone and…oh, wait. This is 1985. He fumbles for a quarter to stick in the pay phone. Matrix gets to him before Sully can dial the call and rips the whole phone booth out of its mounting. Sully, understandably terrified out of his fucking mind, runs for it, leaving Matrix to deal with a fresh group of mall cops. Diving into an elevator, Sully thinks he might just get away, at least until Matrix does a Tarzan off the mall’s upper deck and swings himself to the top of the elevator. While Matrix has to beat the shit out of more security guys, Sully makes it back to his car and hauls ass. Matrix follows in Cindy’s car, stopping just long enough to pick up Cindy, who now realizes he’s been telling the truth all along. Way to get on the bandwagon, lady.
The chase winds through city streets and into the suburbs and isolated roads beyond, with Matrix hot on Sully’s ass, until Matrix finally manages to run Sully’s car off the road where it ends up on its side. The car with Matrix and Cindy smashes head-on into a phone pole. I always crack up when Matrix looks over and asks, “Are you all right?” especially since both of them by all rights should’ve gone sailing through the windshield and over the cliff.
Satisfied that Cindy’s not injured, Matrix ambles on over to where Sully’s crawling out from his overturned car. He searches the little turd’s pockets and finds a hotel room key. Hmm….a clue, gang! Matrix starts roughing up Sully, wanting to know where his daughter is, and when Sully doesn’t respond to his polite questions, Matrix changes tactics. Carrying Sully over to the nearby cliff, Matrix holds him out over the ledge by an ankle, using only one hand like the bad ass he is. Sully tries to pass himself off as having information Matrix needs, but Matrix knows better, and this is where he provides part 1 of The Best Line of the Whole Damned Movie:
MATRIX: Remember, Sully? When I promised to kill you last?
SULLY: That’s right, Matrix! You did!
MATRIX: I lied.
When he drops Sully, everybody in the theater cheers as the little shit’s body bounces off the rocks below. See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.
With Cindy’s car out of commission, Matrix just flips Sully’s back onto its wheels. Take quick note of all the damage to the driver’s side of the car. Presto Chango! It’s all fixed the next time you see it. Cindy asks Matrix what he did with Sully, and Matrix’s response is part 2 of the aforementioned Best Line of the Whole Damned Movie: “I let him go.”
Matrix 3 – Bad Guys 0.
Using keen investigative skills and the key he snatched from Sully’s pocket, Matrix and Cindy make their way to the Sunspot Motel. Using the key, they enter Sully’s room and find nothing…other than the fact Sully’s a fucking slob. As they’re working, there’s a knock on the door. It’s Cooke, Sully’s fellow goon and one of the guys who was killing Matrix’s men at the start of the flick. Matrix hides and has Cindy open the door, pretending to be Sully’s date. She lets Cooke in and Matrix gets the drop on him, and a knock-down drag-out fight ensues. Cooke draws a pistol but Matrix is on him and bullets go flying all over the place. Still, this guy can hold his own, it seems, but Matrix finally manages to drop-kick his ass through the door to the next room, which—as always happens in these movies—is occupied by a young dude just trying his best to get a little action.
We pause at this juncture, to admire, salute, and applaud what God chose to give the guy’s girlfriend so far as the mammary department is concerned.
After a few more punches, kicks, and jabs to the junk, Matrix roundhouse punches Cooke back into Sully’s room, where the dude gets impaled on the leg of a broken coffee table. Wow. That’s just not good for anybody. As Cindy starts to blow chunks in the corner, Matrix asks the dying Cooke where Jenny’s being held, but the guy’s already checked out. Score another one for Matrix. A search of the dead man’s pockets turns up little, but in his car’s glove box Cindy finds a receipt for aircraft fuel from a depot in the area. Perhaps there’s a clue to be found there. To the Cookemobile!
At the fuel depot, Matrix has a look-see and worms his way into one of the warehouses, where he observes what looks to be a whole lotta mercenaries checking over various military weapons and equipment. Finding the office, Matrix beats the shit out of some poor schmuck, clearing the way for Cindy to join him. He finds a series of navigational charts and some coordinates, and figures out Arius and his people are flying back and forth between the mainland and a small island off the coast. That must be the location of Arius’ Secret Hidden Lair of Evil! Matrix plans to go there, but not before he stops to do some shopping.
Finding a military surplus store, Matrix uses a bulldozer to bust into the place, and then proceeds to load up a shopping cart with all sorts of equipment, guns, knives, grenades, and other shit that goes “Boom!” Blue Light Special on the ammo aisle! Of course he finds the “secret room” all surplus stores have (No, really), which contains the really high-grade military firepower. “State of the art bang-bang!” as Clarence Boddiker might one day say. What? You don’t know who that is? Shame on you.
Anyway….after getting pretty much anything a budding Commando might ever want (except for the phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range, of course), Matrix sends Cindy to the car in preparation to boogie when the cops finally decide to show up. Man, we don’t have time for this shit! Matrix only has five hours until the plane lands in Val Verde and Arius knows he screwed them. The cops toss Matrix into a paddy wagon for transport, and Cindy follows after them. She even pulls up alongside the van, and the cops are too busy trying to look down her shirt to notice the guns, ammo, and rocket launcher she’s got in her back seat. However, they notice the launcher when she fires a rocket up their ass (after a “practice shot” that blows up a bus shelter. Whoops.). The next shot takes out the van, knocking it on its side and allowing Matrix to bust out, and they get gone.
Matrix and Cindy find the docks where Arius’ amphibious plane is tied up, and after loading all that shitload of gear Matrix stole from the surplus store, they make a fast getaway as some of Arius’ men show up. In the finest Hollywood tradition, Cindy is an amateur pilot working toward her pilot’s license, and even though she’s only trained on one type of plane, she’s able to start this WWII-era rust-bucket and get it in the air without so much as checking to see if there’s a quick-reference card in the glove compartment.
Back at the surplus store, General Kirby is surveying the chaos Matrix has wrought. He knows his boy is on the hunt, but has no idea where Matrix might be going, so he orders all military, law enforcement and marine radio bands monitored in the off chance Matrix tries to make contact. Hopefully, that might occur before Matrix hate-fucks the shit out of a small country or something.
Meanwhile, in his Secret Hidden Lair of Evil, Arius and Bennett wait for word of Matrix’s success in Val Verde. They’ve stuck Jenny in an empty room, but she’s getting bored and has started looking for a way out. Looks like Daddy taught her a few tricks. As for Bennett, he’s singularly unimpressed with the schoolyard punks playing soldier that Arius has hired for his private army. He warns Arius his asshole should be puckering, because Matrix will be coming, one way or another.
Yeah, it’s gonna get nasty.
With time running out, the plane arrives at the island and Matrix uses a rubber raft from his equipment stash to get to shore. Once there, he gears up for the hell he’s about to unleash. Remember, this is Arnie in his 1985 prime, so the montage of Matrix donning his equipment and marking himself up in pretty useless fashion with camo paint is enough to evoke somewhat confused chubbies of varying length and stiffness from every single dude at your local gun range-slash-microbrewery-slash-tattoo parlor-slash-bargain basement strip joint that’s only open during daylight hours:
At the same time our favorite commando is maneuvering into position to attack Arius’ compound, the plane arrives in Val Verde and some local goons are on hand to pick up Henriques and Matrix. Imagine their surprise when they see Henriques’ body, and Matrix is nowhere to be found? Uh, oh. This can’t be good, right? Since it’s still 1985, they gotta get to a payphone in order to call Arius, giving Matrix a little more time to lay out some bombs, booby traps and other nifty toys.
Arius gets the call Matrix wasn’t on the plane, and orders Bennett to kill Jenny. As the mercenary makes his way to do just that, guards are starting to notice an intruder in their midst. We’re up to 9, 10…14 ticks on the Matrix Body Count as alarms start wailing, and Matrix finally says “Fuck this,” and blows up a couple of buildings. That’s when I officially lose count of how many dudes proceed to eat it in all sorts of grisly ways. Hearing the carnage outside, Bennett nearly soils himself in anticipation, but manages to hold it in as he heads to the room where Jenny’s stashed. But wait! Jenny’s managed to escape, the resourceful little minx! Now mightily pissed off, Bennett sets off in pursuit.
As Cindy makes contact with General Kirby and asks him to send in the cavalry, Matrix is continuing his systematic disembowelment of Arius’ compound, killing everyone and blowing up everything in his path. I’m pretty sure he even took out a bunny rabbit with a Claymore mine. Making his way closer to the mansion, it doesn’t matter how many bad guys there are; he’s slicing through them like a razor through wet Kleenex. When he runs out of ammo for one weapon, he just pulls another one—from his belt, his vest, or some orifice leading to a gun locker in another dimension. When that doesn’t work, he just picks up bad guy guns and uses those, too.
Oh, but wait! A lucky grenade lands nearby and peppers him with a bit of shrapnel. Wounded but still mobile, Matrix crawls to a conveniently-located tool shed. After checking his injuries and deciding it’s just a bloody flesh wound(!), Matrix gets ready for the goons to assault the shed, which they do by emptying their weapon magazines into the building. Of course they never shoot above or below chest level, so it’s just a matter of guessing whether Matrix dropped to the floor or climbed into the rafters. Let’s see what happens, shall we?
One of the goons opens the shed door, and gets a pitchfork in the chest for his trouble. Matrix is up in the rafters, and armed balls-out with the finest domestic weaponry Home Depot can provide. Circular saw blades—which apparently combine the physical properties of ninja stars with the lethality of a light saber—along with machetes to chop off limbs and axes to bury in crotches (Um….ow.) are all he needs to get the drop on his attackers. Then he grabs an M-60 machinegun, at which time the smart guards turn and run like hell.
The dumb ones? Yeah. Their day takes a turn toward total shit. As Matrix uses the M-60 to chew through the next line of guards, he makes his way into the mansion and finally faces off against Arius himself. There’s a running gunfight through the house until Matrix finally empties a shotgun into the tinpot dictator’s chest.
Man. That was pretty anti-climactic.
But wait! There’s still Bennett, who’s chased Jenny into a basement/boiler room/brewery/whatever. He catches her just as Matrix closes in, but Bennett manages to put a bullet in him. There’s some macho bullshit talk before Matrix convinces him to toss away the guns and have a good old-fashioned big dick knife fight. “Come on Bennett. Let’s party!” Naturally, being an insecure crybaby, Bennett takes up Matrix’s offer and the two start to tango. You can almost hear the awesomely funky Kirk/Spock fight music from “Amok Time” (for the uninitiated, that’s the Star Trek episode where Mr. Spock goes crazy because he’s horny and has to get home to bone his betrothed wife, and as will happen on Star Trek, he and Captain Kirk end up fighting over her).
Anyway, back to the action!
Matrix and Bennett face off, mano e mano, knives poking and slicing and trying to land a cut. Bennett scores the first strike, which pretty much just pisses off Matrix, and after a brief scuffle the two go flying off a catwalk to the boiler room’s lower level. There’s some smacking with pipes, boiler doors, and trying to push each other’s face into the fire. Matrix kicks Bennett into an electrical panel, but that only seems to juice him up for more punchin’ and kickin’. It looks like Bennett might have the upper hand, but then Matrix rallies and pretty much pummels the shit out of Bennett before skewering him with a hunk of pipe that ends up with one end embedded into what looks like a monster water cooler, with steam erupting from the other end. Yeah, Bennett’s done, so what does Matrix think about that? Say it with me:
“Let off some steam, Bennett.”
With Arius and all of his goons dispatched, Matrix and Jenny have a happy reunion before Kirby and his unit arrives just in time to clean up the mess. “Leave anything for us?” Kirby asks. “Just bodies,” replies Matrix. Boo-yah.
Kirby asks Matrix to come out of retirement, but Matrix tells him to suck it. This is the last time, at least until a sequel comes along, but Matrix isn’t in any hurry. In addition to having Jenny back safe, it seems Cindy has no pressing plans to be elsewhere right this moment. Meee-yow.
Between 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it seemed like Arnold Schwarzenegger was in a lot of bad movies. It’s fair to say most of them sucked some form of donkey balls, from old and shriveled to huge and bursting, depending on your particular kink. The best Arnie film from this period, in my opinion, is Predator, but of the ones that are left? Commando makes a pretty decent stab at being the next best flick. It’s certainly among the more entertaining efforts of those years.
Commando makes no bones about what it is: A stripped-down, quintessential over-the-top 80s action flick, of the sort being cranked out during this period time like meth in rural Missouri. We’re talking about the era of heavyweights like Arnie and Sylvester Stallone in their prime, with potential contenders for their title like Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, and (yes, I’m saying it with a straight face) Jean-Claude Van Damme still a few years away. Even Mel Gibson hadn’t quite arrived yet, despite the success of The Road Warrior which would pave the way for the first of the Lethal Weapon films. From its corny, testosterone-fueled dialogue and wink-wink humor (“I eat Green Berets for breakfast, and right now I’m very hungry!”), ridiculous stunts, one-dimensional characters and mustache-twisting bad guys surrounded by non-thinking cannon fodder, Commando is a brain-dead action fest, but it’s a damned fun brain-dead action fest. None of the various clones and knockoffs ever seemed to compete with it, for one reason or another. Even Arnold’s other efforts in this vein, like Raw Deal or Red Heat, fail to match Commando for sheer goofy fun.
Yep, this flick has heinous levels of violence, particularly at the end of the film when Matrix is cutting through Arius’ men (figuratively and literally) like a Ka-Bar through MRE peanut butter. If anybody on The A-Team had ever actually been able to hit anything they shot at, it might’ve looked a lot like this. Holy Moses, but do some bullets fly. It’s so ludicrous that one man could unleash this level of carnage, but it’s Arnie, so we let it ride.
Cool Trivia: There’s actually a script for a sequel to Commando floating around the net, based at least in some part on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. When Schwarzenegger passed on the idea of a sequel, the script was reworked and eventually became the original Die Hard.
I also read there are plans afoot to remake Commando. Um, why?
If you want one of the poster children for 80s ActionPorn, look no farther than Commando. Come on; let’s party.