Commando ticks so many boxes it might as well be called ’80s Action Adventure: The Movie. All of the trappings of that particular genre are present. A hulking, barely clothed protagonist? Check. A threadbare plot that serves only to tie action sequences together? Check. Multiple explosions with acrobatic stuntmen flip-flopping away from them? Check, check, check.
Along with the above genre requirements, Commando boasts some seriously dodgy acting, a catalogue of continuity errors and an array of firefights that could hardly be described as “tactically astute”.
It would be abysmal if it wasn’t so bloody hilarious.
If you approach this film expecting a serious action flick then you are going to be very disappointed. Commando is much more entertaining if you view it as an action movie spoof.
The 1980s were festooned with action films. Some good, some bad, but all cheesy in some way or another. Commando, true to its box-ticking form, manages to be all three. It’s so bad it’s good, and so exceptionally cheesy that it’s difficult to get through it without stifling a giggle or two.
Honestly, it’s so bad it feels almost intentional.
Despite the ’80s having an abundance of action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to cement his position atop the pile as the perennial action hero. He used his immense physique to stand out from the others and his unique – if slightly awkward – charisma to further raise himself above his peers.
If someone other than Arnold had played the role of John Matrix, Commando wouldn’t have been anywhere near as entertaining. An often overlooked strength of his is the ability to not take himself too seriously, and it’s this strength that holds the film together.
The story of a retired colonel forced into killing a foreign president in order to save his kidnapped daughter might sound pretty serious, but the whole story plays out in such a nonsensical way that it’s hard not to be entertained by it. Naturally, our hero does not kowtow to these terrorists and forgoes the military coup in favour of a daring rescue attempt. What follows is an increasingly daft series of events that lead to a third act that abandons all pretense of solemnity.
To be fair, the tone for the whole movie was set during a hilariously mawkish montage early on. It plays like a corny old advert for the perfect father-daughter relationship. There’s fishing, swimming and smearing ice cream on each other’s faces. They’re having entirely too good a time, it’s obvious that they’ll soon be separated. When that happens, we know that this gentle giant will be more than willing to snap necks, chop off limbs and throw saw blades at anyone that comes between him and his darling daughter.
Bad, yet strangely quotable, one-liners are littered throughout, usually serving as punctuation to a particularly theatrical death. Quips such as “Don’t disturb my friend, he’s DEAD tired”, and “Let off some steam”, to name but a few, only add to the playful self awareness of the whole movie. It’s gloriously meta.
The visual mismatch of antagonist and protagonist is yet another source of humour. As good as Vernon Wells is at playing the unhinged sociopath, it’s hard to accept him as a physical threat to the imposing form of Schwarzenegger. This may explain why, during their inevitable confrontation, Wells hams up Bennett’s craziness to highly amusing levels.
The third act is an absolute delight. A heavily armed Arnie, with muscles rippling, ploughs through wave after wave of mustachioed henchmen who look completely at odds with their military garb. None look particularly athletic, that is until a single bullet sends them spiralling through the air like competing gymnasts.
There are so many goofs here they simply have to be on purpose. From suspiciously dissimilar stunt doubles to self-repairing Porsches, everything appears as though it has been hastily shot and cobbled together. I can’t help but think that was the whole point; by drawing attention to its many flaws, Commando demands to not be taken seriously at all.
Commando is ninety minutes of unadulterated entertainment. It’s gleefully violent, knowingly cheesy and rife with tongue-in-cheek humour that is eminently enjoyable. It’s this humour coupled with a strict adherence to the action movie formula that make Commando the perfect parody of the genre.
… But I could be wrong.