By 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger had already starred in two Conan movies and the original Terminator. He was delivering solid action performances and had not yet reached a self-aware, post-modern stance that would require himself to wink at the camera before performing over-the-top stunts. However, he had already begun to deliver funny one-liners, but they had not yet become a parody of themselves. It is in this time period that Schwarzenegger, producer Joel Silver, and director Mark L. Lester (Firestarter) released Commando.
A completely unapologetic action film, Commando finds Schwarzenegger as a retired colonel, John Matrix, who once completed, with a team of men, numerous special-ops assignments. Those men are now being murdered and Matrix is drawn back into the world of covert ops when his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped from under his nose by the killers. They inform Matrix that he must travel to South America and murder a president that he helped install in order for the lead kidnapper, Arius (Dan Hedaya), to be able to take the president's place. Matrix is told that once he accomplishes this mission he will be given back his daughter.
The kidnappers escort Matrix onto a plane, but he manages to escape before the plane gets too high in the air. This leaves him only eleven hours to find his daughter before the plane lands and it is found out he is not on board (these were the days before airphones). Roughly 75 or 80 bloody minutes later, Matrix is reunited with his daughter, having dispatched every bad guy that contemplated looking at him slightly askew.
Once the film gets going, about five or ten minutes in, it stops for nothing, not logic, not good sense, and certainly not any injuries Matrix sustains. He does, as is required by such films, meet a girl, Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), during his mission, who tags along for the rest of the flick. She also just happens to know how to fly a plane, which becomes a crucial plot point. But, as logic in no way enters into the movie, this seems like a perfectly reasonable happenstance.
The film is fascinating when compared with today's action fare. In Commando, Matrix is a hero with no dark side; he may have done things he regrets during his missions, but they in no way cast a pall over his current life. He has no issues he needs to work through, and even the death of his wife when his daughter was born seems to be an upset he put to rest years ago. He is a single-minded, virtually one-dimensional character. The only way the audience knows that he loves his daughter is through an opening credit montage that features them doing father-daughter activities. For good or ill, such a character would never be allowed today. It is however a perfect character for Schwarzenegger, as he is in top physical form in the movie, as good at fisticuffs as he is with guns and explosives.
Commando requires the audience to do no thinking or contemplation whatsoever; we need merely watch Arnold beat people up and destroy things. Never for one second is there any doubt that Matrix will get his daughter back — the only question is how many people will have to die for him to accomplish the feat.
Those looking for a deeper movie with a flawed hero at its core and some amount of introspection would do better to steer away from Commando. However, the film holds up just as well today as it did 20 years ago, providing an adrenaline rush to anyone who craves such things. It is incredibly clear watching the film why Schwarzenegger would go on to become one of the most successful action movie stars of all time.
The new DVD release of Commando features both the theatrical cut and a director's cut (it is slightly longer but contains no substantial revisions), audio commentary by Lester, two behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and photo galleries. The film both looks and sounds fantastic, each bone-crunching moment and neck snap is presented with clarity of picture and sound. The DVD is a must for any Arnold fan.