C is for… Commando
I’m not going to call it a cinematic masterpiece, because that would be silly. But I will say that it is wonderfully entertaining in all of its over-the-top glory. From cheesy ‘80s music, to Arnold’s strange almost-mullet, to so many guns you can’t count them all, watching Commando is simply an enjoyable experience, assuming the viewer isn’t expecting Oscar quality filmmaking.
Commando (directed by Mark L. Lester) stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as John Matrix (the first of many heroes in my sights named John). He’s an ex-Delta Force Operative, and lives in the mountains with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). She gets kidnapped by a former member of Matrix’s unit, Bennett (Vernon Wells), and Matrix is given the ultimatum to kill the current President of Val Verde or Bennett will kill Jenny. The goal is to get dictator Arius (Dan Hedaya) into power.
Of course Matrix doesn’t take this very well, and wages a one man war against Bennett and his men. Well, one man until he pairs up with Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), a flight attendant who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets roped into helping him.
In order to find his daughter, Matrix:
- Kills in broad daylight the guard assigned to him, while on an airplane
- Exits the airplane in mid-take off, through the landing gear
- Takes a woman hostage
- Gets into a fight in a mall
- Chases a guy, makes him crash his car, then drops him off a cliff
- Gets in a fight and kills a guy in a motel room
- Steals a bunch of guns and other weapons
- Gets arrested
- Gets help from his hostage—now his sidekick—to escape the police
- Breaks into a warehouse
- Steals a plane
- Kills hundreds of men in what looks like half an hour
- Kills his daughters’ kidnappers
The film’s tagline, Somewhere… somehow… someone’s going to pay, is slightly misleading, because on the road between Matrix’s home and Val Verde, a lot of bad guys pay for helping Bennett and Arius with their crimes. They pay violently.
Rewatching Commando actually put me in a good mood after being exhausted, so it gets bonus points.
But without further ado, let’s dive into the criteria…
A is for… Accents
The beloved Arnold—or “Arnie” or “Ahnold” as he is affectionately known—of course has his Austrian accent.
The villain, Bennett, has an Australian accent.
The other villain, Arius, has a Spanish accent.
B is for… Bad Guys
Bennett used to be part of Matrix’s Delta Force unit, but got kicked out. Arius was the dictator of Val Verde but Matrix led a revolution against him. Bennett wants to get revenge on Matrix by helping Arius and making Matrix kill the President that replaced Arius. In order to throw off his trail Matrix’s former commanding officer Major General Kirby (James Olson), Bennett faked his own death when he had all of the other former members of Matrix’s unit killed.
Bennett feels nothing but hate for Matrix, and he’s rather creepy with it. Though not super evil, the fact that he kidnaps a girl and locks her in a room for 11 hours with seemingly no food or water is fairly mean. He also loses his mind at the end, and is so insanely focused on getting his revenge on Matrix and proving that he’s a better soldier than he is that he makes mistakes and ultimately is defeated. Oddly Bennett also admits to Arius that he’s afraid of Matrix. So why he then makes a point of taking him on in hand-to-hand combat isn’t understood, outside of the craziness.
Bennett gets bonus points for his ludicrous costume:
- Loosely knit vest that looks like chain mail, over a sleeveless black T-shirt
- Big black belt securing the vest
- Black leather pants
He looks like a rejected Sheriff of Nottingham, really. It’s actually quite hilarious, because combined with the porn ‘stache and the crazy look in his eyes, it’s really hard to figure out how capable a villain he is.
Arius seems to mostly just be present, and while obviously helping pull the strings he doesn’t seem to be Matrix’s real opponent.
C is for… Chases
There aren’t any super awesome chases in Commando, but there are a few chases in general.
In the beginning of the film, as Jenny is being kidnapped, Matrix tries to follow in his truck, but the bad guys damaged its engine. So he instead pushes the truck to the edge of the hill and hops in, rushing down the mountainside after the bad guys. I’m not sure if he’s trying to catch up or just slam into their vehicles, but he winds up doing neither and instead flips the truck and gets kidnapped himself.
Matrix hijacks Cindy’s car and makes her follow Sully (David Patrick Kelly), one of Bennett’s/Arius’ henchmen, to the mall. He’d previously been hitting on her and followed her to her car, which is why Matrix knew she knew what Sully looked like and that he was interested in her. Technically this sequence isn’t a “chase,” but there are cars and following involved.
It’s when Sully flees Matrix and the mall that there’s an actual chase, with Matrix driving Cindy’s car. He uses the car to push Sully’s and it eventually flips on its side, while Matrix and Cindy crash headfirst but with no bodily damage into a telephone pole. With Cindy’s car totaled, she and Matrix take Sully’s car, which is undamaged in the shot as they leave the scene of the crash. It’s a mentionable gaffe because the vehicle got smashed into and scraped on its side, and there was a lot of damage as it flipped over!
The last chase is also not really a chase, but it’s interesting because not only is Cindy willing to help Matrix by giving him her car, and stealing weapons, she’s also now willing to free him from police custody. That’s a heck of a lot of trust in him and distrust in the police to gain in a few hours. Especially considering the length she goes to: she blows up their paddy wagon. With a rocket launcher.
D is for… Damsels
The first damsel the viewer is introduced to in Commando is Jenny, Matrix’s daughter. She’s about eleven and is depicted as loving her father very much; truly it seems as if they share more hugs than seen in an episode of Full House. When bad guys show up at her home, she hides under her bed, and it seems strange that Matrix doesn’t have a panic room of some sort. Obviously hiding under the bed wasn’t a big help. Surely hiding in his private armory or a hidden room would have been better.
When Bennett kidnaps Jenny, Matrix is hell-bent on getting her back and will stop at nothing in order to do so, including holding a woman hostage (until she comes around to being his sidekick), killing hundreds of men, stealing an airplane, and robbing a store.
The film doesn’t cut to a lot of shots of Jenny being helpless and crying, which is nice. She also is resourceful and tries to escape by breaking the doorknob and using it to pry away a board from the wall of the room where she’s being held.
The second damsel is Cindy, a pretty flight attendant who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sully hits on her at the airport then follows her to her car, and to get close to Sully Matrix takes Cindy hostage and makes her follow Sully. Of course she’s angry and scared at first, but eventually realizes Matrix isn’t going to hurt her and is indeed the good guy. Overall she’s strong and brave and smart, and without her help Matrix never would have found Jenny. He’d be in jail after stealing from the gun store.
E is for… Explosions
There aren’t as many explosions as may be expected considering the DVD menu has explosions, but there are a few.
Bennett’s boat is blown up in the beginning, when he’s pretending he was killed.
When Matrix guides his truck down the mountain and misses the bad guys, his truck flips over and explodes, which is shown from three different angles. We get it, the truck exploded.
In Val Verde Matrix blows up the entire dock area and everyone in the vicinity.
At the palace Matrix uses many grenades. They’re like fireworks almost.
F is for… Flashbacks
The saccharine, ridiculous opening credit sequence is a series of flashbacks beating the viewer over the head with how much Matrix loves Jenny. They eat ice cream and feed deer and go fishing and go swimming and practice self-defense.
We get it.
But thank you, opening credit sequence, for truly cluing the viewer in to how over-the-top Commando will be. You are cheesy and wonderful.
G is for… Guns
Check out details at the IMFDB.
Matrix has his own private armory outside his home. It’s a shed locked with a passcode. The armory and the movie as a whole is filled with many handguns, rifles, and shotguns. There’s even a rocket launcher that Cindy uses to blow up the paddy wagon.
The villains don’t use their guns subtly, which seems to be a running theme so far on this site. They shoot the one man in his driveway, and there’s the shootout at the mall, and later a dock.
There’s a lot of shooting from the hip and one-handed shooting, and with that in mind it’s no wonder none of the bad guys hit Matrix. How he kills everyone is another question.
In order to conduct his assault on Val Verde, Matrix breaks into a gun store by using a bulldozer and steals a lot of weapons.
While no doubt not the only continuity error in the film, during the final assault on the palace Matrix has a rifle that seems to morph into a handgun between shots.
H is for… Helicopters
General Kirby arrives at Matrix’s mountain home in a helicopter. It almost seems as if the house was designed to look down into that valley to see helicopters approaching.
Kirby also brings his men to Val Verde in a helicopter at the end of the film.
I is for… Improvisation
An argument can be made that all of the movie is improvisation, from the second Matrix is able to escape from the airplane. He has no battle plan, no weapons, no direction, and no hope. But he’s able to piece together clues throughout the movie to get from the airport to the palace on Val Verde.
More concrete examples include using the ribbon banner in the mall as a Tarzan swing to quickly cut the distance to Sully. Matrix also makes use of the tools in a garden shed outside the palace: he smashes a pick into one guy’s chest, scalps a guy with a saw blade, axes another guy in the crotch, and machetes a guy’s arm clean off. Plenty of death and suffering with nary a bullet fired.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
One of the opening scenes in the movie has henchman Cooke (Bill Duke) driving through a plate glass window as he both kills someone and steals a car.
Cooke gets thrown through the adjoining door at the motel.
Matrix drives a bulldozer through the wall at the gun store.
Bennett smashes his way through the boarded up door through which Jenny escaped.
Matrix smashes a soldier face first through a glass table.
Matrix charges through a door of the palace. Yes, half the door is broken glass, but he shoulders his way through the wooden frame.
After Arius is shot, he falls through a window.
K is for… Kill Count
Matrix kills a handful of people before he reaches Val Verde, where it becomes impossible to keep track.
He breaks the nose and the neck of the goon guarding him on the plane.
He drops Sully from a cliff.
He (inadvertently) impales Cooke on a broken table or chair leg, but that fight was to the death no matter what.
He shoots the guys in the Jeep chasing him and Cindy on the dock.
He stabs soldiers, throws knives, and shoots the guy in the tower.
What’s interesting about his kills is that before the dock, Matrix doesn’t have a gun, so the kills are all more personal. He had to be in the person’s physical space in order to kill him.
L is for… Limitations
Other than being totally on his own when he reaches Val Verde and thus unable to rely on anyone for help, Matrix doesn’t seem to have any limitations. He has Cindy to help him piece together where Jenny is, and he seems to be virtually indestructible.
M is for… Motivation
Matrix’s motivation above all is to rescue Jenny. His secondary motivation is to take down Bennett. Thirdly he may want to ensure there is no further revolution in Val Verde, considering there are no more bad guys alive.
Bennett wants revenge against Matrix for being so much better at everything than he is, and helping Arius may be just a means to that end.
Arius wants to be dictator again.
N is for… Negotiation
Bennett captures Jenny so that Matrix will kill President Velazquez of Val Verde. Matrix was the one who helped Velasquez get into power in the first place by overthrowing Arius the Dictator. If Matrix kills the President, Jenny is set free.
Matrix doesn’t want anything to do with negotiations. Once Jenny is taken, Matrix just wants blood.
O is for… One Liners
Commando is full of one liners. Schwarzenegger adds an element of humor to his projects.
Terrorist in chair: You’ve got to cooperate. Right?
Matrix: I’ll be back, Bennett.
(Arnie really can’t escape his Terminator roots. Even now we expect his movies to contain the line.)
Matrix, to Sully: I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.
Matrix, about his deceased guard: Don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired.
Matrix: Follow him.
Cindy: I knew you were going to say that.
Matrix: A guy I trusted for years wants me dead.
Cindy: That’s understandable. I’ve only known you for five minutes and I want you dead too.
Matrix: Are you all right?
Cindy: I think I’m dead.
Matrix: You’re all right.
Matrix, to Sully, before dropping him off a cliff: Remember when I promised to kill you last? I lied.
Cindy: What’d you do to Sully?
Matrix: I let him go.
Matrix, to Cooke: I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now I’m very hungry.
Cooke: Fuck you, asshole.
Matrix: Fuck you, asshole!
Matrix: We’ll take Cooke’s car. He won’t be needing it.
Cindy: Where we going?
Bennett: Welcome back, John. So glad you could make it.
Matrix: Let off some steam, Bennett.
Kirby: Until next time.
Matrix: No chance.
(I think he should say “I won’t be back” to invert the usual, expected, “I’ll be back” line.)
I’m sure there are other lines that other people consider to be “one liners” but these are my picks.
P is for… Profession
Matrix is an ex-Delta Force Operative, and a hero of the Val Verde revolution. He is more than prepared to take on his former teammate in Bennett.
A lot of his fighting technique uses his sheer brute strength, which is illustrated in his opening shots by the way he casually carries a tree on his shoulder. No doubt he was trained to use his strength by the army. To win fights he:
Breaks his guard’s nose and neck without much leverage, and without attracting attention.
Rips the passenger seat out of Cindy’s car. (Why, no one seems to know. It certainly doesn’t hide him from view.)
Rips the phone booth containing Sully out of the wall/floor.
Fights off a gang of mall cops, scattering them like they’re Care Bears.
Gets up immediately after being hit by Sully’s car.
Rips a chain and padlock apart.
Rips a pipe off the wall and throws it hard enough to penetrate all of Bennett’s abdomen and the water heater thing behind him.
When prepping to take on the soldiers at Val Verde, Matrix suits up, knowing what equipment he needs and how he can carry it on his person. He is ridiculously decked out, or maybe it only seems that way because his one man ambush isn’t apparent at first.
At the very end of the film Kirby asks Matrix to start up his unit again.
Q is for… Quagmire
The airplane situation—forced to board a plane, under the watch of a large muscular guy, threat of death on any move to escape, looking at eleven hours of wondering if your daughter is alive—would likely be a very difficult situation for anyone else. Matrix simply takes out the guy with an elbow to the face and a snapping of his neck. That must require a ridiculous amount of strength in that position, so surely few people other than Matrix could have accomplished his escape. He also had to know how to get to the landing gear, and get there quickly enough so it doesn’t close on him or the plane get too high for him to jump.
R is for… Reality/Suspension of Disbelief
Basically the entire movie forces the viewer to check his disbelief at the door. From escaping the plane to escaping the police to happening to take as a hostage a woman who knows how to read fuel receipts and fly a plane, to the way none of Bennett’s/Arius’s soldiers can hit Matrix with their guns, Commando makes no pretense of being a somewhat plausible experience.
But that’s part of what makes it so wonderful.
S is for… Sidekicks
Cindy is a flight attendant and is also practicing for her pilot exam, a fact that becomes necessary for Matrix to find Jenny.
Cindy gives Matrix a ride to the mall so he can track Sully; Matrix wants her to come on to Sully to lure him into Matrix’s trap. Instead she goes to the police, but after Sully tries to shoot Matrix Cindy is on Matrix’s side. She even pushes a mall guard who’s about to shoot Matrix so his bullet goes wide. As Matrix chases Sully in Cindy’s car, she runs up to the car and begs him to stop so she can hop in and join him. Matrix apologizes for involving her.
Cindy wants to help get Jenny back. She goes into the motel room Sully had, and even pretends to be a hooker when Cooke comes a -knocking. She helps Matrix steal guns from the store, and when Matrix is arrested she fires a rocket launcher at the paddy wagon so he can escape.
Cindy helps search Cooke’s car and finds the receipt for (and recognizes) the fuel bill for the airplane to get to Val Verde. She is able to fly the plane, and when threatened by the Intercept Officer (Bill Paxton) that she needs to leave the air space, she flies low, knowing the waves will camouflage their signal on the radar.
T is for… Technology
Commando may have simply been too early for the “technology is its own category of villainy” theme that permeates so many action/thriller movies nowadays. To figure out where Val Verde is so they can fly there Matrix and Cindy use a paper map and coordinates and measure them with a ruler. Cindy even comments that the airplane is older than she is and she can’t read the dials.
Amusingly, Matrix’s digital watch, once he sets the 11 hour countdown, beeps every time there’s a close up of it. It only doesn’t beep once, outside the motel. One would think that if it’s actually beeping it would be driving him nuts, but if the beeping is only for the benefit of the viewer, are there really people who wouldn’t understand it’s a countdown?
U is for… Unexpected Romance
Onscreen there isn’t any surprise romance. There’s a gratuitous naked people scene at the motel, but Matrix doesn’t approach Cindy as anything other than a partner. The ending of the film is left open, as if Matrix and Cindy may be interested in each other, but there’s nothing overt. They don’t even seem to really look at each other, though Cindy introduces herself to Jenny.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
Cooke uses the vehicle he’s stealing to run over the dealer, and break through the window.
Matrix guides his truck down the mountain in an attempt to crash into the bad guys.
Matrix slams Cindy’s car into Sully’s.
A bulldozer is used to break through the wall of the gun store.
W is for… Winning
Matrix tells Cindy she’ll know when he gets to the palace because “all fucking hell is going to break loose.”
He’s not wrong.
He kills everyone. The grounds are a bloodbath. There must be spent gun shells two inches deep all over that place.
He shoots Arius, who then falls out the window.
He electrocutes Bennett, which barely slows him down, then rips a pipe off the wall and throws it hard enough to punch through Bennett’s abdomen and the water heater thing behind him.
Matrix is then able to carry Jenny to safety, just as Kirby and his men show up.
And, if you want to look at it that way, Matrix gets the girl in the end.
X is for… X-rays, Or Maybe You Should See A Doctor
Assuming it’s morning when Jenny is kidnapped, Matrix hasn’t gotten any sleep in more than 24-hours. He’s also in multiple fist fights throughout the film. During the massacre he gets wounded in the side. Bennett shoots him in the shoulder, in the middle of beating the snot out of him.
How he’s walking at all by the end is a mystery.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
Bennet was a member of Matrix’s unit but got kicked out. He harbored and nurtured a hatred of Matrix that ultimately led to his demise. Had he been dealt with earlier, Jenny never would have been taken.
Z is for… Zone, In The
There’s a lovely montage of Matrix suiting up for his attack. He knew what he needed and how to get it on his person. He is ready to take on Bennet, Arius, and anyone else he comes across in Val Verde.
And to reiterate: he. kills. everyone. There is no more “in the zone” than being able to shoot everyone and barely get wounded.
So that’s Commando. It’s ridiculous and campy, but deliciously fun, too. By design it’s simple yet has everything needed for action entertainment: popular star, guns, explosions, fight scenes, hot yet capable woman. It also doesn’t have some of the action film elements that slow things down, like annoying characters or technobabble.
The one thing that dampens the enjoyment is that Matrix is essentially unstoppable. If he weren’t Austrian he could be Superman (which isn’t to say Superman can’t be Austrian, just that everyone knows Superman grew up in Kansas). As the trailer says, “If it’s a mission no man can survive, he’s the man for the job.” Matrix shouldn’t have been able to get off the plane, let alone get to Val Verde and kill everyone without getting killed himself. There is no stopping him at all, and while the viewer expects Matrix to be successful and rescue Jenny, there’s a lot to be said for a hero that shows some human weakness.
A couple questions do come to mind throughout the film:
Do motel room keys have the room number on them?
Why does Matrix strip to a speedo for the raft ride between the plane and Val Verde? If the answer is “fan service,” I’m not sure which fans the service is for. I don’t honestly know how big the female audience is for Arnold. Maybe it was part of his contracts then that he had to have a scene to show off his body.
The end credits of older films are always interesting—in the first half or so of the twentieth century, credits lasted for a handful of static screens and listed maybe a hundred people.
Later decades have credits that last for a few minutes of rolling text.
It seems like anything made in the last decade or so has insanely long credits listing hundreds and hundreds of people for every conceivable thing and it takes forever.
Commando’s credits list 54 stunt people. (that’s it?)
And 6 helicopter pilots.
The special visual effects are attributed merely to a company.
To sum up, Commando is great for action and for laughs, but if you’re in the mood for realism, go check out something else.