Thursday, April 09, 2009


Commando posterCommando (1985) is a typical 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick, complete with rippling muscles, rocket launchers, and cheesy comebacks. This particular version of the film formula has Schwarzenegger as retired Special Forces commando John Matrix, who has left the testosterone-filled world of guns and violence in the U.S. Army for some quality time with his daughter, Jenny. Slightly unsettling scenes of the massive, tanned and muscular John feeding deer in the woods with Jenny, going fishing with her, and chucking her effortlessly around in a swimming pool attest to the happiness he has found without his old action-filled life. However, his former life has not yet let him go. It begins to catch up with him in the murders of all of his former commando team members, despite their new hidden identities. General Franklin Kirby, John's former leader in the Army, arrives by helicopter to John's secluded house in the Californian mountains to inform him of these events, and to drop off a few men to protect him. The minute Kirby's helicopter flies away, John smells something on the breeze and drops to the ground on top of Jenny - just in time - as a number of men begin shooting at the house from the forest. The guards John was given are killed, and as John runs to his tool shed to get some weapons, Jenny is kidnapped by the mystery attackers who speed away in two cars. John is not ready to give up, however, and chases the kidnappers down with his Bronco, which he crashes. The men proceed to kidnap John as well and take Jenny and him to an unknown location, where the motive behind the kidnapping becomes clear. Exiled president of the fictional Latin American country of Valverde, Presidente Arius, promises to return John's daughter to him if John goes down to Valverde and assassinates the country's new president. Arius' henchmen, all Valverdians, are led by a former member of John's Special Forces Unit, Bennett, who has a grudge against John for having kicked him out of the unit. John reluctantly agrees to the demands.

John is taken to the San Diego airport with Jackson and Sully, two of Bennett's brutes, who will ensure he gets on the next flight to Valverde. Jackson and John get on the airplane while Sully watches from the airport until the plane takes off. As soon as they get to their seats in the airplane, John inconspicuously breaks Jackson's neck and covers him with a blanket and pillow to make him look like he is sleeping. He then makes his way to the cargo section of the plane and drops down to the tarmac via the landing gear. Sully doesn't see this. John has only 11 hours, the duration of the flight, to find Jenny, because when Arius' men in Valverde see that John has not arrived, Jenny will be killed. John finds Sully in the airport and follows him to the parking lot, where Sully is harassing a young flight attendant who is getting into her car. Sully is rebuffed and goes to his car while John sneaks up behind the young woman and commands her to follow Sully, jumping into her car with her. Terrified, she does as she is told. They follow Sully to a shopping mall, where he goes into a restaurant to do a deal with a mystery man. John tells Cindy, the flight attendant, to get Sully's attention and bring him to corner where John will wait for him. Cindy doesn't follow John's instructions and instead notifies the mall security guards that she is being abducted by John. The guards try to apprehend John, but he easily kicks their butts; however, in the process he attracts Sully's attention. Sully tries to shoot John, runs to his car, and drives away. John runs to Cindy's car and is about to speed away to chase Sully alone, but Cindy gets in the car and insists that she be part of the action. They chase Sully up into some secluded roads, flip his car, and John drops Sully off of a cliff. Before killing him, John gets a hotel room key from Sully's pocket. Taking Sully's car, John and Cindy, who is now sympathetic to John's cause and wants to help, they drive to the hotel, where they search for clues. They find a receipt from an airplane fuel service, which Cindy recognizes. As they are about to leave, another of Arius' henchmen arrives and a scuffle between John and him ensues, in which Cindy screams helplessly from the corner. John kills the henchman by impaling him on a bedpost. John and Cindy drive to "Surplus City", a closed department store, and break in using a nearby bulldozer. John steals dozens of weapons, from grenades to assault rifles to machine guns to a rocket launcher...all available at the neighborhood "Surplus City". The police show up and arrest John, alerted by all the bulldozing action. Cindy manages to sneak away with all the weapons. As John is driven away in a police van, Cindy follows in the car. She takes out the rocket launcher, and after accidentally firing backwards (it is her first time using a rocket launcher, after all), blows up the police van. John miraculously escapes unscathed, jumps into the car, and they are on their way.

John and Cindy drive to the address they find on the fuel receipt, which is a warehouse on the water. There they find maps indicating the location of a mystery island two hours north of San Diego along the coast. They also conveniently find a seaplane on the wharf, which Cindy, who is getting her pilot's license, can fly. Just as armed guards begin shooting at them, they fly away with the destination of the mystery island where Jenny is being held. Two hours later, they arrive. John tells Cindy to try to radio General Kirby for backup while paddling to shore in a speedo, all his body-builder's splendour exposed. When he reaches shore, he straps an impossible amount of weapons to his body, paints himself dark green, and sneaks up to a complex of army barracks filled with Latin American (presumably Valverdian) soldiers. In a matter of minutes he takes on at least fifty soldiers, mowing them all down with a machine gun after politely asking, "Como esta?". He also manages to blow up the five buildings of the complex and run into the woods to find Jenny's location. At this moment, the airplane John was supposed to be on arrives in Valverde, and Arius' men find the body of his seatmate. They call Arius, who authorizes the murder of Jenny, unaware that John has just arrived to his extravagant villa armed to the teeth. As Bennett enters the room where Jenny was held with a knife to kill her, he realizes that the clever little Jenny has escaped. Bennett begins to chase Jenny around the house. John, after having a marvelously successful shootout with the dozens of guards that surround the house and killing Arius, finds Bennett and Jenny in the operations room. Bennett catches Jenny and threatens to kill her, but John manages to convince Bennett that the fight is between the two men and that Jenny must be left out of it. The usual ten-minute action sequence in which the two huge enemies exhibit their massive strength and fighting skills follows, culminating in Bennett's being impaled by a steam pipe. Panting, John remarks, "Let off some steam". He picks up Jenny and they walk to the shore. General Kirby has just arrived with his soldiers, but John tells him all that is left on the island is bodies. Kirby asks John to come back to the Special Forces, but John refuses, smiling down at Jenny. Cindy awaits with the seaplane and the strange new little family climbs aboard and flies away.

Valverde is the typical anarchic Latin American state, victim to constant regime changes, sporadic violence, and external political manipulations. Arius has been deposed as president of the nation and must for some reason coerce an American Special Forces commando to get him back in power, seemingly unable to do so himself. It seems presidents come and go in Valverde, without any role for its people. The only scene that takes place in Valverde shows a street filled with vendors, and has a decisively Mexican flavour. The two gangsters sent to pick up John Matrix walk past a cement wall that is plastered with large prints of Arius crossed off with red ink, signalling a place of political unrest and instability. Arius himself is a darkly tanned, scowling man with a thick gold chain nestled among his dark chest hair. He is ruthless, power-hungry, and manipulative. If Arius is to be president of Valverde, Valverde is lost. It is surprising that Arius is unable to re-take Valverde's presidency, given the huge amount of Valverdian soldiers that surround him; hundreds of green-clad dark-skinned army men with mustaches swarm around him, yelling at each other in Spanish. They are very evil; they are overheard gleefully anticipating the torture of young Jenny, and boasting that "cutting the skin of a young girl is like cutting butter with a hot knife". They are also utterly useless, evidently, as John kills every single one of them without so much as a scratch.

This film follows the theme of namelessness and anonymity of Latin American countries. Valverde is a fictional country with a generic Spanish-sounding name. No details about its culture or geography are given, because these have little importance. Neither is the political situation well-explained, as this is not importance either. Latin America is just a place, a featureless setting. What is really important is that Valverde has produced a bad guy that threatens John Matrix' life, and he must be destroyed.