Richard Mitchell takes a look back at the Arnold Schwarznegger vehicle, pilule recently shown at UCD’s campus cinema
The eighties was an interesting time for cinema. Ludicrous indulgence was the order of the day and nowhere was this more obvious than in the action genre. This was the age of explosions, healing goons and men more bicep than brain. No single film represents this better than COMMANDO.
Commando was an early vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a muscle-bound exercise in lunacy that, whilst barely holding up to modern scrutiny, did create the model for modern blockbusters featuring men on missions such as the first Die Hard, released three years after, and more contemporary examples such as Liam Neeson’s awful Taken series.
The issue with Commando is that it has dated horribly. The style of film it represents hasn’t been popular or relevant for many years, despite what the cast of The Expendables may have you believe (The aforementioned Taken before a strange exception). We want heroes that have more to them than square jaws and more bullets than they know what to do with, mowing down endless waves of faceless grunts. Heroes should have imperfections, things that allow us to relate to them, things that make them human. Despite the screenwriter’s best efforts Commando’s script just doesn’t imbibe any real personality into Schwarzenegger’s character, a retired black ops operative (of course he is). Even the admittedly so-bad-they’re-good quotes just don’t convince that there is a real, functioning human beneath Schwarzenegger’s rippling pectorals.
Maybe it is the casting then that is most at fault. Schwarzenegger’s performance in James Cameron’s original Terminator was a fantastic example of using the actor’s naturally imposing body to great effect, as were his performances in the original Conan films. Some may argue that this physical presence is all an action movie needs in its lead character but that view is fundamentally missing the point. For us to be able to actually give a damn about what happens in the plot we have to be able to believe that, regardless of the physical strength or ability of the character, there’s still the possibility of failure. In Commando we aren’t watching a man who is doing his best to survive in a desperate situation; this isn’t John McClane scraping a win against all odds, this is an indestructible superhero with about as much likelihood of dying as a tellytubby has of winning the All-Ireland final. There is no risk, and so Commando does what action movies should never do, and that is simply become boring.