Kevin: As you’ve no doubt noticed, Tough Guy Digest has been on a hiatus the last couple of months, as professional and personal obligations have kept us from being able to write multiple 5,000-word analyses per week on 30-year-old movies (except for Anthony, we just don’t know where the hell he is). While we will not be able to return to our previous level of output for the next several months, we will try and get up at least one post per week, as well as be more active on Twitter if you want to check us out there. Until then, we figured there’d be no better way to recharge our batteries than with a screening of “Commando,” in which Arnold Schwarzenegger shows that even busy single fathers can achieve a proper work/life balance between raising their kids and killing many, many people:
What can you say about “Commando” other than it’s as lean and mean an action film as you can get, it epitomizes everything we love about these flicks from the ‘80s, and the third act of the movie pretty much consists of Arnold gunning down hundreds of people (so many in fact that several background players seem to get killed more than once) while occasionally using rose bushes as cover. For all of that though, I seem to have most of my thoughts centered around the opening of the film, in which some of men who previously served under our hero John Matrix are assassinated.
(By the way, I don’t think we acknowledge enough what a badass name “John Matrix” is. If they ever did a sequel to “Commando” they could have even called it “The Matrix” if the Wachowski’s hadn’t taken it first. As I said in our post on awesome hero names, I think the filmmakers were so worried about Arnold’s reaction that they eventually went into hiding and changed genders just to throw him off their trail.)
Speaking of going into hiding, apparently Matrix’s team made so many enemies around the globe that they had to get new identities themselves, even though for some reason they all elected to live in Los Angeles. Among their exploits that we hear about is a mission in Syria, and you have to be pretty embarrassed if you’re Syria that your name is shorthand for “Middle East shithole” whether it’s 1985 or 2018. Either way, our first glimpse of one of Matrix’s supremely badass warriors is … some balding guy who looks like he sells insurance, and is very, very annoyed about the idea the garbage men came on the wrong day. I think he mutters something to his wife about complaining to the city, but if they pulled this shit with his old boss Matrix then City Hall would be a smoldering wreck by 10:00 a.m.
So he hauls ass with some garbage cans (note no recycling bins back then) and is promptly gunned down by the two “garbage men,” one of whom is Bill Duke and the other the guy who later receives the “Wrong!” headshot from Arnold:
So the bad guys’ plan was predicated on the idea that the mere sound of their garbage truck driving down the street on a day when the garbage is not supposed to be picked up would cause this guy to spring out of bed and race down his driveway so that he could be gunned down. What if he didn’t hear it and just kept sleeping? What if he said “fuck it” and decided to throw the garbage away in some bin at a nearby apartment complex later? How long were they gonna stand there pretending to be garbage men waiting for him to come out? And how committed were they to this bit? Like, were they doing practice runs picking up garbage for the last several weeks before this to really get into character?
Either way, the next member of Matrix’s badass crew that we see apparently used his lethal skills in the private sector to become … a sleazy car salesmen. Apparently rather than using the tried-and-true “garbage men on the wrong day” trick again, Bill Duke decided to employ the totally foolproof “pretend to be a prospective car buyer, then start the car in the showroom, back up, hope that the guy jumps in front of the car, then drive over him and out of the showroom” maneuver. Honestly I’m kinda surprised he was dead, since T.J. Hooker took more damage from an automobile every episode and he was always fine.
Then the third guy we see is Bennett, although technically this doesn’t count since this killing is actually a fake-out and Bennett is working for the bad guys. But I think we can safely say that based on the three examples we have seen, Matrix’s team doesn’t exactly fulfill our expectations based on both the supposed awesomeness of their exploits or the awesomeness of their leader’s biceps. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a fan theory out there that Dutch from “Predator” is actually Matrix’s new identity, in which case he made sure this time to fill his new squad with guys who actually look like they fit the bill (although I guess that doesn’t work since that would mean Bill Duke is back from the dead and now a good guy – wait, identical brother maybe?).
Because yeah, while Bennett is a great villain for a lot of reasons, physical intimidation is not one of them. Apparently a different actor was cast but then let go into filming because he wasn’t working out, so they went with the guy who had just played the Mohawk-sporting villain in “The Road Warrior.” Apparently they didn’t know he had obviously been spending a lot of time at Outback Steakhouse, since he sports a noticeable gut here, which would be less of an issue if they hadn’t included a scene where he goes mano a mano against Arnold in a fight and actually has him on the ropes at times.
I do like how Bennett is always talking out how awesome he and Matrix were and how many people he could kill, when pretty much most of his physical exertion in the film is spent chasing around Alyssa Milano. I also like that he is so wedded to the chainmail wife-beater look that he doesn’t even change into something less conspicuous when dropping Arnold off at the airport, he just puts a long trenchcoat over it.
Then after Arnold gets one of his greatest intros ever carrying a chainsaw and an entire tree, we get some of his greatest acting ever in the opening credits montage:
Honestly Arnold has a touch of “Simple Jack” here, and if you didn’t know about all the bloodshed to come, you could easily mistake this for the opening credits for some TGIF show on ABC back in the day about a musclebound single father and his precocious tomboy daughter spending their days fishing, feeding deer, and shoving ice cream in each other’s faces. For some reason I also like that after a very slow and pleasant melody, the movie kicks in with James Horner’s awesome steel drum score as soon as they pull the fish out of the water, as if something extremely suspenseful has just happened. Either way, once the credits end we get one of Arnold’s best moments in cinema, when he looks through what is supposed to be one of Alyssa’s teen magazines and says “Why don’t they just call him Girl George, it would cut down on all the confusion.”
Other random thoughts on “Commando”:
- This has got to be one of the most tightly edited action films ever. For instance, Matrix’s former commander Kirby (after complimenting him for being “silent and smooth as always”) has just finished explaining how people are coming for him and has barely left in the helicopter before the bad guys open fire. One of the biggest laughs in the movie is when Arnold and Rae Dawn Chong hit a light pole in their car going 70 mph with no seat belts or airbags. Any other movie would have them take a minute to at least pretend this shook them up in anyway, but nope, in “Commando” Arnold pops out of the car as if some soccer mom lightly bumped him from behind while texting at a red light.
- On that note, Arnold has barely hit the water after dropping from a 747 during liftoff before he’s back in action. I was too amazed that his plan for getting off the plane was to hope that there would be some body of water at the end of the runway for him to drop into to notice his plan for finding Sully is to sneak back into the airport and hope that Sully is still hanging around for no good reason, and he’s right!
- Of course I guess his knack for executing wildly unlikely schemes rubs off on Chong, since her great idea to spring Arnold from a police van is to fire a rocket at it and hope that it doesn’t kill everyone inside. Oh yeah, I also learned from “Commando” that every sports and recreation store has a button under the cash register that opens the secret room where they keep their functioning machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers.
- As we noted on our rundown of his greatest hits following his death in 2017, “Commando” features a brief appearance by Bill Paxton as a radar monitor, proving once again that if there was a movie you loved in the 1980s, Bill Paxton probably was involved somehow.
- We suspected, and later confirmed, that the final bloodbath was partially filmed at the same mansion where they set the climactic shootout in “Beverly Hills Cop” the year before. if you were going to commit a murder in your neighborhood then this would have been a good time to do it, since your neighbors would have just assumed they were probably filming a Stallone movie this time.
- Seriously, Arnold really just uses rose bushes as cover from gunfire.
- Kirby shows up to a warzone, makes some quip indicating that this sort of thing is not out of the ordinary for good ol’ John “no prisoners” Matrix, and in true action movie fashion Arnold just walks away (technically flies away) without giving any sort of official statement or receiving medical attention. Kirby doesn’t even ask him where he’s going or how he can get a hold of him later when he’s probably gonna have some questions about why, for instance, Bennett didn’t die in that opening explosion and is now impaled by a giant pipe.
- I feel like the end-credits song “We Fight for Love” by Power Station — which combined the forces of Robert Palmer and members of Chic and Duran Duran — doesn’t get enough credit as an awesome ’80s action anthem. It also has the lyrics “I am a mountain/Surrounded by your love/You are the mountain/That dreams are made of.” I can’t think of a woman alive who would be flattered being described as a mountain dreams are made of, whatever the hell that is.