Commando (1985)

commando_3Commando (1985)
AKA Phantom Kommando

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke, Drew Snyder

Directed by Mark L. Lester

Expectations: This is one of my favorites movies ever.


Before this recent re-watch of Commando, I wondered to myself how I would rate the film. Without question I knew that I would want to give it four stars because this has been one of my most favorite films ever since childhood. If I had to choose, I’d say that it’s between this and Predator for my favorite Arnold film. So clearly I have a great affection for this movie, and only four stars can accurately sum up my feelings for it. At the same time, I’m now 32 years old and while I still watch this movie with a gleeful smile and an unburdened mind, I am able to recognize how some people — especially those who did not live through the ’80s or grow up on Arnold films — could find themselves unable to stomach either the graphic, wanton violence or the highly questionable, completely unbelievable logic of Commando.

Thankfully, I’m not one to let the snark and the bad vibes of those who don’t see the magic of Commando ruin my experience. Without even a moment’s consideration, Commando still ranks as one of my favorite films. It is relentlessly exciting, funny, and even shockingly gruesome at times. Commando is one of the greatest action films of the ’80s. Like its heavily armed, well-oiled lead, Commando is lean, mean and always ready to kick some motherfuckin’ ass!

commando_2But Commando does not open on this triumphant note. Instead, we start off with the villains. At first, we’re unaware that they are even villains. Disguised as trash men, dudes with Uzis viciously murder a homeowner who thought he was about to miss trash day. They were there to take out the garbage, alright… and the garbage was him! Similar scenes of random people getting murdered follow this, and as an audience we’re left wondering what it all adds up to. The only thing we know is that these bastards are capable of some serious shit and they are not to be trifled with.

And who might be able to take on criminals of this caliber? Only the type of guy that cuts down a huge tree with a chainsaw and then carries the whole damn thing home on his shoulder! Enter John Matrix, an ex-military man looking for a bit of peace and quiet to raise his daughter. Of course, it’s all about to be shattered, and because this is the ’80s that takes about five minutes.

The action in this movie is incredible. It’s pure, ridiculous fun. This is exactly the kind of stuff that would NEVER fly in a modern film, and that’s exactly why modern films don’t satisfy my every cinematic urge. It’s funny that with the level of ridiculous bullshit that CG has pumped into the action genre, the more realistic ridiculous bullshit of the ’80s is somehow “more bullshit” than far less realistic ridiculous CG bullshit to the modern viewer. But I’m not here to talk about CG. In fact, I like to think that remember hearing a story about a memo from the producers to Arnold and director Mark Lester about trying out some rudimentary CG in Commando, but Arnold put all the computers inside the villain’s compound buildings right before he blew them to smithereens (and thus Arnold saved the true action film genre for another decade).

commando_1But while Arnold and his barrage of explosions and one-liners always get major credit for making Commando awesome, I need to point out an unsung hero that is equally responsible for the film’s perfection: James Horner. His incredible score has captured my imagination since childhood and it perfectly complements the action-packed visuals. Over the years I’ve seen reviews lambast Horner’s score and reading them made me want to fly an amphibious plane to the reviewers’ island compound so I could beat the greatness of Horner’s steel drum and sax-filled score into their heads. And this is not just one of the best Arnold film scores, this is one of the greatest action film scores of all time.

So yeah, I love Commando. It’s one of Arnold’s best movies in my opinion, and seen in chronological order it’s also interesting to note it as the first “normal” role for him. In every previous film that he starred in, Arnold played some version of an emotionless killing machine, but right up-front in the opening credits of Commando we get to see Arnold’s humanity as he is smiling, laughing and just being a father. It’s a stark contrast to his previous roles, but I’m sure this helped to pave the way for Arnold to take on a wide range of roles instead of just the hulking killer guys. Of course, he is the ultimate hulking killer in Commando, but he’s doing it for his daughter so we can all relate. I mean, who wouldn’t put camo war paint all over their bodies and mercilessly slaughter hundreds of dudes to get your kid back?

If you don’t like Commando, I don’t know if we can be friends. I mean, if you can’t extract joy from a flick this criminally good, then I’m going to have to assume you also get no happiness from other undeniably great things like sunsets, birthday cake and popping bubble wrap. So if you haven’t seen Commando, strap in and have a blast!

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is Raw Deal, a film I don’t remember much about because I’ve only seen it a couple times. But Arnold vs. the Mob? Can’t wait to revisit it. See ya then!

9 comments to Commando (1985)

  • Stephen

    Haha! That was a fun review. I don’t think I would put it at the top of Arnold’s filmography, but maybe that just comes from not seeing it until well into adulthood. It is a fun movie, though, and anyone who hates it must be missing something.

    And is that Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen I spy in the credits!? Obviously he’s going for the more mature “James” to rebrand himself for his new action star role.

    • Hahaha, glad you enjoyed it! Ah man, how did you not see this growing up? This is Arnold 101!

      Man, Jimmy Olsen must have beefed up cuz I didn’t notice any plucky photographer types here! I looked it up… He plays the General who is friend to Arnold, so even here he is being typecast as the friend to Superman. 🙂

  • It’s almost impossible to say a bad word about this film; it’s become legendary for being so awesome in its own right, even if there are huge gaps of logic and sense, crusty acting or terrible effects. Love Commando!!!!

    • What terrible effects? Maybe you speak of the matte work when they’re in the plane? I’ve actually never noticed that myself until this time around, but I always kind of enjoy seeing those types of seams. Looks better to me than the slick, CG-aided stuff now. But really none of that matters in the face of Arnold obliterating an entire island compound single-handedly.

  • The stars aligned for this one alright. I’m with you on the “greatest movie of the 80s (perhaps evah)” title. It’s hard to view objectively when you’ve watched it 50 times and know every line, but then who gives a shit – it’s the best.

    Last time I watched it was with about 8 guys playing the “drink at deaths, quips, LOLs and moustaches” game. BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!!!

    • “It’s hard to view objectively when you’ve watched it 50 times and know every line, but then who gives a shit – it’s the best.” EXACTLY.

      That drinking game sounds gnarly. With those rules, it’d be nearly constant drinking!


    Great review. Agree 100%. You’ve made me realize I need to write my own review of this movie.

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