By George Bate
The Terminator. Conan the Barbarian. Predator. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography consists of countless classic movies, so much so it’s hard to pin down what’s the best of the bunch. But, what makes a good Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? Over-the-top action? Endless, quotable one-liners? A classic Arnie performance? Based on this admittedly barebones criteria, it’s clear Commando is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s great film. But, not only is it his best film: it’s also a comedy classic. Here’s why.
Commando was released in October 1985 and met with mixed critical reception. To call Commando an action film feels like an understatement. Commando is, in many ways, 90 minutes of pure mayhem. The film follows Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character John Matrix (yes, his name is John Matrix), who unleashed a reign of terror in an effort to retrieve his daughter (played by a young Alyssa Milano) from a group of mercenaries. If the film’s plot sounds thin, that’s because it is. Commando follows a 10-90 structure: 10% of set-up and 90% of action. But the plot isn’t what makes Commando brilliant; it merely sets up the series of hilarious moments and wild action that follows.
Commando is an exemplar of ultimate 80’s movie madness. Acclaimed composer James Horner, who went on to compose the scores for Avatar, Aliens, and The Amazing Spider-Man, delivers a booming 80’s soundtrack that will be hummed for days after the film. The music is played so receptively, but in a mostly charming way that never crosses the line into annoying.
The action in Commando makes movies like First Blood: Part II feel tame in comparison. Arnold Schwarzenegger mows down enemy after enemy in startlingly and hilariously easy fashion, never needing to take cover. It’s part of the joy of a film like this that viewers know they’re not watching raw and realistic violence, but, rather, violence that is so over the top that it’s comical.
Amidst all of this violence, Schwarzenegger delivers arguably his greatest collection of one-liners of all time. At some points in the film, it feels as if every single word that comes out of Schwarzenegger’s mouth is either a punchline or the set up for a punchline. All of this makes for absolutely hilarious viewing. For instance, after quietly killing an enemy on a commercial flight and covering up the body, Arnold’s Matrix says to the flight attendant, “Please don’t wake my friend. He’s dead tired.” Another notable moments comes when Matrix dangles Sully, one of the film’s main antagonists, over a cliff. Matrix says, “Sully, remember when I promised I would kill you last?”, to which a hanging upside Sully screams, “That’s right, Matrix, you did!” Matrix then responds in the most deadpan manner possible, “I lied,” before dropping Sully to his death.
Some of the best moments in Commando, however, come from Vernon Wells’ Bennett. The Australian actor is the film’s prominent villain, gracing the screen with a ridiculous chain-mail tank top. Wells gives Schwarzenegger a run for his money in terms of over-the-top performances, with many of his lines and moments being some of the film’s funniest.
Almost 40 years since its release and Commando remains an unexpected classic in the history of cinema (yes, you read that correctly). Commando’s wild celebration of excess makes for, not only an entertaining watch, but a genuinely hilarious movie. Whether you’re in the mood for an Arnold classic, a nonstop action film, or comedy classic, look no further than Commando.