He's back. He always comes back!
One of Arnold Schwarzenegger's earlier action movies, Commando is pure popcorn fun. Sadly, 20th Century Fox tempers the enthusiasm of even a devoted fan with a deficient transfer and nearly zero extras.
Back when Commando came out, Arnold had just begun to establish himself as an action movie hero, having just wowed us in Terminator. Since then, he seems to have taken his career very seriously, as Arnold has not only cemented his reputation as a premier big box-office action hero, but also stretched comedic muscles to good effect.
Here, though, we have Arnold at his action movie formula prime. Lots of guns, an assortment of evil villains, chases, cheesy one-liners, explosions, more guns, bigger guns, and enough dead bodies to keep a mortician's convention busy. If you can suspend disbelief and let your brain just enjoy the escape, Commando is a good movie to see with a few friends, a bowl of popcorn, and beers all around.
Our story begins in sleepy suburbia, where a sleepier guy is murdered by some heavily armed garbage men. Switching locales, we are introduced to retired Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) living an idyllic life in some remote western U.S. paradise. The homelife is soon interrupted, as we learn that the murder was one of many, where unknown persons are killing former members of Matrix's Commando unit. As expected, Matrix resists the call to fight until his daughter is kidnapped and he learns that a disgruntled ex-member, Bennett (Vernon Wells) has been doing the dirty deeds.
Bennett's employer, Arius (Dan Hedaya), forces Matrix to agree to carry out an assassination and threatens to kill Jenny unless he quietly gets on a plane, gets off the plane at its destination, and carries out the murder, all while under close supervision by Bennett's men. As if we didn't already know, Matrix has no intention of meekly submitting to Arius' evil plan. With a neat trick, he escapes the plane just prior to lift-off, with no option except to locate and rescue his daughter before the plane lands in 11 hours and his gambit is discovered.
Collecting his female sidekick Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) by the expedient of carjacking her, Matrix tracks Sully (David Patrick Kelly), one of Bennett's men, to a local mall. Thanks to Cindy, Matrix's cover is blown and we get a fun action scene and thump-fest at the mall and some car chases before Matrix finds a motel key in Sully's pocket and lets him go (ha ha) with a few one-liners for good measure. The motel key leads to another bone-crushing contest with another villain, and after a few more bits of magic detective work and the odd corpse, Matrix thinks he's found Arius' base of operations.
First, Matrix has to perform an utter act of stupidity (raid a surplus store for equipment and more weapons than a US Army base by crashing through its front window) and get captured by the police (who aren't napping as all hell breaks loose in their fair city, as we had first thought). This merely sets up an explosive escape sequence, after which Matrix and his gal-pal commandeer a sea-plane belonging to Arius, load up their gear, and knock off a couple more thugs on their way out of town. Matrix proceeds to crash the island with a vengeance, seemingly intent to kill everyone (except his daughter) on it! Scores and scores of henchmen are mowed down, blown up, stabbed, chopped, and otherwise killed as Matrix merrily runs amok. After a while, there's nothing left to do but kill Arius and Bennett, toss off a few more one-liners, and fly off into the sky.
As you may have guessed, this story won't win any awards. If you sit back and think about the plot, you should be able to rip holes in it the size of Arnold on a pretty consistent basis. That's okay, though, because this movie doesn't aspire to being more than a Schwarzenegger non-stop mayhem Mardi Gras. In fact, when Matrix is running around slaughtering thugs on the island, some of the violence is so over the top that it's almost like watching a live action cartoon. Neither is the acting going to knock your socks off, but what would you expect from an early Arnold action-fest? Rae Dawn Chong does a commendable job in the sidekick role, avoiding caricatured extremes and giving us a nice performance of a normal person thrust into a ludicrous situation.
I'd bet good money that Fox used the transfer sitting around from the 1996 widescreen laserdisc release and simply slapped it onto a DVD. From start to finish, there is a significant degree of video noise. Sharpness could be better, and color saturation is not that strong, though this latter failing is typical for older movies. Lines are occasionally susceptible to shimmer, which is most visible in the opening credits, where the titles shimmer and jump around like nobody's business. The print is reasonably clean, but could use some more work. Though this is only a single-sided, single layer disc, the movie is only 90 minutes long and the average bitrate seems appropriate. I can only conclude that the video deficiencies exist not due to limits of the disc capacity, but because Fox didn't feel it necessary to provide a new transfer that takes advantage of the DVD format.
Audio is acceptable, but not spectacular. I didn't notice a lot of directionality in the soundstage, and the multitude of explosions aren't as subwoofer-assisted punchy as I would like. On occasion, the dialogue was much softer than the music and effects in an action scene that preceded it, requiring some level adjustments to pick up the words.
Commando is packaged in the mildly annoying "Fox-style" keep case. I must also point out a small but nice feature that I like, which is a full color picture for the top of the disc. All single-sided discs should be so adorned.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One can only hope that recent personnel changes at Fox will manifest themselves in at least a reasonable minimum of extras on future releases. Here, all you get is a typical quality full frame (ick!) trailer and menus that at least use some animation and sound. Zero else. For this price level, Fox ought to be ashamed with such a bare-bones disc. By the way, Fox, don't label the menu selection Extra Features when there's only one extra!
Arnold kicks some major ass in order to rescue his daughter. A pity I can't have him go and talk some sense into the suits at Fox, so that we don't have to suffer more over-priced, under-produced discs like this one.
A fine example of absurd escapist action fare, the film is acquitted. 20th Century Fox is guilty of shipping sub-par product at an outrageous price ($30). Unless you are a Schwarzenegger fanatic, I can't recommend this disc.
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