Joe’s $1-a-week cinema #8: Commando, by request
Schwarzenegger, by request: Commando, 1985. Spoiler alert: The commando is no racist.
With the possible exception of Kevin Rudd’s stimulus package, no force on earth has done more for world peace, sexual emancipation and fiscal rectitude than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Across four decades Schwarzenegger has loomed large in the global psyche as an omnipotent moral guardian, as well as a cautionary example of the dangers of dental steroids.
What is most impressive about Schwarzenegger is that he overcame poverty, hardship and a strong family background in Nazism to become the very embodiment of the American dream.*
True, he wasn’t the first movie star to hold high office in the United States, however he was the first to do so without doing any acting.
Of course if Arnold Schwarzenegger had actually done any acting it would have been entirely inappropriate because in every single movie he plays Arnold Schwarzenegger and that, by God, is what the audience pays to see.
Regular readers will know this column has touched on Arnold before, in much the same way that Arnold allegedly touched on several women in the 1970s. However this has only served to wet the reading public’s whistle and I have since been inundated by literally dozens of a letter calling for the definitive guide to his work. This of course is too great a task for one man, even one as lonely as this reviewer, and so I have chosen to use the prism of Commando to view the greatness, the wonder, that is Arnold Schwarznegger.
Commando is an obvious starting point for two reasons: The first is that it is the first movie in which Arnold attempts to play a human being who can talk. The second is that it was on TV the other night and I got to watch the last half-hour again.
The film is also seminal in the sense that it lays down the fundamental groundwork for a typical Arnold movie: His child is kidnapped by terrorists and some chick has to help him get the kid back, while at the same time remaining in the safety of the vehicle and/or disobeying an order to remain in the safety of the vehicle. In the case of Commando the leading lady is a black chick, again setting a precendent by which Arnold has to be nice to at least one minority group in each of his films so as to counteract the whole Nazi thing.
Commando is also a standout example of the glorious 1980s action genre that bases an entire film around a man getting dressed.
Indeed, I recall vividly from childhood that the entire trailer was composed of Arnold adorning himself with different layers of utility belts and increasingly severe types of weaponry until he has the equivalent firepower of the Andrews Air Force Base. In the movie this pivotal scene takes place right where I managed to catch it the other night and rarely has a man been so happy in a one bedroom apartment. Arnold straps more gear to him than the Bali Nine and then proceeds to climb a cliff face balancing a rocket-launcher on his head.
Once inside the compound he despatches the various bad guys with a thoughtful balance of firearms and stabbing implements, pausing only to take his shirt off. Indeed there is a particularly memorable moment, which somehow I had forgotten, at which he hacks a bad guy’s arm off with a machete. I found myself wondering at that moment how it was that that particular hired goon had been driven to a life of crime and what socio-economic factors – and no doubt the burden of parental expectation – had led him to the point where Arnold Schwarzenegger leaped out of a garden shed and sliced off his right arm. No doubt he too was wondering how it had all come to this.
The film climaxes with Arnold impaling a camp and moustachioed Australian man who looks like he just walked out of Midnight Shift and is wondering if they still have Bear’s Night at Gilligan’s. This seems an unfair fight from the beginning, not least because the Australian had previously repeatedly alluded to Arnold’s superior fighting skills and hinted that he would enjoy being pounded by him one way or another. Disappointingly for at least some of the group, the impaling is done by a metal steam pipe, leading to Arnold’s quip – improvised, according to Hollywood folklore: “Why don’t you let off some steam?”+
Needless to say Arnie rescues his daughter – who, like most of his screen offspring, is surprisingly unattractive – and jumps on a plane with the black girl to a drug free world of racial harmony. Less than 20 years later Schwarzenegger was elected as Governor of California on the basis that no matter what his Nazi history, he was far less anti-Semitic than Mel Gibson and seemed to like gay people more as well.
*To be fair to Arnold, it should be stated that there is little evidence of the poverty and hardship.
+While widely regarded as a classic cinematic line, this appears to be a rhetorical question as the Australian guy has already died.
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