Character: John Matrix
Favorite Line: So many to choose from! If I had to pick one, I would probably go with “Don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired.”, said to the stewardess after murdering his escort on the plane.
Preferred Alcoholic Accompaniment: For an interesting twist on a classic concoction, float a little bit of Baccardi 151 on top of a regular Mojito and light it on fire. The flames represent the copious explosions you are about to experience while the fictitious country of Val Verde, which I can only presume is supposed to be located in or around South America, is represented by the traditional Mojito.
I grew up being fed a constant stream of testosterone filled explosionfests at an early age which is why I’m awesome and TC, the Labrat and Z are not. I mean, there are probably other reasons as well, but I’m not a doctor qualified in such diagnoses and I really don’t care much about the underlying reasons for their lameness. The point is, I was raised on these gigantic, bloated budget blockbusters starring overly masculine, explosion ejaculating superhuman killing machines at entirely too young an age for it to be appropriate viewing material. These movies shaped me. They took the lump of baby coal I was when clawed my way out of my mother and compressed me, turning me into the diamond you see before you.
What does this have to do with Commando? In the timeline of cinema history, I believe Commando was probably the grandfather of this particular brand of action film and hero. Technically, Chuck Norris was already making this style of movie with the Missing in Action series. I also know Rambo: First Blood Part 2 came out a few months earlier and it had greater commercial success going strictly by the numbers since it grossed $150m to Commando’s $50m. At the same time, it’s budget was also far larger at $44m as opposed to Commando’s $10m so one could easily argue that, all things being equal, Commando had greater success.
Regardless of whether it was Chuck or Sly who was first or had the greater success, if those two actors breached the door, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Commando charged through it to skullfuck anyone foolish enough to stand in his way. As a child, Commando was the first movie I can explicitly remember watching and thinking “Man, I want to be that guy when I grow up.” John Matrix had a charisma and swagger that was lacking Rambo and James Braddock. This sort of one-liner slinging, larger than life gladiator would soon come to pervade the landscape of 80s cinema and I believe we have Commando to thank for it.
We still haven’t talked about the actual movie itself. Commando is what Taken wishes it could be. Arnold Schwarzenegger is John Matrix, a retired soldier of some sort who now spends his days casually lumberjacking, swimming, teaching his daughter karate, eating ice cream, feeding deer from the palm of his hand and not really killing anyone at all. It’s pretty idyllic until deposed dictator Dan Hedaya, in cahoots with one of John’s former soldiers Bennett, decides to kidnap his daughter and hold her for ransom.
The price? Schwarzy has to assassinate the President of Val Verde, thereby reinstating Dan Hedaya to power, or his daughter will be murdered. Does he pay that price? Absofuckinglutely not! John Matrix doesn’t pay no ransoms, he makes you pay. In a Bond-esque moment of stupidity, Hedaya only assigns two chaperones to make sure Matrix boards his 11 hour flight and only one of them is actually going to get on the plane with him. I’ll let you guess how that ends up.
A suddenly free and rabid John Matrix is a magical creature to behold. He kidnaps Tommy Chong’s daughter and embarks on a spree of murder and carnage that is simply mindblowing. He kills several underlings and tracks the location of Bennett and Hedaya to a remote island two hours off the coast of California.
The trip to this island results in an orgy of blood that is marvelous to witness. In less than 10 glorious minutes of action, Schwarzenegger kills between 74 and 81 people during the fight on the island alone, depending on whose account you read. Matrix murders trained soldiers by the fistful with all manner of weapons from automatic assault rifles to grenades and even gardening implements. Watching this battle is like watching a South Korean teenager play Call of Duty against an entire school for the blind.
The fight culminates the only way it can: in a one-on-one duel between John Matrix and his former soldier and possibly jilted lover Bennett. The outcome of this fight between a chiseled God of Death and a pudgy has been soldier with the face of Freddie Mercury and the body of late career Elvis Presley squeezed into chainmail crafted three sizes too small is as satisfying as it is predictable. In a movie full of murders punctuated by one liners, Arnold delivers perhaps the movie’s most famous and most appropriate line. When John Matrix says, “Let off some steam, Bennett”, he is not just talking to Bennett, but to all of us. To Bennett, the pipe is a conduit allowing his soul, the steam, to spring free the mortal coil and seek it’s home in the ether.
To us, the viewers at home, the pipe is a breathing tube allowing us to expel the steam that has built up inside of us during the course of this movie as we exhale for possibly the first time in 90 minutes. John and Jenny Matrix have been reunited. The danger is passed. And we can all ride that beautiful seaplane off into the sunset with Arnie, Alyssa, and Rae Dawn Chong.