Hello, Commando-ites! Back for more of the Greatest Film Ever Filmed on Film, I see. I trust if you’ve arrived here that you’ve already had a chance to read Part 1 in my three-part series. If not, you may want to bone up here. (There’s no sense in trying to understand the film’s nuances if you haven’t grasped the themes set up in the first act.)
If you’ll remember, we last left off with John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) having just killed a man on a commercial airliner by breaking his neck. Now it’s time for Matrix to make his way to the fictitious island of Valverde any way he can. As the movie’s tagline so eloquently put: “Somewhere. Somehow. Someone’s going to pay.” The ticket and DVD sales proved that! Haha, I’m just kidding. The poster was talking about Arnold killing people because they kidnapped his daughter, of course.
And so begins Part Two:
A GREAT HERO’ DRIVE IS MORE POWERFUL THAN PHYSICS
In this brief clip, we see that John Matrix is able to leap from a commercial jet during takeoff and not only survive, but defy physics on his way down. When Matrix jumps, you’ll notice that the plane is doing a solid 220 mph. But then when we cut to the shot of Matrix falling, he does so in more of a straight drop. Some detractors will say that this is a flaw in the film, but I’d like to set the record straight. During the filming, we made the conscious decision to represent Matrix in this way, in order to show how perseverance overcomes even Newton’s laws. Also, Matrix is represented by a mannequin. This showcases his ability to go completely limp in freefall, which is the safest way to freefall – just ask any stunt person or mannequin.
Matrix then lands on his feet – a completely real reaction given his years of military weight training and Plyometrics to strengthen joints – and wades out of the two-foot deep swamp to check his watch and get a move on. Matrix looking at his watch tells the audience that there’s no time to dillydally. The “clock” is “ticking!”
A NO-NONSENSE LEADING LADY
In this clip, the beautiful Rae Dawn Chong is accosted in the parking lot by Sully, one of Arius’s persistent henchmen. Ever the lascivious rogue, Sully offers to give Cindy “something.” Fun fact: in the shooting script, “something” was written as “a handjob in the backseat of your convertible,” but we decided on set that Sully is more subtle in his sexual conquests. (I think the handjob is still quite nicely implied here.) Either way, it’s very inappropriate, and Cindy rejects his advances with equal verbal aplomb. “From here, [what I’m missing] looks like a nightmare!” she tells him. Ha! We had to do seventeen takes because the crew was in stitches from Rae Dawn’s impeccable comic timing!
The bruised Sully then stoops to call her “Fucking whore.” This is called dramatic irony, because Cindy didn’t want to have sex with him at all, let alone for money. But even after this insult, Cindy doesn’t retaliate. Nor does she feel the need to implement her advanced knowledge of Karate – the very same advanced Karate for which she’s on her way to attend a class (which she’s sure to tell Matrix, after he’s strangled her and thrown her limp body into the car, then ripped out her passenger seat). N.B.: a strong female lead requires restraint.
A HERO WHO ISN’T AFRAID TO PLAY DIRTY
Your parents no doubt taught you the difference between a white lie and a regular lie. Well, any time John Matrix lies, it’s a white lie. Case in point with this scene. Instead of killing Sully last like he had said earlier, Matrix kills him second (out of about 132, give or take a few). This is an important motif in all good action movies: just because the hero says something earlier doesn’t mean he has to do it later. That makes things unpredictable, which keeps your audience on edge. Also, killing an antagonist without remorse is perfectly acceptable as long as you have the antagonist offer an unwanted handjob to the leading lady a few scenes prior. I say, “Good riddance” to Sully and I know you will too. In my book, that’s just one less dirtbag trolling the streets for handjobs.
Sometimes your hero has to be a bit duplicitous if it’s going to serve the greater good. Had Matrix let Sully live, he no doubt would have come back to the airport to ask Cindy out on a date, and she really didn’t need to be bothered. The life of a flight attendant is too hectic to be bothered by henchmen. You already have horny business travelers hitting the in-flight help button every minute to ask for “something!” (Especially if you look as ravishing as Rae Dawn Chong!)
NUDITY CAN ELEVATE A FILM
In this clip, you’ll notice an amorous couple cowering in their motel bed as Matrix proceeds to dispose of Bill Duke’s character, the treacherous “Cooke.” We decided to stage this entire action sequence at a roadside motel so that it would feel wholly organic for Matrix to throw Cooke through a door, revealing a man and a woman naked and mid-coitus. I couldn’t post the entire scene, because this is a family website, but rest assured that if you rent the DVD, you’ll see a lot more.
The point is that the nudity was a stylistic choice informed by the deeper subtext. Screenwriter Jeph Loeb and I discussed how, at this point in the film, John Matrix is metaphorically naked. The trail to his daughter Jenny is growing colder by the minute and John is on his own. This couple represents the two naked sides of John: his masculine side, penetrating the villain Arius’s ring of deception, and the feminine side, which is the nurturing parent. The fact that they are having sex is because this is a roadside motel, and that’s what people do at roadside motels. (Don’t ask me how I know that, LOL!)
TAKE THE AUDIENCE SHOPPING
Crowds of all ages can’t get enough of an uplifting shopping montage set to peppy music. We saw it in Pretty Woman. We saw it later in Clueless. We see it here. Everyone has a fantasy that they can just go into a store and walk out with anything and everything. (I feel just terrible for screen ingénue Winona Ryder, because she couldn’t separate fantasy from reality. That’s what we have movies for, Winona!) Fulfilling that wish on screen keeps the audience happy and reduces what some call “the second act sag.” We didn’t have to worry about the dreaded sag in Commando, because we pulled no punches. But producer Joel Silver and I nonetheless agreed that a shopping sequence was definitely in order!
In any shopping sequence the entrance that the hero character makes is most important. In Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts’ whore character breaks down a snooty salesperson (ugh, they’re the worst!) with the flash of a credit card. In Commando, Arnold’s character is confronted with the fact that the military surplus store is closed. But that won’t stop an enterprising guy like John Matrix, who knew to pick the one military surplus store in town located next to a bulldozer dealership. It also happened to be a military surplus store with a hidden room containing serviceable rocket launchers, too – that’s how canny Matrix is. It’s the little character flourishes like these go a long way, and often are the difference between winning an award, or not even being invited to the party.
CAST BILL PAXTON IN YOUR FILM
You might have watched this clip and thought to yourself jeepers, that air traffic controller person looks so familiar. That’s because it’s Bill Paxton! He used this brief but nonetheless meaty role to springboard his way to major Hollywood stardom. Bill’s a consummate pro, and he brought such realism to the part, pronouncing words so that everyone could understand them, and doing it while also looking at his little monitors with all their fancy lights and blips and goings on. It was easy to see that Arnold and Rae Dawn Chong’s characters would a been more than a little nervy with Bill’s assured voice coming over the airplane’s radio and told them to change course!
I’ll go on record and say that only two people could have played the role of “Unnamed Intercept Officer” are Bill Paxton and Peter O’Toole. O’Toole is British, though, so his funny accent might have confused people.
READ THE FINAL INSTALLMENT, IN WHICH MATRIX ARRIVES ON THE ISLAND OF VALVERDE AND MAKES EVERYONE PAY FOR KIDNAPPING HIS DAUGHTER, JENNY!
— Mark L. Lester, D.G.A.
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