Soldier (1998) — Out-of-warrantee super-soldier protects space settlers

“But one soldier against 17! What are you going to do?”

Shalen’s rating: One minor laceration with traces of ecchymosis*

Shalen’s review: Like many films I’ve watched and many of those I will review, Soldier falls into the category of “enjoyed by few and forgotten as soon as it left theaters.” There are a couple of reasons I think this film belongs on this site. One, it does have some cultish aspects, in terms of its reasonably original universe and the presence of A-list actors in a sort of A- or B+ film. Two, there are probably a few of you out there who will love it as much as I did.

And why DO I love this film? Why do I watch it over and over and over, despite the fact that it was mostly panned by critics and forgotten by audiences? Yes, I like Kurt Russell. Yes, I like Gary Busey. And yes, I REALLY like Jason Scott Lee. But none of that would have been enough if the film had not featured one of my favorite film archetypes: the Mechanical Man.

The Mechanical Man is not necessarily always a robot, but he has robotic qualities. Usually, he’s been robbed of his ability to feel and/or to express what he does feel. Often he exists for the purpose of doing things no one else can or will do, and his superhuman physical abilities exist to further this goal. With a bad actor, he is a cipher, with whom the audience can form no connection. With a good actor, his every tiny facial tic becomes fraught with meaning, and when he blinks, we know exactly why.

The plot of Soldier is quite simple. Todd’s (Russell) group of veterans, all emotionally stunted due to lifelong conditioning, are about to be replaced by a group of genetically engineered “new” soldiers led by Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee, standing on a large box). We can tell they are improved, because they have shaven heads and can follow instructions which are spoken in a normal voice rather than relayed via screaming.

During a demonstration staged by Colonel Meekum (Jason Isaacs) to convince the reluctant Captain (Busey) of the new models’ merits, Todd and two of his fellows are “killed.” I use quotes for a reason. Apparently lying still with your eyes open is taken for a surefire indicator that you have kicked the bucket, because no one checks Todd’s pulse before they toss him onto the garbage ship headed for the planet Arcadia. There he is befriended and nursed back to health by the locals, including pretty and thinly-clad Sandra (Connie Nielsen) and superfluous husband Mace (Sean Pertwee) and their son Nathan, who is mute after having been bitten by a snake. Todd then has to use his skills to defend all the nice settlers from the big bad new models, who arrive to kill them all as a training exercise.

Yes, there are plot holes. For example, killing nearly-unarmed civilians is not usually considered good training for elite military units, unless they are with the Nazis or Fedayin Saddam. Several soldiers appear to emote rather more than Todd, especially his Token Black Friend Riley. The new elite units suddenly prove rather easy to kill en masse, considering that Todd and two others were taken down by Caine 607 in mere moments earlier in the film. And of course there’s the curious instance of this settlement apparently surviving on a planet with just a few herbs and numerous small, venomous snakes. We never even see any water. One is not sure what exactly these people are eating and drinking, nor does one suspect one wants to know.

No, the reason I like this movie has more to do with some of the set pieces and Kurt Russell’s performance as Todd. The chain fight at the beginning is highly memorable, and Todd and Caine’s inevitable hand-to-hand end battle is also rather well done. There are some decent outer space sequences. Since models rather than CGI were used for space ships, the tech has a gritty look that adds to, rather than detracts from, its realism. And Russell, here looking particularly lived-in as the scarred and leathery Todd, does very well with very few lines.

This is a decent sci-fi actioner with some eye candy for both sexes, although I must admit that with all this male toplessness there is more here for the action-loving female. In any case, I urge you to rent this and watch it immediately, unless you liked the George Clooney version of Solaris, in which case I urge you to have yourself sterilized at once.


Didja notice?

  • Babies that cry louder make better soldiers.
  • Gary Busey can be seen to breathe in the background after his character is “killed.”
  • Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt plays him as an 11-year-old.
  • The color scheme – pale blue for soldiers’ scenes and warm taupe for settlers’ scenes.
  • Props from other movies are scattered around Arcadia, including ship parts from “Event Horizon.”
  • What fun the officers are having – playing solitaire and eating dog food and guacamole.
  • Todd calls basically everyone “Sir”

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