Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
October 23, 1998
A soldier, groomed from birth for fighting, defies his programming when he is decommissioned and must confront the enhanced soldier that replaced him.
Kurt Russell stars as Todd 3465. No last name or any form of identity beyond the rank of sergeant. Kurt Russell is one of those great actors that can play tough easily and this is no different. Todd is tough and cold having never really been given anything close to a normal upbringing or had normal contact with people. His job has always been to shoot and kill without remorse.
The viewer comes to understand Todd through an opening montage that shows him from birth all the way to the beginning of the story. You understand the psychological make up through brief moments shown and get to see just how cold and brutal the character can be. At one point he shoots a civilian just to also kill the enemy soldier behind her!
Russell can project tough. Add that to the butt kicking body he sported here and you get a threatening looking character. Russell is said to have spent something like 18 months getting in prime physical shape here. He makes Todd cold without him being robotic. Not every actor understands how to do that. During the course of the film and Kurt Russell’s 104 words of dialogue, Todd slowly gains humanity as he interacts with the inhabitants of Arcadia 234 where he was dumped.
I would argue that there are two villains and sort of two stories in this film. The first story is obviously that of Todd and his journey and in that story the villain is Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee) who is one of a new series of genetically and physically enhanced soldiers. Caine beats Todd and two other of the original soldiers but loses an eye in the process. This sets up a clash between the old and the new.
The second story involves Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs) and the settlers (who are actually crash survivors) that he and his people stumble across on Arcadia 234 while on a training exercise with the new models. He has decided to classify anybody that they stumble across that is not supposed to be there that they encounter as hostile in order to test the new soldiers.
The story of Soldier is simple enough and has many aspects an old style Western. It is the loan man representing ultimate good who is the only one that will or can defend a small settlement of innocents from ultimate evil represented by Mekum and Caine. The hero eventually faces down his true nemesis and even takes out the villain behind the nemesis. Tons of Westerns have that.
I really enjoy this movie. It is a strong action film that connects to the world of Blade Runner without shoving that connection down your throat and out your rectum. You can see the wreckage of a spinner in one scene. When going through Todd’s service record they mention the Shoulder of Orion and Tannhäuser Gate which were both talked about in Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) brilliant monologue at the end of the classic film.
And I like that. They do not beat you over the head with the connections. They just put them out there and if you pick them up that is great. If you do not it is no big deal because the film is written to stand on its own and does not need to be propped up by the film whose universe it shares. They took some elements and established a separate story in the same universe. A few lines or maybe just props are all that is needed to connect movies together. You do not need numerous cameos or extended dialogue with those cameo characters. Take note MCU.
Gary Busey gets cast against type here (at least for the time) as relatively levelheaded military officer Captain Church who is the voice of reason among the military in this film. He sees these new models as shiny toys that lack experience and utility. “Gary Busey” and “voice of reason” are not two things that one would normally use together in a sentence even then. I do not think that even applies today. In fact, this might be the last time anybody thought to cast Gary Busey as the levelheaded one.
If this film has any theme it is that old is not obsolete. New does not necessarily equal better. Todd’s first encounter with Caine is not something that would occur in the field. Todd however when it comes to working in the field is a far better soldier than these trained and brought forth by Mekum. His experience and creativity make him superior despite his age and that he was not crafted in a lab.
Is Soldier the greatest action film ever? The scenes when Todd is taking out the new breed in order to save the colonists are spectacular. The confrontation and rivalry between Caine and Todd is built up as time goes along. These are two opposing forces that events beyond their control have sent on a collision course for a final battle. Their confrontation is great up until they are once again physically across from each other. It just gets a little anticlimactic and feels done a little too quickly. This might be a bit due to Russell breaking his ankle during filming and they were forced to restructure the shooting schedule and some of the story to accommodate this reality. Still though, the movie turned out great in the end.
Soldier is an underrated gem from Kurt Russell’s action film catalog. It is exciting and entertaining and a great story as well. Watch it!