Commando [Mark L. Lester, 1985] has many elements that could be seen as ironic and at least 11% intentionally funny. There’s the ice-cream-licking, baby-deer-petting montage. There’s the glee on Alyssa Milano’s 12-year-old face as she cheers her father’s brutal rampage of vengeance, including a cut right from “let off some steam, Bennett” to her looking like she just saw an adorable dolphin hit a game-winning home run. There’s the lack of any suggestion that she has a mother.
There’s the protracted suspense of Rae Dawn Chong being hit on, then stalked by the creepy Sully [David Patrick Kelly], all the way through a deserted parking garage [albeit at midday], and then Schwarzenegger appears out of nowhere to commandeer her car. He knows the creep is stalking her. He is, in fact, saving her from him. But for all she knows, Schwarzenegger is an exponentially more threatening creep. And he doesn’t bother to tell her othewise. He rips out her passenger seat with his bare hands. This style of forcible guardianship makes Bruce Willis’s running gag of injecting Mary-Louise Parker with knockout dropsseem like a quaint neighborly favor. It’s not until after the shootout with dozens of mall cops that she gets any idea of what’s going on.
There’s the all-star team of freelance terrorists, featuring a sadistic hair-trigger Napoleon complex [DPK], a huge Caribbean guy with a silly hat and confused demeanor [Charles Meshack], a stonefaced emotionless baldhead [Bill Duke], the sneering loudmouth who explains that the hostage situation is strictly business [Gary Cervantes], several Che Guevara impersonators, and Bennett [Vernon Wells]. There’s the fact that Schwarzenegger’s character is named “John Matrix”.
But the best part is the unabashed uselessness of Schwarzenegger’s massive physique [more superhuman than in any other film, I think]. Yes, the wonderful steel drums of the soundtrack kick in as soon as we see for the first time, not our hero, but his bicep. But at least two big plot points call attention to how those biceps, delts, lats, pecs, and as Tom Wolfe likes to say, sternocledomastoids, are irrelevant to the jobs he has to do. Swamp survival know-how – muscles don’t help. Ability to rip the passenger seat out of a roadster? He could have squeezed into it, that was for show. Imperviousness to bullets? He clearly has that, but there’s no suggestion that his musculature literally serves as body armor.
1) One of the iconic images of Commando is Arnold carrying a rocket launcher. But in the movie, a more memorable scene shows Rae Dawn Chong displaying no difficulty in hoisting that same item. Although IMFDB admiringly points out things like “Schwarzenegger is probably one of the only actors who can comfortably hold the M60E3 [machine gun] in one hand”, the plot of Commando never needs him to have any special lifting ability, except for holding Sully over the cliff.
2) Bennett is described as the next best thing to John Matrix. He’s no match head-to-head, of course, but he’s a smart guy who realizes that. His disgraced retirement was the result of being too grudgeful and too willing to kill, not incompetence. And there’s a line to the effect that Bennett and Matrix would be the greatest fighting duo ever. So you’d expect Bennett to be played by … Dolph Lundgren? Lou Ferrigno? In fact, he’s an Australian actor named Vernon Wells, who is certainly big and imposing, but not a physical specimen and not particularly agile. He doesn’t even have a Ron Marchini level of muscle tone. And yet he’s depicted as, not a pale shadow of John Matrix, not an order of magnitude less awesome, but maybe 30% less awesome. So what’s the big deal about Matrix’s bulging, ripped torso? It provides him with a persona, distinguishing him from rival tough guys. That’s about it.