Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Space Marine Week #4: Soldier [1998] (action, sci-fi) - Excellent & Underrated Flick

Foreword: As you might've guessed, for the Space Marine Week I'll try to squeeze 7 posts into 4 days, and that's why I published two yesterday. For this and the next one, let's have a couple of single movie reviews - one good one and one not so good. So, for a good movie, we have...

Studio: Warner Bros.,
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson,
Screenplay: David Webb Peoples,
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi,
Starring: Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Jason Isaacs, Connie Nielsen, Sean Pertwee, Jared Thorne, Taylor Thorne, Mark Bringelson, Gary Busey

- But one soldier, against seventeen. What are you going to do?
- I'm going to kill them all, Sir.
Best Comeback Ever

Eh, damn these poor box office results for the Blade Runner universe. First, Blade Runner itself flops back in 1982 to become a cult movie only decades later, and then it gets an add-on, so to say, that comes out in 1998 and does even worse, spat at by critics and movie goers, and becoming almost obscure nowadays. For a good movie, it's the worst fate you can wish for, because Blade Runner at least redeemed itself and had its day. Soldier still didn't.

Strength: 95. Agility: 85. Endurance: 95. Charisma: 90. Badassness: 9001.

It's the far future, where army recruits are not drafted as usual, but enlisted since the moment of birth. The toddlers are picked and grow up in the high-tech barracks, trained physically and morally for any sorts of warfare. They're not your regular grunts - they are speechless zombies who understand only the language of orders and march into fire in the name of their commanders. One of them is Todd 3465 (Russell), a distinct favorite amongst his chain of command to his superior (Busey). They grant him only the terminally dangerous missions, which Todd is capable to push up like breathing, giving no mercy to the enemy and even to the hostages.

Check out all the stats - lots of Easter eggs here.

One imperfect day, Colonel Mekum (Isaacs) shows up to announce a new line of infantry units, this time consisting of the Replicants. One of them, Caine 607 (Lee), right off the bat stares intimidatingly on Todd, and when the officers decide to have the 'old' and 'new' soldiers compete in order to prove that the human troopers are still effective, the Replicants ultimately prevail. The 'old' soldiers injured during the competition (including Todd) are branded deceased and soon after literally dumped on a remote junkyard planet, Arcadia 234. Contrary to the supervisors' expectations, our hero survives and even makes friends with a bunch of colonists who happened to live at that planet following the crash of their spaceship, particularly Mace (Pertwee). Yeah, Sean Pertwee in a war movie - who would've thought?

Meat wagons on their way.

Sometime later, a group of the 'new' Replicant soldiers is dispatched on the same planet to perform some military exercises. As Arcadia 234 is classified as uninhabited in the space charts, they are given permission by asshole Mekum to use live targets - the poor colonists - for practice.

Shoot the human targets.

But the military command wasn't aware of one thing - during that time Todd got patched up and by communicating with the civilians, started understanding the value of human life and what is and isn't worth fighting for. So when the people who took care of him in his time of need became nothing but the planned achievement records, the moment has come to earn the human soldiers' reputation back and put Todd's newly acquired humanity to the test.

This is for Dracula 3: Legacy!

As you can see, the plot is very interesting and simple - just what you need for a kick-ass futuristic action blockbuster. Another vital component to the genre is, of course, the action scenes - probably, the best in Paul W. S. Anderson's career, at least until Resident Evil Retribution. Also, he has obviously used the experience in filming Mortal Kombat for the several hand-to-hand battle sequences. The whole movie overall is very interesting from the scenography standpoint - unlike Blade Runner, it's very bright and colorful, resembling a comic book or a video game (actually, there was a PC game tie-in released around 2000 by Southpeak, and I think it even wasn't bad, but it's beyond obscure now - even MobyGames has no page for it; still it was a small hit over here) - I guess you can draw comparison to Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion here, or Evil Dead 2 and 3.

I'm going to kill them all, Sir.

The effects are great and elaborate, as you would expect from a high-budget A class picture. No silly bloopers or lazy backgrounds were registered, and the CGI has aged well in my personal opinion, so you won't see any awkwardly rendered submarines here (although you will remember some traditions carried over from Escape From New York and LA) - all classic and classy sci-fi designs and atmosphere. The acting performances are top notch and memorable as well, from Russell and Isaacs to the extras. Although the main character (in)famously speaks only about 100 words throughout the whole 99 minutes, it must've been a lot of pressure on Kurt to have to act mostly visually, with facial expressions, gestures and actions as his language. I don't think anyone can deny that he gloriously succeeded with this.

Zebesian midnights.

Overall, I don't have a slightest clue about the reason Soldier flopped at the box office and turned the rage of critics on itself. Personally I enjoyed it for the edgy cyberpunk plot, engaging atmosphere and characters, and excellent production value. I'd even put it as #1 in my Space Marine Movies Top 10, but I had to switch it with Starship Troopers because that movie actually was a hit when it came out, had some sequels and still keeps good reviews, reputation and nostalgic value. I love both of them, they're like the definitive works of space marine fiction to me, but Soldier is one of those movies that just puts you in a good mood because of how well it's made.

The Spinners Graveyard.

My Rating: 9 / 10, because why the heck not!