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Soldier

***
1998

‘…while humour is sorely lacking in Soldier, the brutalist sci-fi tone holds throughout, and it’s easy to get behind Todd’s stubborn unwillingness to be thrown out with the trash…’

Do you remember Y2K? Preparing for some kind of potential end-of-everything societal abyss that turned up some twenty years late, but back in the day, we were blissfully ignorant of the utter sh*tshow that was heading our way. I partied as if it was 1999 for the new year, decade, century and millennium, then headed back home to watch the first movie of the new world order; Paul W.S. Anderson’s vehicle for Kurt Russell, Soldier. Hoping for some kind of fin du siècle work from the pen of Blade Runner’s David Webb Peoples, I got a Rambo-in-space knock-off that seemed long on grit and violence and short on big ideas or empathetic characters.

Twenty years later, at the suggestion of a reader, I decided to take another look at Soldier, which was a commercial and critical flop on initial release. It’s the story of Todd3465 (Russell) who is born back in long-ago 1996, but by 2036, has been moulded into a kind of genetically-modified super-soldier; in a nice touch, Todd is played in flashbacks by Russell’s own son Wyatt, then 12 and now a star in his own right. Todd 3465 is in the process of being made obsolete and redundant by Colonel Mekum (an early but typically villainous Jason Isaacs) and finds himself banished to the garbage planet of Arcadia 234. Left for dead, Todd discovers a colony of human survivors and is nursed back to health by Sandra (Connie Nielsen) and Mace (Sean Pertwee), whose son Todd teaches a few things about being a tough guy, namely Biblical-level snake-strangling. Things jump up a notch when Mekum brings a space-ship of goons to the planet to obliterate the settlers, forcing Todd to man-up and fight back against the oppressive forces.

Soldier taps into some populist notions of individuality and kicking back against powerful elites; Neilsen’s presence evokes thoughts of Gladiator, but there’s also elements of Shane and Rambo mixed in here. Russell is a charismatic lead, but plays against type as a solid, stoic type whose response to his own failure is classic revenge politics; he’s gunning from Mekum with good reason. In a pre-CGI era, the background of the garbage planet is light on big-scale vistas, but the tech, including massive land-crawler dumper-trucks, is generally impressive and the overall production isn’t short of flamethrowers and fireballs. Movie action styles change, but Soldier’s old-school blood and thunder will never be obsolete.

Anderson is a commercial director with a cult following for his best work; Event Horizon, The Three Musketeers and Pompeii may not be perfect movies, but they all offer a rollicking good time, and in retrospect, so does the stern, hard-lovin’ Soldier. While humour is sorely lacking in Soldier, the brutalist sci-fi tone holds throughout, and in the era of built-in redundancy, it’s easy to get behind Todd’s stubborn unwillingness to be thrown out with the trash. Soldier looks far better in our miserable world of 2023 than it did on initial release; streaming services would be wise to snatch this one up, because it’s got definite cult appeal for mainstream movie fans.

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  1. I may need to revisit this one, as I remember liking it overall. I remember reading an interview with the filmmakers that this was originally supposed to be set in the same universe as Blade Runner. It was set on one of those “off-world colonies” advertised in the original BR film. There is even a model of a spinner vehicle hidden amongst the wreckage on the junk planet. Great review!

    • Thanks for this; I didn’t use enough of my notes here, but places like Tannhauser Gates are mentioned, I’ll go back and have a look. I do vague remember that I was annoyed at the lack of the same, shared universe.

  2. Haven’t seen this one, but I like Russell and I really love the movie “Pompeii” which was unfairly trashed and it quite a good time, as you say. I like this little theme you’ve got going of revisiting films you didn’t necessarily love and being pleasantly surprised.

  3. I had no idea this was the same director as Event Horizon so I might give it a watch now. I was put off this film by a friend who watched it in America! He said all the crowd was up cheering “USA, USA” so didn’t think it would be my cup of tea.

    • I don’t remember anything about USA here, so don’t let that hold you back! Glad to see some Anderson fans here, I like his partly derivative and yet original way of making a film. Give it a crack!

  4. Didn’t do well on releae but it was solid enough for the likes of me and as you know I’m a big anderson fan for exactly the kind of fare you describe. Never felt Russell got a fair enough crack of the whip when it came to the best parts and his presence often improved poorer fare.

    • Anderson reportedly rewrite it, and the action beats are quite conventional in the second half. But there are some moments which suggest the original script was smarter in the way you might hope…

      • I read one of the scripts–perhaps not the first draft, because it was still very similar to the final movie–and although not a masterpiece, it had a lot more going on. Especially for the action finale parts, which didn’t SOLELY rely on “children in danger, oh noes!”

        Anyhoo. Kurt was excellent in this, and the low-CGI sets and big crawly machines were great.

        • Yup, some more range in the set pieces would have been nice, and we can agree that the crawlers were good.

  5. Pepperidge Farms remembers Y2K! And if you vacuum sealed your 50gallon drums of wheat berries, and have a hand grinder, they should still be just fine for making your own bread even now. I wonder why we never got movies about the Y2K that DID happen? oh well.

    I looked on Amazon. $13 to buy this for streaming. Seriously?!?!?! Even renting they want $3. While I like Anderson’s work, after Event Horizon the Resident Evil Franchise is the best imo, it’s just not worth paying money on the chance I “might” like this. I guess I’m stuck with starsky and hutch and then spongebob to break things up.

  6. Not a BAD film, but looked like it was made ten years earlier. And yeah, it’s surprising how Russell can underact when he has to – his performance here is all but identical to his performance in Stargate (as is the character, to some extent). Think this was the first film in which I saw Connie Nielsen?

    • Yup, but take a look at some of the CG action from this period, we were wowed by that at the time, but it looks duff now. Russell dials back the Everyman thing he had going on in Breakdown nicely here…

  7. I remember reviewing this one, really liked Russell’s deadpan stoicness, not easy I think to play someone with little emotion shown, but he managed it with his eyes. Big Yep from me. I thought we streamed this so it must have come and gone.

    • Russell does sone really good work here, he’s dour and remorseless, but that is exactly what this character needs. Deadpan is right…

  8. I never saw this, but by 1999 I’d pretty much given up on movies and don’t think I even had a DVD player yet. I don’t think I’ll look for it now, but if I trip over it sometime it’s a maybe. Russell always watchable.

    • It’s one of these films that really wasn’t what we were looking for at the time, and seemed a numbskull version of Blade Runner’s android rebellion. But right now, the focus on obselecence and redundancy feels apposite to what’s happened in the last 25 years, and the lack of CGI plus rock solid performances and hard action make it worth digging out. Cost me £1 to get a DVd of this….

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