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.