Soldier is a movie that exists somewhere between a near-forgotten memory and movie bargain bins everywhere. It's not bad enough to bash, yet not unique enough to praise. It's completely serviceable as a Friday night rental, or a Saturday matinee. It's a slick looking, well packaged, good time- assembled from the spare parts of a hundred other movies. Sometimes those other movies are better, sometimes they're not. This movie has a leg up on plenty of other middle-of-the-road sci-fi actioners of the era, because it's honestly not bad and manages to be very entertaining.
There's no pandering comedic relief, and no awkward "romantic" interludes, and nothing to prevent it from being a pretty enjoyable ride. There's lots of striking imagery and well crafted cinematography, but even the most stand-out moments feel vaguely recycled from somewhere else. Where precisely? I can't place it, but at one point towards the last act you realize that the story is basically just 'Rambo on Mars' in the most basic sense. Kurt Russell plays Todd, a super soldier who's whole life has literally been non-stop training and endless wars. That is of course until some power hungry Colonel swoops in with a brand new batch of bigger, badder, and younger super soldiers- Todd and his unit are replaced, and Todd is effectively thrown out with yesterday's trash.
Literally. In a demonstration match against one of the new soldiers, he's injured and thrown away like a spent magazine. Subsequently, he's dumped on a desolate waste disposal planet, and forgotten about entirely. Of course, he ends up being nursed back to health by a community of Mad Max-esque settlers who had crashed there a while ago and simply ended up building a community. This could've easily been the set up for an episode of Star Trek. Anyway, the same colonel who had Todd and his men replaced, ends up taking the new troops out on a basic recon mission- looking for any activity on a certain few planets. Obviously, you can see where this is going.
The colonel points out that if they find anyone, even civilians- they're to be considered hostiles. I mean, afterall, "They're not supposed to be there, and we don't want passengers, do we?". It's one of those kinds of movies, yeah. The real bad guy here is the colonel, but if it was just him against Todd, we wouldn't have much of a movie. So, Todd having discovered all kinds of wonderful things like human emotions and stuff, now has to protect his new makeshift family and get into a big climactic shootout with all the new soldiers.
The movie plays fast and loose with it's own logic, suggesting that Todd is a superior soldier regardless- because... why? We're never given a single straight answer, but instead given many. On one hand, it's implied that because he has something to fight for- and not just an 'order', he has an edge. Fair enough. It's still Hollywood logic, but whatever. However, the movie further explains that the new soldiers lack combat experience. We're told this repeatedly. Yet, at the same time, the one giving out the orders is the dickhead colonel. So who lacks the experience? The soldiers, or the colonel? How did Todd lose a basic fight with one of these guys, yet can easily obliterate the whole squad when the plot necessitates it?
He becomes Rambo. Just about anyhow. He's seen as stronger, faster, and smarter than these guys, but the whole premise predicated on the fact that... y'know... he's not. Whatever, it's not too bad, we know he's gonna win because he's the good guy- it's just that kind of movie. What's worse is that the movie doesn't ask any of the hard questions. We're supposed to have a knee jerk reaction to the kind of program that created Todd and the new soldiers, but we're never given a second option either. Why are these soldiers so necessary? It's shown early on that Todd and his unit have fought many many wars over time. Clearly, these soldiers are a necessity because things have gotten so bad.
Right? Well, we wouldn't really know. They're painted as soulless killing machines because we're supposed to be uniformly happy that he finds his humanity again. It works, thematically, but only if you're not looking for anything deeper. A better movie would've addressed the nature of war, and at least offered a couple opposing view points to juxtapose against 'war is bad, killing is bad- unless you're killing bad guys'. Well, that is what Todd and his unit were doing in war- the only difference is they wouldn't hesitate if a civilian got in the way.
The movie doesn't invite this level of analysis, it just comes with the territory of reviewing anything. When all is said and done, Soldier might play some very cliche notes, but it does it with a genuinely earnest... innocence? The bad guys are cartoonishly bad, so we're okay when they start getting killed off. We feel bad when Todd gets replaced by the new evil soldiers who are only following orders like Todd and his unit- so why are they set up as villains? Because the movie needs us to feel okay that they die. Todd's okay though. He's a good guy. I don't mean to sound harsh, I do really like the movie and I've never not enjoyed it- I'm just illustrating why it probably never made a bigger impact.
It's flaws are in the details of the plot, not in the broad strokes. It's in the themes and ideas of the movie, they're uncertain and subsequently the movie has to fall back on what it knows will work. It paints the hero in the most sympathetic light possible, and it works. It might be a bit pandering, but that's okay because the movie is full of solid acting and snappy dialog. We like the settlers, so by extension we want to see them live. They're just a bunch of farmers with families, and now some dickhead military colonel is going to kill them for no good reason. If you can accept that, and more or less check your more critical sensibilities at the door- there's no reason you can't enjoy Soldier.
It's a slick and action packed movie that knows what looks good. Things blow up real good, and all the action scenes have an intense energy to them that's as excited and entertaining as anything else out at the time. It's hard to try and not get caught up in the story, and root for Todd, because he's the good guy now. It's as simple as that. Sometimes simple is okay, especially without the usual moronic pitfalls of these kinds of basic movies. Soldier is one of those times that simple is okay. It's a real visual treat in high definition and features plenty of eye-catching and colorful sets to keep you engaged when things aren't being shot, stabbed, or blown up. I recommend it if you're in the mood for a simple yet fun sci-fi action flick.