86. Soldier

Soldier1The perfect soldier is one without morality, one who could literally be engineered, and not just deconstructed from a human foundation. Through the magic of science-fiction, we can get both to compare: the former a thought exercise, the latter an extrapolation of the real world. In Soldier, a film written by David Webb Peoples (Unforgiven, Blade Runner), and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (I’m Coming Back Motherfuckers), we have the competition between the old and new, with high stakes.

This is a rare example of military science-fiction in film, and unlike the other two examples, Aliens and Starship Troopers, it isn’t necessarily about combat so much as the titular aspect. Kurt Russell plays a supersoldier bred from an early age to withstand trauma by watching dogs maul sheep for hours, and he works out pretty well until the next generation of soldier makes him obsolete.

This new soldier isn’t exactly playing fair, because he is of the Replicant variety (remember: Peoples). This indeed takes place in the Blade Runner universe, a kind of ‘side-quel,’ as they say, and while it shares none of Blade Runner’s thematic tissue, it crafts its own, and with that military edge so rare in film.

Russell is dumped on a garbage planet where he discovers a colony of people. He learns — slowly, and not comprehensively — to live among them, and again it works out pretty well, until the next generation of soldier appears for wargames.

There is actual warfare depicted in the film in a montage, with a memorable “Battle of Tennhauser Gate” judiciously giving us one more sample of this world, but the big action comes about because of training, not an alien invasion or a war with the central colonies. This is a stage-left story, just like with Blade Runner, and its small scale reflects its values.

Russell declares that he’s “gonna kill ‘em all, sir,” and takes the fight against his superior soldier, having now what he didn’t when before he dueled the Dragon Bruce Lee Story — humanity. In combat, humanity might just mean trickery and being smart, so we might parallel this to the discussion about drones vs. human involvement on the battlefield.

And that’s where we might swerve into problematic territory. Asserting that the Kurt Russell-type of soldier is actually better than the genetically engineered one solves very little, because it’s just affirming that there’s nothing really wrong with how we conduct things here on Earth.

I think the movie is more saying that there is a human element in all of us that is good and can’t be destroyed. It’s revealed when society reclaims a soldier, and when that soldier is compared to one without that human element. In Jason Scott Lee, it was prevented from taking shape, and this is his downfall.

Like Pitch Black, this is an uncomplicated film, but a very satisfying one. Although we criticize Paul W.S. Anderson for movies like AVP and Resident Evil 2-5, it’s always because of the writing. As a director, his visual style is colorful and frenetic, and the final fight scene is magnetic. A departure from the 80s action this movie could potentially be compared to, the fight scene is without dialogue, in the rain, and with these dueling facial performances that speaks to both the animal behind the human masks, and the deeper sadness. Although a fated battle in grand movie tradition, these two shouldn’t be fighting, and it’s hardly a victory in the end.

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2 thoughts on “86. Soldier

  1. You’d think I would have seen this by now, considering that Blade Runner is my favorite movie and that I’m a shameless Paul Anderson apologist. Looks like I’ve got another Blu-ray to add to my to-buy list. My wallet curses you.

    Kind of funny that Blade Runner got a “sidequel” fourteen years before Alien did, but since then Alien not only got the sidequel but also got the Predator stuff merged with it. (Or has that been retconned away?) And then Tyrell is mentioned in the Prometheus extras, so presumably the Alien and Blade Runner worlds are one and the same, so I guess Alien/Prometheus, Predator, Blade Runner, and Soldier are all part of the same big world. It’s like a sci-fi League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

    1. I mean, Anderson is a unique visual artist, and this is after all, a movie with Kurt Russell. I know they exist, but you have to try hard to make a bad one of those. And this movie’s actually pretty great — it doesn’t compare to Blade Runner, but it’s just emotional and intellectual enough to be satisfying. Few scifi movies anyway deal in these themes.

      I really had no idea Prometheus mentions Tyrell. I think I have the bare-bones Blu-Ray — I went in on Amazon’s crazy sale this summer, where they were giving away the Alien Anthology Blu-Ray with Prometheus for $20. For whatever reason, I couldn’t justify the whole package, but I did manage Promy for like $5. I tried watching it again and basically fell asleep when they landed.

      Lament as I might that bit of nerdy crossover, a League of Extraordinary Predators + the rest of em sounds pretty good, and might as well sign each franchise off in a huge blowout finale of absurdity.

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