Death of the Critic

Commando: The Best Action Movie of All Time

Written by: Tom Blaich


Gather around and let me tell you a tale of the greatest action movie ever made. Our determined and glistening hero, rippling with absurd muscles and bristling with enough armaments to destroy a small country, finds himself waging a war against a South American despot, all in order to save his lovely and innocent daughter. It’s a tale that will live on through the ages. I’m of course talking about
Commando, the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, also starring Alyssa Milano, Rae Dawn Chong, and Vernon Wells.

Our story begins with the bulging Schwarzenegger, here called John Matrix, chopping down a small forest outside of his remote mountain cabin. He nonchalantly tosses a tree over his shoulder before greeting his loving young daughter, Jenny. But alas, they are interrupted by his former military commander warning John that ex-members of their unit are being hunted down and killed off and that he must be careful. No sooner has the commander left before soldiers swarm the house, only to be quickly dispatched by Matrix. But not before they manage to kidnap his daughter.

To get her back he is ordered to assassinate a South American president. This takes him on an adventure that begins with him snapping a man’s neck on a jumbo jet and jumping out as it takes off. He enlists a flight attendant to help him track down his adversaries before throwing a man off of a cliff. He kills a Green Beret with his bare hands (he was very hungry) and raids a gun store that mysteriously stocks machine guns and rocket launchers in enough quantity to start World War 3. He finally shows up to the evil villains island base, where he wages a one-man war against an actual small army before facing off against his foe, Bennett, impaling him with a steam pipe and walking off into the sunset with his daughter.

It is an amazing movie in so many ways. But what really makes it special, and what makes it the “Best Action Movie Ever Made” is how it accomplishes its goals. To talk about this, we need to first talk about action movies in general, and what makes them good. I generally look at 4 different things when I am talking about whether an action movie is good or not:

1. Quality of Action
2. Quality of Actors/Acting
3. The Unique Factor
4. Self-Awareness

And while all of these factors are very important, the last one is arguably the most so. Does the action movie know that it is an action movie?

This single thing can absolutely make or break an action movie. Self-awareness is an oft forgotten piece of making a movie, and this can be disastrous. At their core, action movies are inherently ridiculous. You have one man or woman, or on occasion, maybe a small team, and they must go against impossible odds to accomplish their goal. Dozens of bad guys, superior weapons and equipment, unfamiliar terrain. It is supposed to build tension in the audience, leave you wondering whether or not the good guys can pull it off. But most of the time it is just ridiculous.


Some try to combat this ridiculousness by making the story more realistic. Maybe a few of the good guys will die, or the hero will be injured or beaten. But in the end, the hero overcomes the now worse odds to win. By making the movie more “realistic” they hope that they can convince the audience that impossible things can’t happen, so if the good guys win, it was perfectly justified. But instead, this more realistic styling makes the logical inconsistencies and general weirdness of an action movie stand out more.

Others go in an opposite direction. They embrace the ridiculousness. They absorb it. Instead of shunning it, they accept it as a part of their identity. Schwarzenegger was great at this. He is a ridiculous human being, and he embodied it on screen so well.
Commando is the perfect example of this attitude on screen. It rides a thin line between seriousness and satire, without falling too heavily into either camp. It is a movie made for the audience to have fun while they watch and not feel bad about.

Let’s contrast this with another amazing action movie,
John Wick. It is undeniably an amazing movie, an action movie made by and for lovers of the genre. It’s claim to fame, it’s “Unique factor” is the realistic style of action and combat shown by our main character, and it is damn impressive to watch. Keanu Reeves plays our titular hero, as he shoots, stabs, and fights his way through dozens of gun toting Russian mobsters on his way to avenge the death of his puppy given to him by his dead wife.

It is impressive to watch, and it keeps your pulse racing through some amazingly well shot fight scenes, but at the same time, the whole experience can take a toll on you. By trading in levity for tension, the movie lost the important X-factor of being fun to watch.

This is not a bad thing, which should be obvious enough to anyone reading. A movie does not have to be fun to be good. There are plenty of movies,
Spotlight, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, that are amazing, deeply touching and poignant films, but they aren’t “fun”. Being “fun” adds something to a movie that would otherwise be unenjoyable to watch. If Commando wasn’t fun and self aware, I would never want to watch it.

I think that it is an important part of an action movie to be fun. Not only enjoyable to watch, but fun. There is a small but crucial difference here. Enjoyable movies leave you satisfied. Fun movies leave you wanting to watch it again.
Star Trek: Beyond is enjoyable. Commando is fun. It’s an elevation of the idea of these popcorn chomping blockbusters. To create a film that you can laugh at, you can make fun of, you can watch with friends or family, but love all the same.

It is why we watch movies together. No pretense about lofty ideals or interesting thoughts. But instead, a fun escape from reality where the good guy always wins, the bad guy always loses, and there are no complex things like personal trauma or moral objectivism weighing us down.
Commando is the best action movie of all time because it is fun, and it knows it.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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