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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Soldier (review)

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Sergeant Todd (Kurt Russell) is a soldier trained from birth, indoctrinated to be a killing machine. In the year 2036, after many hard-fought campaigns, he is “between wars.” And now a new batch of genetically engineered soldiers — younger, faster, more badass than their predecessors — is about to make Todd and his comrades obsolete.

Soldier is a subtle tale of finding the wherewithal to be the best you can be no matter what your limitations, of growing older, of the bittersweet way that our youngsters surpass our own achievements… Who am I kidding? This is a blood-and-bullet fest, tediously filled with lots of breaking glass, neck-crunching and spine-twisting action, and flamethrowers — ever since Aliens, ya gotta have flamethrowers.
When Todd appears to have died 15 minutes into the movie, it’s a relief — hey, it’s over. Unfortunately, he’s only mostly dead. His body — or rather, what was believed to be his dead body — is dumped from a garbage scow onto a waste disposal planet far from Earth. Right away, I’m mad at this plot twist. So many things are badly wrong here. First is the assumption that in 37 years humanity is going to be spread across the galaxy — we’ll be lucky if we’ve got a permanent base on the moon, never mind Alpha Centauri or wherever. Even if little gray aliens came tomorrow and gave us a stardrive, there just wouldn’t be enough time for us to travel and settle all that far. The timing is impossible. Setting Soldier further into the future wouldn’t have affected the rest of its meager story one iota, and this total disregard for reality demonstrates a basic lack of giving-a-damn that continues throughout the movie.

And then there’s the concept of an interstellar garbage service. No matter what kind of superadvanced technology you’ve got, it costs fuel to lift stuff out of one gravity well, move it across the galaxy, drop it into another gravity well, and then lift your ship back up into orbit again. This goes way beyond any kind of garbage-barge shenanigans — think of hauling iron and lead to the top of Mt. Everest, and then bringing it down the other side, and multiply by 1000. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The absurdity continues.

Todd is found by colonists on this waste disposal planet — they’re stuck there after they crashed years earlier. All they have is what they can salvage from the garbage dumps. Fortunately, they’re able to find all sorts of cool, postapocalyptic-style clothing à la Mad Max and The Postman; lots of Christmas lights and fun stuff to decorate with, like CDs for making shiny mobiles; and enough razor blades and unfinished cans of Nair for the ladies to keep their legs and armpits nice and smooth and girly.

Todd, who barely speaks and is rather unsocialized, is a bit of a mystery to the colonists. One woman keeps asking him deep questions like “What about feelings? You must feel something,” oblivious to the fact that his biggest concern is wolfing down his food. They kick him out of the colony when they finally notice that he’s a total freak, though they’re about to call him back from exile to rescue them from an invasion of — gasp! — snakes when we are saved from having to endure that by the arrival, by pure coincidence, of the new gengineered soldiers on a take-no-prisoners training exercise.

Even though just one of those newfangled soldiers kicked Todd’s ass earlier, he will now — with the help of his ragtag band of folks just, golly gee, defending their homes — take on an army of them. Triumph of the human spirit or whatever will see him through, I guess. Score one for the little guy– er, score one for the big, dumb, muscle-y guy!

Star Trek: The Next Generation covered this theme better, ten years ago, in half the running time, with less broken glass, and, correct me if I’m wrong, no flamethrowers whatsoever.

“This is bad — real bad,” Gary Busey‘s hardass commander says at one point.

You said it, Busey. One can only hope that there are thousands of copies of Soldier on that waste disposal planet.


viewed at home on a small screen

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