In the near future a middle aged, heavily scarred, largely mute solider Sergeant Todd (Kurt Russel) is declared obsolete, and left for dead on a desolate scrapheap of a world by his predictably ‘evil’ superior officers (Led by a sneering Jason Issacs, and surprisingly withdrawn Gary Busey). Forming an uneasy bond with the survivors of a twelve years before spaceship crash, he is soon forced back into (bloody) action when his old comrades (rather conveniently) appear…
Operating from a surprisingly muddled script by sporadic (and normally more reliable) screenwriter David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven), Director Paul Anderson (No, not that one!) turns in a dumb, derivative, and often boring film, but one that nonetheless provides a small amount of silly entertainment, for undemanding viewers.
Soldier is from start to finish an entirely predictable motion picture- it does exactly what you’d expect, adequately (and very little else) and for that reason alone may endear itself to some viewers.
But it is precisely this which is also Soldier’s biggest flaw, sure some of the action sequences are well staged and exciting, but there is a definite lack of tension in the film, and snappy one liners are few and far between. An overabundance of clichés do the film no favours (‘I Know lets have him bond with a small kid!’’ Hey? Why don’t we have him shed real tears!)-the ending can be guessed half an hour into the film, and the ‘bad guys’ have less personality than the junkyard ruins where Sgt Todd sets up home, it’s not only predictable, for such a silly plot the film takes itself far too seriously.
Already looking surprisingly dated, the film gained notoriety in the UK for being one of the most expensive direct to DVD films ever released, whether or not it was entirely worthy of such a fate is open to debate, although there are certainly more things wrong than right with this film (though there are a few more positives to be discussed), and at no point does it feel like a classic blockbuster.
Put simply its formulaic and predictable, but sadly doesn’t follow the strongest formula it could have.
The film opens with a generic, overlong opening montage that soon sets the tone of the film, whilst appropriately introducing the plot. We follow child soldier Todd through brutal training (where he is conditioned to the point of being almost sociopathic), encounters with confused extras, and several bloody campaigns before his promotion to Sergeant in the early 21st century (More attentive viewers and fans of Blade Runner may have fun reading Todd’s service record…), and his subsequent betrayal.
This opening sequence contains the first few of the film’s sporadic action sequences, they at least, go some way to justifying the film’s surprising budget. Flash cuts, sudden zooms, and protracted, over the top deaths are utilised against a backdrop of noisy gunfights, and loud explosions. It’s stupid, senseless, and very formulaic… yet surprisingly enjoyable (all viewers should bear in mind the film doesn’t shirk on gore or coarse language). Fans of action films or those looking for meaningless violence will probably enjoy this sequence…although action soon takes a backseat to poor (and often annoying) attempts at characterisation.
After crashing in the junkyard Todd is taken in by a small group of lost colonists (just in time for a Christmas party!) and struggles to shake off his military routine and memories. Pacing the metallic ruins they have made their home, Todd receives hostile glances, strange requests…and dumb dialogue from the script, before saving the lives of several inhabitants.
This middle section is by far the films weakest, predictable, and annoying in equal measure, it feels and unfolds as just a stepping stone between the action sequences, a bland supporting cast is given little to do, the monotonous environment, and dreary dialogue wear after a while. The film is barely 90 minutes long, but due to this mid-section feels a lot longer.
Even the charismatic screen presence of Kurt Russell goes little way to saving the film, most of the attempts at connecting with his character fall flat, Todd may be able to shoot straight, but with this character Webb Peoples has shot himself in the foot.
Todd’s inability to communicate or understand his fellow characters may well suit his character to an extent, but his quiet, robotic mannerisms are often annoying and give Russell little to work with, for such a skilled warrior he comes across as a little too childlike. The films one real strong point- the action sequences, are further hampered by this decision, there is little pleasure involved in even the most over the top action scenes, when the protagonist is just as violent and flat as those he is despatching.
The film is almost saved by its finale, an overdrawn, often illogical, but very well staged combat scene. Utilising several dozen extras, good (ish) CGI affects, a variety of vicious weapons, and a clear understanding of technical direction, Anderson pulls the film towards its finale, in a very gory, action packed, and admittedly quite entertaining manner (although the over prevalent slow-motion, and frankly terrible musical score are immediately noticeable). Despatching soldier after soldier, throwing in a fist fight and a couple of humorous one liners for good measure, he comes close to salvaging the film for a wider audience…but it’s too little too late.
Solider is essentially a dumb action film set in a sci-fi setting, and as such has all the flaws common to such films- uneven pace, bland bad guys, and hit and miss dialogue. On the other hand, it occasionally fulfils an Action Film’s primary goal- to blow things up in style.
In conclusion fans of the action genre, or viewers with very low expectations will be able to look past the film’s flaws and spend a passable 99 minutes. For other viewers the film’s dour tone, dumb story, and numerous other issues will prove fatal.
4/10 Paul Ashwell