November 1998
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Movie Review: Soldier

A film review by Justin Felix

Rating: *** (out of five)

Screenplay by David Webb Peoples.
Directed by Paul Anderson.
Starring Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Gary Busey.
Rated R (contains violence and profanity) approx. 95 mins.

Synopsis: In the near future, Sergeant Todd, trained from birth to be a remorseless killing machine, and his squad of merciless soldiers are replaced by genetically engineered warriors. Believed dead, Todd is dumped onto a garbage planet where a small group of colonists struggle to survive. Todd defends these colonists from the warriors who replaced him when their superior officer decides the colonists would make good target practice.

Comments: On paper, Soldier has the ingredients to make a superior film. It is written by David Webb Peoples, who penned the screenplay to the classic Blade Runner and the critically-acclaimed 12 Monkeys. It is directed by Paul Anderson, who was responsible for Event Horizon, an unfairly criticized cross-genre film, and Mortal Kombat, a popular movie based on the video game of the same name. It even stars Kurt Russell, who has acted in good science fiction films such as Stargate and John Carpenter's remake of The Thing. Though Soilder is an entertaining and visually interesting film, it proves to be somewhat disappointing, considering the talent involved in the film's production.

Soldier begins in the year 1996, when Sergeant Todd is born. Apparently, on the date of his birth, Todd, along with a group of other babies, is chosen to be involved in a government(?) program to raise and train a group of fearless ground soldiers. Through a series of rapid flashbacks, the audience sees Todd grow to adulthood and some of the campaigns on other worlds that he is involved in. Already, the audience is keenly aware of the major flaw in the movie: nothing is ever really explained. Soilder never details (a) who Todd fights for, (b) why a technologically savvy society needs human ground troops when they could probably find less expensive means of achieving military goals, or (c) how our planet becomes an intergalactic colonizing force within the next 20 years. Apparently, the only things the filmmakers wish us to know is that Todd is a killing machine and the person in charge is a really bad guy. What follows is the standard sci-fi cliche of the underdog against a supposedly superior opponent; in this case, Sergeant Todd and a ragtag group of colonists try to defend themselves from a horde of genetically-enhanced, heavily armed, well-trained soldiers. Guess who wins.

Having criticized the screenplay, I can now say that I still enjoyed Soldier. This is a movie which attempts to cross genres to create something different. Event Horizon, Paul Anderson's last film, combined horror and science fiction, giving the audience a haunted spaceship. Similarly, Soldier combines science fiction with the western and the action movie, giving us Shane on another planet. The mix of genres works for the most part. Though the story, including the ultimate resolution, is quite obvious, the film's landscape, an apocalyptic garbage dump of a planet presented paradoxically beautiful in its harshness, and some brilliant pyrotechnic fight scenes make Soldier a fun Saturday afternoon matinee movie. Like Event Horizon however, Soldier doesn't pull any punches [no pun intended] when it comes to violence -- one of the reasons I suspect Event Horizon was so squarely criticized. Soldier is violent; it has many bloody scenes, a number of grisly deaths, and some rather sadistic moments (these warriors, for instance, have no reservations shooting unarmed young children in combat situations).

Kurt Russell plays Sergeant Todd quite effectively. Todd does not have much dialogue in the movie; he remains largely silent. This silence, however, adds to the tension of the film, as the colonists fear that his training will make him snap at any moment. Soldier, thus, like Event Horizon, is an extremely tense film. Russell, though, exaggerates the tough guy image a little too much at times, granting the film some much needed melodramatic camp humor. Gary Busey plays his signature stock character - a slick though ultimately well-meaning individual - adequately here. Rising star Jason Scott Lee, like Russell, isn't given much dialogue, but he portrays the main antagonist suitably enough.

Soldier strikes me as a made-for-the-SciFi-channel movie with a budget. Despite the talent behind the film, it is not great. However, it doesn't seem to carry the pretense of greatness. It's a little sci-fi action film which delivers enough special effects and action sequences to carry it through. It's not worth six bucks, but it's certainly worth a matinee price.

Rated R, Soldier contains many graphic scenes of violence which may be inappropriate for children. Although, to give the movie credit, it, more so than other recent action films like the "video game"ish Blade and the humorous Rush Hour, shows the results of violence, both physically and mentally, on its victims.

Other reviews by Justin may be found at:
The Internet Movie Database index

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