“I’m going to kill them all, Sir.”
With ‘Captain Marvel‘ stimulating my 90s nostalgia I’ve fittingly revisited 1998 science fiction actioner ‘Soldier‘. A solid action flick that offers some thought-provoking sci-fi ideas, effective production designs and special effects, and a grand showcase for its star Kurt Russell.
Before director Paul W.S. Anderson got lost down the rabbit hole of “Resident Evil” dreck he saw himself as an emerging high-brow genre director, a la Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Therefore, it’s no surprise when working off a script from David Webb Peoples that this film would borrow elements from Peoples and Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ and Cameron’s ‘Aliens’. Mixing in ‘Mad Max’ dystopian settings for a finished hodgepodge that convinces only through pure tenacity.
‘Soldier‘ is set in a militaristic, galaxy-spanning future where born and bred veteran soldier Sgt. Todd 3465 (Russell) collides against the tide of evolution. When fresh, new soldiers arrive, “Todd” and his lot are quickly replaced. Left for dead on a desolate “garbage” planet Todd must now discover the humanity lost through decades of faithful obedience and mindless killing.
He is rescued by an idealistic refugee named Mace (Sean Pertwee) and his beautiful wife (Connie Nielsen). Soon Script-Writing 101 sends this built for killing soldier through perfunctory, cliche-riddled “obstacles” during his attempt to blend in with the peaceful families, scavengers, and farmers that now offer their shelter and protection from the harsh, alien environs.
And, of course, Todd’s brutal skill set is quickly put to test once his old military colleagues bring that fresh new crop of soldiers to this very planet for some much-needed battle training. Let the redemption games begin…
Anderson ensures consistent big alien landscapes and wonderfully cheesy action set-pieces keep us properly shock and awed. However, it’s Kurt Russell quiet, emotive performance that easily wins the film. Keeping “needless” conversation to a stark minimum, Russell conveys a wonder of emotion through subtle glaces and body language alone. With a single tear Russell provokes more feeling than pages of quippy dialog ever could.
The impressive support cast includes would-be stars Nielsen, Jason Isaacs, and Michael Chiklis along with veteran scenery-chewer Gary Busey as backup. Unfortunately, as a new and improved soldier foil/counterpart for Russell’s “Todd“, Jason Scott Lee is a complete dud.
Sure the dialog is often groan-worthy adolescent, many side-characters are non-dimensionals, and Paul W.S. Anderson can’t just keep his baser instincts in check–leading to genre trope and melodrama overload. Still, it’s much better than what Anderson’s future filmography would soon bring.
So disregard all naysayers dissing this classic of 90s cinema. ‘Soldier‘ may not be the high-brow science fiction its creators intended, but, it offers glorious, gratuitous schmaltz and action in spades. Along with one of Kurt Russell’s finest and most understated performances.