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Commando (1985) opens with Col. John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) enjoying his retirement from Special Ops. Matrix spends his days with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) in the mountains feeding fawns, eating ice cream and reminiscing about how good it was in East Germany under Soviet control. But all of that ends when Cpt. Bennett (Vernon Wells) abducts Jenny and uses her to force Matrix on one last sinister mission. Needless to say, Matrix has other plans.

Commando was made the year after The Terminator (1984) and the year before Raw Deal (1986) at a time when Schwarzenegger’s persona was entirely wrapped up in his career as a body builder. The characters that Schwarzenegger plays in all three movies are pure muscle pumping with testosterone. In Commando all the audience learns is all they really need to know: Matrix is a trained killing machine who loves his daughter.

A film from the Reagan era can’t end without completing the family unit. The character of Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) as a kind of audience surrogate; a proxy character that reacts to Matrix lifting phone booths and tossing cops like confetti the way anyone one, albeit more comedically. Cindy, however, quickly transforms into Matrix’s bonafide sidekick, helping him waste “bad guys”. Then, at the conclusion of Commando, without any text or subtext to support it, the film suggests that there is a romantic bond between Cindy and Matrix.

Commando is tailored to Schwarzenegger. There’s little plot, no characterization, a few choice quips delivered badly and plenty of action. But these early Schwarzenegger vehicles often unintentionally yield some intriguing moments. The climactic showdown between Schwarzenegger and Wells is one of the most densely queer coded scenes from the heyday of the eighties action movie. The film never explains why these two fell out years ago, but the choices the actors make suggest that it was a really bad break-up.

In this final fist fight Wells brings a distinctly sexual energy to the combat, as if his character had been physically aching for Schwarzenegger. Things continue hot and heavy as the two slug it out with muscles rippling and sweat dripping. When Schwarzenegger kills Wells he impales him with a phallus (a large pipe ripped out of the wall), which penetrates Wells and impales a gas tank behind him. As Wells stands nailed to this tank, the contents of the tank ejaculates from the end of the pipe, inspiring Schwarzenegger to quip “Let off some steam Bennett”.

The legacy of this insane movie can be felt all the way to Liam Neeson’s Taken franchise and its scores of imitators. Apparently there is a kind of fetish market for this niche sub-genre of action movie. But Commando will always stand tall on its own as a prime example of eighties excess run amok; the quintessential action movie.