Commando – A One Man Army
Written by Ritesh Shah
Directed by Dilip Ghosh
Imagine if an action movie fr0m the 1990s fell into a time tunnel and popped out in 2013 India, and was given modern fight choreography. Thus, Commando – A One Man Army, which is both a mirror to the past and a painting of the now. Remember the name of star Vidyut Jamwal, whose silent but charismatic and handsome Karan character gives the film the intensity and martial arts skills it needs. Jaideep Ahlawat replies with the supernaturally evil AK 74, who isn’t happy if he’s not telling jokes and doing something totally totally evil.
Commando is very much a man’s movie, Vidyut Jamwal is basically Superman without the suit, and Jaideep Ahlawat is a maniacal gang leader who sends dozens of goons off to do violent things with a flick of the finger. Pooja Chopra’s Simrit Kaur, however, is basically useless. She does little more than be an object of desire of the villain, and the target of rescue of the hero. Simrit flips back and forth between being horribly shocked at the violent things Captain Dogra does, to being incredibly turned on that this handsome man is being all physical in front of her. Simrit’s tiny bit of rebellion – not wanting to get married and running away – simply results in major tragedy. That also lends towards the 1990s feel of Commando, as many of the women are little more than rescue prizes in the low budget action films Commando appears to copy.
I don’t want to turn this into a whole essay on how women are treated in modern Indian film (a discussion better suited for many other films), but I won’t shy away from pointing it out. Her character could be eliminated entirely from the plot with little consequence, as it would be easy to frame AK chasing after Dogra because of spilled coffee or something. In fact, I read about a test concept for this by Kelly Sue DeConnick called The Sexy Lamp Test: If the main female character could be replaced by a lamp with no adverse effects on the story, then the writer is a hack. This leads to some wonderful visuals, as heroic action heroes spend an entire movie defending the honor of the leglamp from A Christmas Story – itself nothing more than glowing sexuality that doesn’t further the plot and provides only visual stimuli.
Commando does excel with the action. This is Vidyut Jamwal’s first starring role as a hero, and he shows off his martial art skills. Jamwal is so far above everyone else in the starring rolls that even Commando knew that Jaideep Ahlawat wouldn’t be a realistic challenge to fight – Jamwal just pushes him around when they do confront each other. Instead, they bring in a rival, an Evil Commando, who has to do very evil things himself to be accepted as a villain (he has the most ridiculous introduction scene I’ve seen in a long time!) Yet Evil Commando only shows up so there can be a dramatic fight, his character doesn’t do anything for the plot, either. I blame this on another weakness of the writing, why not just make Evil Commando the villain’s cousin or something? Or he could be a different abandoned commando who decided to be evil instead of helping random women like our hero.
Commando features one other thing that we won’t be seeing much of in modern American cinema – Chinese villains! Every Chinese character is presented as evil torturers who just want to humiliate India because they can. US films have practically decided China can do no wrong, studios are very afraid of offending the Chinese censors losing out on their films being screened in the huge huge Chinese theater market. It leads to weird things happening in films, such as the Red Dawn remake being reedited so everyone is North Korean, or weird extra scenes added to the Chinese cuts of films. Commando – A One Man Army doesn’t give a crap about offending the Chinese. It’s sort of refreshing, even though the scenes are ridiculous.
After the Chinese are all killed off, the villains become the Indian politicians. It’s the system that fails Captain Dogra, abandoning him in China, and attempting to smear him when he escapes and resurfaces. The coverup becomes a twisted parody, and fuels Captain Dogra’s disdain of politicians and people not standing up to wrongdoing. Dogra even lectures the townspeople near the end of the film for being so passive and letting bad guys take over. Commando is suddenly spouting American conservative dogma, including killing your enemies. I’m not so familiar with India’s political structure to know if there is a party that is an analogue of the Republicans, but if there is, they’d be fans of Commando.
The retro feel of Commando comes from the blend of mindless action and old school attitudes about women and politics. Many of the positions Commando – A One Man Army takes are reprehensible, but not too surprising. Commando does one thing well, and that’s have awesome action sequences. The entirety of Commando‘s awesomeness is Vidyut Jamwal and his martial arts work. Jamwal practices a variety of martial arts, including jiu jitsu and kalaripayattu, an Indian martial art from Kerala. The stunts feel real, and even the few times they dive into Indian action cinema ridiculousness, they quickly snap back to more realistic. When Captain Dogra is fighting, he is in a class far beyond the average goon, so much so that the Evil Commando brought in is the only real threat (well, that and guns!) The battle with Evil Commando shows Dogra being injured and meeting his equal. Strangely enough, if the Evil Commando had been the main villain, the plot would have been more unbelievable. I can really only think of two films where the mastermind villain was just some wimpy guy who wasn’t even a slight physical threat to the hero, the other one being Eric Bogosian in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Jaideep Ahlawat’s villainy as AK 74 was fun to watch, and he threw in enough quirky things that AK was a legitimate threat without being a physical equal.
Commando – A One Man Army is a fun blast of the past that suffers whenever nonaction is happening on the screen. The few musical sequences feel out of place (except for when AK is randomly slapping people in one song) and Pooja Chopra is wasted. But all is forgiven when people start getting punched, kicked, and punch-kicked by Vidyut Jamwal. And I hope Vidyut Jamwal goes on to punch-kick in dozens of films. Maybe even ones that don’t make you dislike every other aspect of them!