Does anyone remember Soldier (1998) other than me? Probably not. I was perhaps the only one in the world who saw it twice in the theaters. Why? I could not tell you. Who really remembers everything they were doing twenty-four years ago? The reason why I say I am likely alone in having any recollection of this film is because it tanked at the box office. It made back less than a third of its budget, despite having a pretty solid cast. It was universally panned by critics at the time of its release, though I am unconvinced of their real impact on a film’s success. You can point to plenty of examples of movies that they did not like, but regardless have made millions of dollars. And yet this is not the case for Soldier? So, why does it enter into my brain at all? There is one remarkable fact about it, and that is that in a little over an hour and a half, its star says eighty-five total words. I am notorious for getting bored with dialog driven movies. Hence, despite some cheesiness and over-the-top violence, it at least has one aspect I can appreciate.
Soldier begins in 1996, which made sense at the time given the story to follow, but seems laughable now. There are babies being selected for something called the Adam Project. We follow little Todd 3465 as he is chosen for a brutal training program to mold children into the perfect soldiers. It is not just physical, but intense aptitude and psychological testing as well. If any of the young ones prove incapable of handling the course, they are taken aside and immediately killed. Todd excels in the program, becoming the best of a group of soldiers that are unquestioning combatants, and do not hesitate in the face of danger. Once they are ready for combat, the film shifts into a montage of campaigns in which a grown-up Todd 3465 (Kurt Russell) takes part, a list of them being tattooed into his increasingly scarred skin. By 2036, they have fought in many battles and are considered to be “between wars.” This is when a new crop of super soldiers is brought in to replace the old ones. Todd 3465’s commanding officer, Captain Church (Gary Busey), is skeptical of the new ones, and insists on a series of tests to prove their worthiness against Todd 3465’s compatriots. The new ones consistently score higher, and their superiority is underscored when one of theirs, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee), defeats Todd 3465 and two other older soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting. Not wanting to deal with any unwanted attention, the new leader, Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs), orders the lifeless bodies of Todd 3465 and his fallen comrades disposed of with the trash sent to a distant planet called Arcadia 234. En route, Todd 3465 awakens in time to be dumped with the rest of the waste. It does not take him long to find that there are others on this planet who have ended up here as refuse. They are stranded there because no one cares about a planet with intense dust storms except to leave their garbage there, not bothering to man the ships that transport their waste to it. At first, Todd 3465 is nursed back to health by the community, particularly husband and wife Mace (Sean Pertwee) and Sandra (Connie Nielsen), along with their mute son Nathan (Jared & Taylor Thorne). Todd 3465 mainly keeps to himself as he recovers, but helps out a little with some of the chores, even saving the life of one of the denizens, Jimmy Pig (Michael Chiklis). In gratitude, Jimmy makes a scarf for Todd 3465, but picks the wrong moment to deliver it. Todd 3465 is doing what soldiers do, keeping up with his training by rigging a makeshift punching bag and pounding it with his fists. Each blow on the metal drum echoes through the community, and conjure explosions that remind him of bygone battles. In other words, he gets lost in a flashback, and that is when Jimmy interrupts. Todd 3465 takes Jimmy by the neck and is in the process of strangling the well-meaning gift giver until he snaps out of his reverie. This, along with trying to teach Nathan to kill poisonous snakes on his own, leads the community to banish him. When Nathan proves the value of Todd 3465’s lesson by dispatching a snake with a boot, Mace realizes the error of exiling Todd 3465. Unfortunately, this also happens to be the moment that Colonel Mekum and the new soldiers, with the old ones providing support, show up on Arcadia 234. As usual, not wanting the fuss of having to explain the presence of people on the planet, he orders the unit to wipe out the squatters. The one thing he did not count on, though, is the presence of Todd 3465. Through a series of cleverly placed traps, he systematically kills all the new soldiers, including one last showdown with Caine 607, proving that there really is something to brains (experience in this case) over brawn. Todd 3465 then takes those left alive from the shelled community, boards Colonel Mekum’s ship, kicks off all the officers with the help of his old comrades, and takes off in time to escape the bomb Colonel Mekum set up to destroy the planet. Todd 3465 has found a new path for himself, and stares off into space with Nathan as they head for a friendlier planet.
There are some strange things that go on in Soldier, not the least of which is the montage sequence where they seem to be suggesting a love triangle between Mace, Sandra, and Todd 3465. In addition to not being in keeping with Todd 3465’s character, this part has odd, Enya-esque music played over it that feels out of place in the movie. Finally, it is never paid off. Mace dies in trying to bring Todd 3465 back to the community, the first casualty at the hands of the Colonel Mekum’s men. Despite everything going on, Todd 3465 continues to do what he does best, what he has trained his entire life to do. There is something to be said from a Catholic perspective about his character. It relates to an age-old debate over nature versus nurture, and this is probably a deeper philosophical argument than the movie warrants, but oh well. The Church says that, as God’s creations, we are all imbued with a desire to love others as God loves us. It is how we are made. Nurture can, and does, play a role, otherwise society would not be as it is today, i.e., not perfect. This is the idea behind Todd 3465’s regimen with which he is raised. If you get a person young enough, you can mold them into anything you want them to be, in this case an unthinking killer. Yet, there is an original programming in all of us that yearns for all the things that were supposedly beaten out of him from an early age, mainly love. It is often said that one of the best mirrors of God’s unconditional love is that of a child. When Nathan reaches out to Todd 3465, it has the biggest effect on him, more so than anything that may or may not be going on with Sandra. The final scene of the film proves my point as Todd 3465 has Nathan in his arm, and they are looking out into space together.
Still, Soldier is in most respects your run-of-the-mill action movie. Whenever I reflect on my life and all the things I have endured, I sometimes recall the scene early on when Todd 3465 is having all his battles tattooed on him. There is something to be said, too, about experience. With that, and the stuff I discussed in the last paragraph, there is a little more going on here than explosions and stabbings. This is not necessarily a recommendation, mind you, as you have to wade through a lot of action movie clichés to get to them, but they are present.