Film / Soldier

Soldier is a 1998 science-fiction action adventure film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Kurt Russell and Jason Scott Lee as a pair of futuristic soldiers who do battle on a decaying planet.

Sergeant Todd (Russell) was raised from birth to become a new breed of soldier, and leads an elite commando unit on Earth. Along with his fellow soldiers, Todd has received extreme mental and physical conditioning to become an instrument of war. However, his commanding officer, Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs) develops a new group of genetically-augmented soldiers with superior physical abilities and a complete lack of emotions. In the ensuing transfer of control to the new soldiers, Captain Church (Gary Busey) orders a contest between the "old" soldiers and the genetically-modified ones, led by Caine 607 (Lee).

Todd is seemingly killed during the ensuing test (but is actually unconscious) and his body is dumped on the surface of Arcadia 234, a waste mining planet. Although badly injured, Todd manages to make his way to a colony of humans who crash-landed on the planet many years earlier and built their own society. Todd and the colonists begin to work together to survive, but they are interrupted by the arrival of the genetically-modified soldiers, who are taking part in a training exercise and intend to kill the settlers. Together with the colonists, including healer Sandra (Connie Nielsen) and her son Nathan, Todd decides to fight back and protect his new allies.

The film was written by David Webb Peoples, and was intended to be a sidestory/Spiritual Successor to Blade Runner (to the point that multiple references to Runner are seen throughout the film).

This film contains the following Tropes:

  • Alien Sky: Arcadia has a dull, brown sky with two suns circling it.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Mace dies from blood loss when his leg is shot off.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: Christmas is celebrated by the inhabitants of Arcadia 234, and that's when the soldiers come in and invade the planet.
  • Alternate History: Todd is born in 1996. By then, mankind is already capable of space travel and the world (or at least the US) is a dystopian society that selects babies from birth to become inhuman killing machines.
  • Armor Is Useless: The genetically-modified troops are mowed down easily by weapons fire and melee weapons.
    • Although they stand up pretty well against the civilian weapons.
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: The Crawler, which (at the time) was the biggest working vehicle ever constructed for a film. With the equipment on-board these vehicles, it might as well be a Military Mashup Machine.
  • Badass Boast: When Todd destroys Caine's Crawler during the bombardment attack, the ship's lieutenant radios for a status update.
    Rubrick: Crawler One, do you copy? Crawler Two, do you copy? Are any of you men out there? Can any of you men hear me?
    Todd: Your men...are obsolete.
    • Also:
    Sandra: [they're very scary, you're outnumbered]... what are you going to do?
    Todd: I'm going to kill them all, sir.
  • Badass Normal: Todd is one (absurdly prepared and mentally honed) guy against twenty genetically-enhanced troops with better weapons and armor. He wipes the floor with all of them.
  • Battle in the Rain: Todd and Caine get a rain-soaked rematch.
  • Beserk Button: One of the few emotional reactions we see from Todd is clearly outraged anger after a colonist accuses him of desertion.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Todd suffers this when he's knocked backwards during a duststorm after arriving at the colony., and during the second fist-fight with Caine.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Mekum soils himself when he sees the supposed-to-be-dead Todd standing in front of him.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Mace sees the military ship land and excitedly starts to approach, believing it to be a rescue party. He is promptly corrected by Todd with a firm, "Come with me, sir!"
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Todd is listed on a computer as having ordinance training in BFG's. Later on, when the advance team attack the colony, Todd proves to be a capable shot with the dropped rocket launchers the genetically-modified soldiers were wielding.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Nathan is taught by Todd how to kill a venomous snake soon after he arrives at the colony. Later on, after the colony has kicked Todd out, Nathan uses this lesson to kill a snake that would have otherwise killed his parents.
    • When he arrives on Arcadia, Todd immediately has to hold onto a pipe to avoid being blown away in the midst of a massive duststorm. In the battle against the bombardment troops, he comes prepared with equipment to tether himself down, while the soldiers who don't know what they're up against get blown away (and one gets impaled by flying debris).
  • Child Soldiers: The original Super Soldier squad. Later replaced by genetically-engineered troops, which the Veterans and officers accepted grudgingly.
    Church: My daddy was in maintenance. And he had a saying, he used to say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The wreckage of a Spinner (from Blade Runner) can be seen in one of the piles of trash when Todd first arrives on the planet.
    • Todd's tattoos include a listing of all the major military campaigns he's participated in - the second-last entry on his arm reads, "Tannhäuser Gate". Additionally, his computer dossier lists the "Shoulder of Orion" campaign.
  • Dirty Coward: Col. Mekum. He's an arrogant bastard that orders his genetically enhanced troops to murder civilians as a training exercise. When Todd wipes the floor with them, he decides to Nuke 'em. When he's finally confronted by Todd and in a position of danger, he pathetically begs for his life and loses control of his bladder. Very un-soldier like, indeed.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Caine is the commander of the squad of new soldiers. While Mekum is a Non-Action Big Bad, Caine is able to provide Todd his biggest challenge.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: When Sandra sees Todd loading several weapons before he engages the bombardment troops:
    Sandra: But you're one soldier...against seventeen. What are you going to do?
    Todd: I'm going to kill them all, sir.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: What happens to planet Arcadia after the bomb was triggered. Todd and the survivors get away from the blast in time, though.
  • The Evil Army: Led by The Neidermeyer, Colonel Mekum.
  • sidestory/Spiritual Successor: To Blade Runner, which is arguably the Citizen Kane of science fiction films. This actually isn't as crazy as it sounds at first glance: it's not just a film the studio wanted to cram into the Blade Runner universe, the scriptwriter David Webb Peoples was actually one of the two scriptwriters on Blade Runner itself. So if anyone could justifiably make a side-story in the same universe, he can (also it's not just a rip-off of Blade Runner - there are some tonal similarities and Shout Outs in the background but they don't hit you over the head with it).
  • Eye Scream: Todd does this to Caine 607 during their first encounter.
    • Todd also stabs another Super Soldier through the eyepiece of his helmet. Later on, it's strongly implied that another Super Soldier is bitten in the eye by a snake.
  • Facial Markings: Todd and his fellow super-soldiers have tattoos detailing their major service history and personal information.
  • A Father to His Men: Todd to his unit. Once he reunites with them (as they're arming the Time Bomb), they immediately stop what they're doing, salute him and fall in line behind him. For the rest of the film, they follow his orders without question.
  • Final Battle: Between Todd and Caine.
  • Fingore: A mild version. Todd's cutting carrots, cuts his finger, and keeps cutting carrots.
  • Forced to Watch: The Super Soldier squad is forced to watch a pack of dogs attacking a wild boar as children during their training.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The ground troops that attack the settlement all wear gas masks.
  • Geo Effects: The junkyard planet has very intense winds.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Todd has a long scar on the right side on his face that arguably makes him look even more badass. Caine's facial scars, inflicted by Todd during their first fight, completely disfigure his face.
  • Guns Akimbo: Played With. Todd uses dual SMG's in part of the prelude. At a later point, it appears that he is using dual assault rifles to mow down several of the bombardment troops. The troops then launch a counterattack and move up on his supposed position (all while the guns are firing), only to find that he's rigged them up on the corpse of a dead soldier.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mekum and his lieutenants are left behind on Arcadia, along with the Time Bomb he gleefully asked to be activated to destroy the colony.
  • Hollywood Healing: Todd falls from a great height, then gets dumped from a ship at a great height, then gets flung several yards into a set of steps during a windstorm, and is no worse for wear after a day of rest.
    • Slightly averted: Todd is dropped onto the planet by a ship, and is later told that they visit the planet every 20 or 30 days. When told this, it is the first time that he has left the safety of the settlement (so about 3 weeks of recuperation) and still isn't fully healed.
  • Hollywood Tactics:
    • In the opening, the original soldiers are shown just charging into situations, making no attempt to find cover. Slightly justified in some situations, as most of the battles they are fighting are against opponents with less refinement.
    • Also discussed and averted later on. The next-gen soldiers are criticized as being powerful but untested, while the originals are battle-hardened and thus experienced. Indeed, the next-gen soldiers are summarily wiped out precisely because they are incapable of adapting to the guerrilla tactics of a single, well-armed, well-trained and experienced man.
    • After surviving the spray of a soldier's minigun, Todd emerges welding an RPG to retaliate. Rather than taking aim at his assailant, he shoots the wreckage above him, resulting in an improbable impalement.
  • Human Shield: Not so much averted as nuked from orbit. Todd excels in training by shooting through the "civilian" silhouette to hit the target behind, and then does it again for real in combat during his mission montage.
  • I Like Those Odds: Mekum initially objects to Church's request for Todd to face Caine one-on-one. Mekum then asks Church to bring two more soldiers to face Caine, and Church replies that he likes the suggestion.
  • Infant Immortality: Adults are gunned down mercilessly during the advance team attack and bombardment siege, yet no child ever suffers more than being frightened. Averted in the opening sequence however, as a fat kid who can't keep up with the other child soldier trainees is summarily executed offscreen.
    • Implied to be averted in one of Todd's flashbacks, when he recalls an instance where he had been shooting civilians, and had stopped to reload. We see a young girl kneeling by the bodies of (presumably) her family, and Todd looking down (again presumably) at her expressionlessly as he reloads. Once he gets the new magazine inserted into his rifle, he pulls the trigger immediately, aiming at whatever he had been staring at the whole time.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Todd repeatedly beats a steel punching bag for several hours straight, so exhausted that he is barely able to stand, and only gets mildly bloodied knuckles for his effort.
  • Insistent Terminology: When the usually quiet Todd speaks to any of the adult colonists, he calls them "Sir" due to spending most of his life in a military environment.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Todd doesn't particularly care about Colonel Mekum, but he does have a genuine rivalry with his opposite Caine 607 for replacing him as the new soldier of the future. This feeling is mutual, as Caine hates Todd for costing him an eye and making him partially obsolete.
  • Job Title: Todd is a soldier. Well, at least a former one.
  • Just in Time:
    • Several of the bombardment troops chase Sandra and a group of children into a house while firing at them with miniguns and flamethrowers. One of the troops follows her up the stairs, and turns the corner to see her huddling with the group of children - and Todd wielding an RPG, which he promptly fires.
    • Played with at the end of the film. Todd and his troops leave Mekum and his two lieutenants on the planet with a Time Bomb set to detonate in a couple of minutes. The three officials run to the bomb and go to disarm it, with Mekum pulling away his female lieutenant when she can't remember the disarm code. Mekum enters the code and the machine seemingly acknowledges it...then detonates anyway.
  • Left for Dead: Todd, on a garbage disposal planet.
  • Landfill Beyond the Stars: The setting of the movie is a junkyard planet.
  • Lock and Load Montage: After the battle with the advance team, Nathan walks in on Todd loading multiple weapons and gearing himself up for battle.
  • Manly Tears: After the junkyard community casts him out, Todd - trained from birth to kill, oblivious to what emotions are supposed to be - is surprised to find a tear sliding down his cheek. He wipes it and frowns in astonishment, not sure what to think of it.
  • Name of Cain: A new Super Soldier who becomes Todd's arch-enemy is named Cain.
  • Neck Snap: Todd does this to Caine at the end of their final confrontation.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The official trailer included a short sequence that involved 20-30 starships doing battle around a planet. The final film features no such scene, and was apparently the remnant of a planned flashback that would have shown the Battle of Tannhäuser Gate.
  • Normally, I Would Be Dead Now: The only reason Todd survives his fall during the first encounter with Caine is due to him falling on the corpse of his fellow soldier. He simply goes unconscious from his injuries and is presumed to be dead.
  • No Social Skills: Sergeant Todd was raised from birth to be a completely obedient, emotionless soldier. When he is left for dead by his superiors he tries to reintegrate into a small community, but ultimately can't due to his underdeveloped social skills. He barely talks and except for some fleeting moments is a paragon of stoicism and actually dangerous to be around.
    • Inverted in his relationship with Nathan, who cannot speak due to a childhood injury. It is arguably due to this connection between them and the manner in which Todd teaches Nathan to kill a dangerous snake that the boy is later able to save his family.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A serious example with Todd, Nathan, and the snake. Having failed to observe him teaching Nathan to kill it, only walking in when Todd is just standing there while it slithers up to Nathan, the colony decides he's too violent to fit in with them. Todd's own stoic nature and refusal to speak prevents him from rectifying the error.
  • Nuke 'em: What Mekum tries to do once the bombardment troops are wiped out.
  • Oh Crap!: Quite a few, with Mekum getting the lion's share of them.
    • The best has to when Colonel Mekum shoves Lieutenant Sloan out of the way when she can't remember the code to shut down the Planet Killer. He puts a code in with a Smug Smile but her face is terrified. The Earth-Shattering Kaboom happens about two seconds later.
  • Only One: Justified. Todd is the only one who knows how the genetically-modified soldiers operate, what their attack patterns are and what the best plan for guerilla warfare is.
  • Outrun the Fireball:
    • Todd and Mace (Sandra's husband) have to outrun several during their escape from the advance force.
    • The military ship piloted by Todd and his lieutenant outruns the planetary explosion at the end of the film.
  • Papa Wolf: Mace is this to little boy, Nathan.
  • Rated M for Manly: So manly it doesn't need words.
  • Science Is Useless: Todd has the advantage against the genetically-modified soldiers due to his leadership and tactics gained from years of experience.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: A distance example - thanks to the constraints of the action sequence, the film depicts the military ship Todd pilots passing a mountain and immediately appearing in space, thereby skipping most of the ascent through the stratosphere.
    • A military example. When the Next-Gens are being wiped out, Mekum assumes they are facing two whole divisions. A division is comprised of at least 10,000 men, which is overkill against two squads.
      • Actually, Mekum is commenting on the fact that they don't know how many soldiers they are facing after losing contact with all their men. He says that there could be a few divisions for all they know.
  • Shirtless Scene: When Todd is being cared for by Sandra. Also results in The Reveal of his service history and scars.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Siege: Against a peaceful village by people who want to drive them out.
  • Soft Glass: Brings us a Super Window Jump.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: The West Point graduate leading the genetically modified super soldiers is a classic REMF (rear-echelon motherf*cker).
  • The Spartan Way:
    • The original recruits are trained from a young age to act without emotion, to the point that they would have constant drills and incredibly difficult training exercises as children.
    • Mekum does this to demonstrate the capabilities of the genetically-modified soldiers when he pits them in a "someone dies tonight" competition.
  • Third Time's the Charm: The first time Todd goes up against Caine, he gets the crap beaten out of him and is assumed to be dead. The second time, Todd destroys Caine's armored vehicle and assumes he's dead. The third time, Todd finally kills Caine after a protracted hand-to-hand battle.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Todd's "Soldiers deserve soldiers" statement.
  • Time Bomb: And a nuclear one, at that. Which is set off, blowing up the waste disposal planet along with it.
  • Tragic Villain: Todd's nemesis Caine 607 is probably even more of a victim of the indoctrination of the future military as Todd himself is, as he was not only trained from birth to be a soldier like Todd himself but also genetically modified to be completely obedient. When Caine loses an eye in a fight with Todd and is dismissed by his commanding officer as almost useless now (being relegated to rear guard action from then on), there are strong parallels with Todd himself being dismissed as a relic.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Subverted. Despite not having any opposition to fight against prior to the military landing on the planet, most of the adult villagers already have weapons and training (although they're barred by Todd from fighting the enemy because he considers it something he has to do himself).
  • Untrusting Community: Justified. Due to his training, Todd has no social skills whatsoever. It has been absolutely drilled into him never to speak unless spoken to, and even then he gives only curt responses. He doesn't explain why he's not with his unit until a settler directly accuses him of desertion, which makes him angry enough to choke out that he was replaced by newer soldiers. Moreover, several of the colony leaders are fully aware of the kind of training he went through, honed from infancy to be a remorseless and efficient killing machine. The breaking point comes when holding a gun makes him have a violent flashback, nearly killing a random guy with his deadly reflexes before coming to his senses. The colony leaders exile him by (more or less) politely explaining that they fear that his training and indoctrination have made him truly incapable of ever integrating in a peaceful society. The fact that their fears are entirely rational makes it hurt all the more for Todd. But the survivors come around when he saves them from the advance force.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mekum once his soldiers start getting gunned down like animals. Once they're all dead, he goes into full-on "save my own ass" mode.
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: The basis of the Untrusting Community's perspective is based largely on Todd's background as a soldier, and that his violent tendencies are such that he cannot be integrated as a member.
    • By teaching the mute, otherwise-coddled child Nathan necessary violence, the boy is later able to save his parents' lives.
    • Todd's violence allows him to defend the community from the invading next-gen soldiers bent on eradicating them, and subsequently lead them to the Promised Land.
  • Wasteland Elder: Played with. The elder seems to share leadership duties with Mace, and distrusts Todd. She never changes her stance on him, and ends up being killed during the attack by the advance team.
  • Worthy Opponent: When offered assistance in repelling the next-gen soldiers, Todd simply says "Soldiers deserve soldiers, sir." This is either a belief that soldiers deserve to be killed by other soldiers, not mere civilians, or that he didn't think the civilians had a chance in hell of winning.