Thursday, May 17, 2012

Scum and Villainy I - Bennett (Commando)

Part I in an examination of filmic villains.

Bennett – Commando (1985) directed by Mark L. Lester

Commando is the most pared down of all 1980s action films. The plot is matchstick thin. Bad guys have kidnapped Arnold Schwarzengger’s daughter. Arnie’s got to get her back! Playing the preposterously named ‘John Matrix’, he stomps around (frequently shirtless), physically living up to his description as a “condom full of walnuts” to a bizarre synth n’ steel drum soundtrack.

Almost everyone talks up the homoerotic subtext to this film, I refuse to do this. The homoeroticism is blatantly part of the overt text. Arnie is depicted as the epitome of masculinity – he effortlessly dispatches most of the bad guys, variously portrayed as sleazy yuppies or faceless Latin-American soldiers. He needs a nemesis, someone who can match him in a mano a mano physical brawl. Enter Bennett.

"I can beat you!  I don't need the girl HAHAHA!  I DON'T NEED THE GIRL!"
Bennett, played by Vernon Wells, is a strange yet somehow appropriate nemesis for Arnie. Despite his oiled up posing and huge phallic guns, as a character, Matrix’s sexuality is deeply, deeply repressed in the film. We never see, or even hear mention of, his daughter’s mother, and there is zero romantic chemistry with his spunky female sidekick.

Bennett on the other hand, is explicitly portrayed as a twisted ball of violent, aggressive homosexuality who wants nothing more than to stick his knife into our hero. Saying that he’s a bit gay is like saying Niagara Falls is a bit wet. If Arnie is every red-blooded Reaganite’s muscles and guns power fantasy, then Bennett is their 3am nightmare, waking them to soiled sheets and panicky self-justifications.

"You want to know something?  When I found out I could get my hands on you, I said I'd do it for nothing."
Just look at the guy! It’s like a checklist of 1980s cliché gayness – he’s got the Village People moustache, a bizarre chain mail vest, a vaguely bondagey chain around his neck. He sweatily inhabits every scene he’s in, frequently becoming furious, tumescent and red – as if his podgy body is becoming one giant throbbing erection. He’s the kind of grotesque caricature that dances lasciviously in the dreams of self-hating right-wing bigots.

"I can kill you John!!"
Finally it comes down to it. In the hot and humid basement of the bad guy’s lair they square off, knife against knife. Inevitably, our Aryan superman defeats Bennett by ramming a steamy pipe into him. No comment.

"Let off some steam, Bennett."

The nightmare dragon of homosexuality slain, our hero hops in his chopper to a happy new familial future. Bennett may be dead and gone, but I like to imagine him living on in John Matrix’s consciousness, forever taking revenge by popping into his mind during every depressingly puritan bout of bad sex.

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