Review: Paul W.S. Anderson’s Sci-Fi Actioner SOLDIER Finally Deserves Reappraisal

4 out of 5 stars

Paul W.S. Anderson’s $60 million sci-fi actioner, Soldier fizzled on its release in 1998, grossing just $14.5 million at the U.S. box office. It also faced the indignity of being dumped straight to DVD/video in the U.K., where (at the time) it became the most expensive film ever to avoid a cinematic release. We’re now a quarter of a century on, and Soldier finally deserves a reappraisal. The Kurt Russell starrer is actually a hugely entertaining and visually arresting piece of science fiction cinema – at the centre of it is a bold performance from Russell – one in which he only speaks 104 words. 

Written by David Webb Peoples as a response to seeing James Cameron’s The Terminator, Soldier follows Todd 3465 (Russell), a futuristic soldier who is dumped and left for dead on the waste planet of Arcadia 234 after his unit is replaced by a team of genetically engineered super soldiers. Taken in by colonists, Todd slowly learns about humanity and emotion from a young family. However, when the super soldiers who replaced him arrive on Arcadia 234 for a training exercise that will wipe out Todd’s newfound community, he decides to protect them – and seek revenge on those who left him for dead. 

Unfairly dismissed back in 1998, Soldier excels in its simplicity. Not only does it use well-honed sci-fi tropes to set the scene, but Anderson’s film also uses motifs from the Western genre (particularly Shane) to help show how Russell’s Todd 3465 finds humanity against the background of a bleak and brutal landscape. David Webb Peoples is a screenwriter who knows both of these genres, having written Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, as well as Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi work, Blade Runner. In fact, Soldier shares much DNA with Blade Runner because Anderson and his production team ensured that the film included many easter eggs which show that both titles take place in a shared universe. 

Kurt Russell is excellent in the lead, delivering stoic heroics. He has few words, crafting his performance with his eyes and athletic frame. You could argue that Soldier might have made more money if Russell’s character was more sympathetic and had more dialogue, but that would have taken away from his brave turn. He is supported by Jason Scott Lee, Jason Isaacs, Connie Nielsen, Sean Pertwee and the always good value Gary Busey. Isaacs in particular makes for a wonderful moustache-twirling villain – a great foil for Russell’s rock-like hero. 

It might not have been a box office hit on its release, and the critics might have given it a good kicking, but Soldier is a film just waiting to be dusted off and finally given the respect it deserves. Make sure that you’re not the last one to see it – and seek out this genuine cult classic right now.