What are you going to do?
I'm going to kill them all, sir!
From the moment of his birth in 1996, Todd (Kurt Russell of "Breakdown") has been trained to follow orders without question. Drained of all humanity and emotion through a lifelong mental and physical conditioning program, this killing machine lives only to ruthlessly achieve the objectives that have been laid out by his superiors, without any regard to their consequences. Being the best of his breed, Todd has led his men successfully into battle on numerous occasions, for the greater glory of his government.
However, at the age of forty, Todd and his men have outlived their usefulness and are about to be replaced. Stronger and faster, the new genetically engineered soldiers are vastly superior to their predecessors. During a demonstration of the abilities of this new breed, Todd is pitted against his counterpart, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee of "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story"). Unfortunately, Todd is no match for Caine, and is left for dead after the brawl.
When finally Todd comes to, he finds that he has been disposed of onto a garbage planet in some forgotten part of the galaxy. After exploring his new surroundings, he stumbles across a settlement where a group of peaceful colonists have made their home after their ship had crashed many years prior. It is here where he is nursed back to health by Mace (Sean Pertwee of "Event Horizon") and his wife Sandra (Connie Nielsen).
Cut off from the chain of command and without any battles to fight, the long-dormant humanity within Todd is reawakened. He slowly begins to experience the emotions that had been long denied, and slowly learns how to function within a social environment. However, the adjustment is not easy. The psychological trauma inflicted by his many years of programming are not easily erased, and he finds it difficult to reconcile his cutthroat reflexes with his new surroundings. Likewise, many of the settlers are fearful of the silent stranger in their midst, and that he poses a threat to their safety. To further complicate the situation, Caine 607 and his compatriots have landed on the garbage planet for a routine security patrol, with orders to deem anyone they come across as hostile.
"Soldier", at heart, is a reworking of the Western genre. This genre, which was in its heyday in the Fifties and part of the Sixties, has always been troublesome in recent years, with very few films achieving financial success and critical and critical acclaim (such as "Unforgiven" and "Dances with Wolves"). There have also been numerous attempts to take the underpinnings of the Western and place them into another genre, or infuse them with a Nineties sensibility, both of which have met with limited success (such as "Last Man Standing" and "The Quick and the Dead"). "Soldier" attempts to transplant "Shane" into a science fiction setting... which works with limited success.
"Soldier" begins promisingly enough as an examination of a man rediscovering his humanity, doing his best to learn the rules of interaction after having lived his entire life in virtual isolation. Furthermore, with his socially challenged character's dialogue limited to less than 100 words for the entire film, Russell must rely on physical acting and use subtleties in his facial expression in order to convey the conflicting emotions that Todd experiences. And as Todd attempts to fit into a cooperative consisting of avowed pacifists, the settlers also begin to re-examine their own attitudes against Todd's presence and his role within their community.
Unfortunately, all these noble intentions go to pot when Caine and his cronies hit the ground and start shooting. Is Todd faced with a moral dilemma arising from displacement of loyalties? Does Todd teach the settlers how to fend for themselves? Does Todd find redemption for the sins committed in his previous life? No.
Instead, "Soldier" turns into an Eighties Rambo throwback with an 'us' vs. 'them' mentality and Todd single-handedly dropping the bad guys and going mano-a-mano against Caine. Instead of acting as a point of convergence for the various thematic threads introduced in the first two acts, or as a test as to how much Todd has been changed by his experiences, the third act is merely a cathartic exercise in pyrotechnics and bloodshed, discarding whatever promise the movie had.
Which is surprising, given that David Webb Peoples was the scribe, having penned many provocative screenplays in his time, including "Unforgiven", "Twelve Monkeys", and "Blade Runner". In fact, astute viewers may notice a number of "Blade Runner" references in "Soldier", including Todd's military record reflecting service in the 'Battle of Tannhauser Gate', and a scrapped "Blade Runner" police car rusting away. People's considers "Soldier" to take place in the same 'universe' as "Blade Runner". Unfortunately, while "Blade Runner" was an interesting existential look at what it means to be human, "Soldier" is not as provocative in exploring the 'nature vs. nurture' debate.
Despite what you may have heard, "Soldier" is not as bad as they say. While it did convey the sense that it was trying to be more intelligent than it looks, it decided to eschew weightier issues in the name of more slam-bang entertainment. At best, "Soldier" is a mediocre effort, and a disappointing one at that.