I've never really been a fan of director Paul W.S. Anderson. So much so that I've systematically avoided all of the Resident Evil films after being extremely dissappointed with AVP. In fact, other than Death Race, I haven't seen any of his films in the last 20 years. And that's based solely on his very specific style of directing and overuse of bad CGI. I just can't stomach it. But then I remembered Event Horizon while I was browsing Hulu recently, and since it had been well over 20 years since I'd seen it, I figured why not give it another shot.....and I fucking loved it. It was like "Hellraiser in space", done to the nines and was a far better experience than I was expecting. That got me to thinking of some of his other early films I hadn't gotten to yet, namely Soldier, which was made the following year. So I felt that if he carried some of that same visual aesthetic over to Soldier, then I'm sure I'll dig it, even knowing Soldier was ultimately a flop.
Released in 1998, Soldier was Anderson's follow up to the sci-fi/horror classic Event Horizon. And even though Kurt Russell was still riding high following a string of hits, Soldier somehow failed. Even despite a kickass trailer that effectively used White Zombie's More Human Than Human, and displaying a barrage of kickass action, Soldier was a flop. So much so that Kurt Russell took a break from acting for a few years before returning with 3000 Miles to Graceland and Vanilla Sky in 2001. And I honestly can't explain why I avoided it all these years. I can surely attest to the fact that had I seen that trailer, I would have jumped on it immediately.
Soldier is another prime example that Anderson was once a great visual director. In fact, you can easily count his first 3 big budget Hollywood films (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon and Soldier) among his best. Somehow for some reason his style changed drastically following Resident Evil, and it's the same visual aesthetic he's retained ever since, except for Death Race, which was surprisingly awesome. It might be partly due to the fact that he didn't use any CGI (from what I can remember), and it was just a big, loud fun action flick that reminded me why Anderson was so good in the first place. It may also be because Anderson, like most directors, transitioned from film to digital cameras, thus changing the "look" of his films entirely. Sadly Death Race was but a brief detour from his now usual "digital style" and he would go right back to overused CGI, slow-motion and uninspired camerawork.
One of the things that constantly surprised me was the familiar faces. Starting with Russell, who spoke less than 2 minutes of dialogue in the entire film. Here he's big (literally the biggest you've ever seen him, and ripped), tough and more of a robot than anything. But Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) as the main villain was awesome, as was the inclusion of Gary Busey, Jason Isaac's, Michael Chiklis, Connie Nielson, and Sean Pertwee (Gotham), who were all welcome surprises.
All in all, Soldier was a pleasant surprise. It was stylish in a way I hadn't anticipated from Anderson, and full of rock-solid action both big and small. The production design was impressive, as were the plethora of practical effects and pyrotechnics. The film slowed down a tad in the middle, but was able to recover nicely in the last act to deliver a wholly satisfying finale full of spectacle.
One thing I did not know going in was that it was written by David Webb Peoples, who is most famous for writing Blade Runner and Unforgiven. Peoples has stated that Soldier exists in the same universe as Blade Runner, acting as sort of a side-quel. In fact, highly observant viewers can spot many nods to Blade Runner throughout, even the famous spinner, while experts will also point out that Peoples wrote this screenplay around 1982/83 when Blade Runner was hitting theaters, but kept getting shelved when actors and directors originally interested on the project passed. While all this is fascinating, I just found it to be a really great sci-fi/action film that delivered in a way that I was not expecting. I half-expected to trodge my way through it, thinking I would probably be playing on my phone half the time. But no. I was invested from the very start, and the film never failed to deliver the action goods. It was a good old fashioned time in the action department, and a reminder of the type of quality that Paul W.S. Anderson was able to deliver many years ago.