In a search for forgotten space junkyard, I’d forgotten the Kurt Russell film Soldier. It’s not a great film but it is a curiosity. The cast is surprisingly good for a film that feels like the long tail of 1980s SF action movies that somehow reached into the late 1990s. You can see a young Connie Neilsen, Jason Issac and Sean Pertwee, as well as an underused Jason Scott Lee.
The film is connected to Blad Runner by the writer David Webb Peoples who conceived the plot as a kind of shared-universe story with Ridley Scott’s film which he co-wrote. The style and depth of the film are not comparable to Blade Runner but there are multiple Easter egg connections including references to locations like the Tannhauser Gate and apparently the wreckage of a Blade Runner vehicle in one of the junk piles. Thematically the connection is via Kurt Russell’s character, a bio-engineered super-soldier raised from infancy to be a killing machine. Not a replicant as such but the film works as if the soldiers are replicants.
Kurt Russell plays the titular soldier whose early life and career are shown in a clunky montage at the start of the film. He and his platoon are under the command of Gary Busey (being Gary Busey) as part of a nearish future space military whose purpose goes unspecified. Unfortunately, the arrival of Jason Issacs wearing a pencil moustache heralds the obsolescence of Kurt’s platoon – Issacs has a new model of a soldier who is even more soulless killing machines and has bigger muscles, epitomised by Jason Scott Lee. Busey is sceptical and so Issacs pits Russell against Scott Lee in a series of challenges. Russell is left for dead and is thrown in the trash…
Cut to Arcadia 234 – a junkyard planet! Kurt Russell is part of the trash being dumped on the planet but it seems he isn’t as dead as he might have first thought! Recovering sufficiently to survive being dumped from an automated trash-dumping spaceship, Russell eventually finds a community of castaways on the junkyard planet.
Arcadia 234 is a classic case of the future junkyard. The people who live there, recycle the junk into useful products. They themselves have been abandoned and forgotten. Russell’s character has literally been dumped there as an outdated product.
The visuals aren’t always convincing but there’s a nice establishing shot at one point which shows the remains of a big aircraft carrier in the background – which on a smaller scale is reminiscent of the ruined spaceships of Jakkuu in The Force Awakens.
Sadly Russell’s character struggles to fit in with the castaways, confused by his PTSD (sort of) and attraction to Connie Nielsen’s character (which is communicated by him staring at her creepily) and occasional violence. Just when things look bad for him, the space army people arrive on the planet for training exercises and Jason Issacs decides to kill the castaways for no particular reason. The rest of the film involves Kurt Russell klling the bad guys.
The film never quite makes good and never quite gets to cheesy-but-funny. The director Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with way too many other directors called Anderson) has made better films but it isn’t unwatchable. There’s a sketch of a better film there but it feels like a Paul Verhoeven movie without the ironical/cynical/satirical bite. It wants to both be anti-war and anti-militarism and also be a bad-ass film about futuristic soldier fighting each other for the heck of it.
Still for 10 out of 10 for a junkyard planet.