Beware, this review contains spoilers!
Commando is a non-stop, stunt-filled, action-packed smackdown showcasing what a true master of India’s indigenous fighting style, Kalaripayattu is capable of -one which will sadly bypass the wide-theatrical release in Western nations that it truly deserves. (The fact that we so rarely see a theatrical release at all of action films from the Far East here in the west is infuriating enough, but that’s a rant for another day!)
Leading man duties fall to the capable hands of Vidyut Jamwal, portraying the protagonist, Karan Dogra. He had previously worked as a model and held mostly villainous roles before scoring his first lead here, and he is more than up to the challenge. Former Miss India, Pooja Chopra makes her film debut here as Simrit Kaur. She exists somewhere between damsel-in-distress and comic relief, and her character is likeable but her vapid personality causes Karan to be initially somewhat indifferent towards her. Jaideep Ahlawat portrays the nefarious villain Amrit Kanwal, operating under the moniker of AK-74. A tyrant who rules over the local province through fear and intimidation, he has the villainous scowl down to a science!
During what is supposed to be a standard aerial training exercise, a helicopter carrying a cadre of India’s Para Commandos crash lands in a river on Chinese soil. The lone survivor, Karan Dogra, is taken into custody by local authorities who suspect him of being a spy. With the wreckage of the chopper having washed away, Karan is unable to convince the local authorities of his innocence, and his superiors decide to save face by disavowing all knowledge of his existence. After enduring a year of torture while in captivity, Karan manages to escape across the Indian border, where he shortly thereafter literally bumps into Simrit, the daughter of a local politician on the run from extortionist, AK-74. The nefarious crime boss wants to marry Simrit in order to consolidate his stranglehold on the local province through her father’s political connections. Karan just sees the situation as an opportunity to unleash a year’s worth of pent up rage, but after he flattens about a dozen of AK’s henchmen, Simrit quickly realizes she’s found the ideal bodyguard, and press-gangs Karan into guiding her out of town. Karan puts up little resistance, since he’s headed in the same direction to settle the score with his military superiors who abandoned him when he needed help. However, the two narrowly escape another encounter with AK’s gang, and manage to take refuge in the forest to the north.
By now, AK realizes that Karan provides a serious threat to his myth of invincibility among the locals he lords over, and vows to have him publicly hanged. Karan agrees with Simrit to bring AK down after hearing of the intimidation and fear he wages over the province. Karan fights off wave after wave of the villains’ forces, but he and Simrit are eventually cornered, after which AK captures Simrit, shoots Karan in the stomach and tosses him into a river. AK-74 reinforces his stranglehold on the area by publicly murdering Simrit’s parents. Meanwhile, Karan, having survived the fall, is discovered by a group of locals who nurse him back to health. He returns to the town, and decimates AK’s entire gang, along with an assassin sent by the Chinese government to take him out. Karan then captures and publicly beats AK in the town square, admonishing the locals that his invincibility was always a myth, before hanging the gangster for all to see. The local police who are in AK’s pocket are prepared to arrest Karan, but his commanding officer arrives to come to his aide, violating orders from his own superiors to kill Karan in order to cover up their mishandling of his earlier capture. Karan explains to Simrit that although he has evaded the local law enforcement under AK’s, he will still be court-martialed for his killing of AK, but he promises to return to her upon his release.
The opening title card reveals that the many stunts and fights in the film were executed by leading man Vidyut Jamwal completely without the aid of doubles or wires, save for one scene involving a dive into a valley, and admonishes the viewer not to attempt anything they will see. Right away, Commando is letting the audience know that the gloves are off. This is exactly the kind of film that propelled guys like Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa to superstardom – on top of more traditional martial arts combat, they stuffed their films with death-defying stuntwork that even Evel Knievel would have balked at! They poured their blood, sweat, and tears into not only perfecting the action but making sure that the audience knew that they had put themselves right in the middle of it.
Vidyut Jamwal practically breathes that kind of charisma and athleticism, and his handling of the film’s abundant action sequences is quite exceptional. Judged simply on the stunt work throughout the film, Commando wins. You don’t need any outtakes over the credits to see that more than a few of the film’s more wince-inducing moments are genuine, and it’s testimony to the careful coordination that has gone into making the action as safe as possible without sacrificing its impact.
However, the meat and potatoes of the film lies in the martial arts combat, and here again, Jamwal proves himself to be a confident pro. For many action fans in the west, Commando will likely mark the first opportunity they have had to see possibly the oldest martial art in existence (Kalaripayattu) put to use on film,. A life-long student of the art, Jamwal clearly comes from the Scott Adkins’ school of gravity-defying martial arts mastery. His agility in combat often betrays his slender, tall frame along with the serious muscular armaments he carries, these don’t stop him from thumbing his nose at gravity. And like the best martial arts films, Commando finds a decent balance between beauty and power, given the action eschews the brutality of “The Raid” while often equaling it in the intensity stakes.
Commando should certainly not be missed by anyone with an interest in the action and martial arts genre! Western audiences unfamiliar with Bollywood films may be somewhat put-off by the handful of song-and-dance numbers in the film (the three that come before the end credits take up fifteen minutes of the film’s two hour running time between them)! Hopefully, this will not dampen the film’s appeal for westerners overly! Anyone in the mood for non-stop, stunt-laden martial arts action sans wires has come to the right place. Vidyut Jamwal cements himself as a force to be reckoned with among rising action heroes like Scott Adkins, Iko Uwais, Shi Yanneng, and Marko Zaror. Fingers- crossed that he gets to star alongside some of them before too long –bring it on!
- One of Vidyut Jamwal’s previous roles was the character Vishnu in the film, “Force”. The poster for “Force” can be seen in the background at several points during the bus station fight.
- Franz Spilhaus served as fight choreographer for the film. His previous credits include stunt work and stunt coordination on such films as “Flight of the Phoenix”, “Dracula 3000”, “District 9”, and “Dredd”.