This weekend, America’s favorite comic-book super soldier gets his own movie as “Captain America: The First Avenger” brings the Marvel superhero to the big screen. The idea of the super soldier, however—someone enhanced beyond normal human powers for the express purpose of fighting— is nothing new. Here is a list of the Top 10 coolest movie super soldiers in movies leading up to “Captain America: The First Avenger.” If you would like to contribute a cool movie Top 10, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, you gotta start somewhere, right? A part of Project Adam, Todd 3465 (Kurt Russell) has been trained from birth through extreme mental and physical means to be a soldier, but some new genetically-engineered soldiers with a complete lack of human emotions are about to take his place. Commander Gary Busey orders Todd to fight one of these new super soldiers, and after he is defeated, dumps Todd’s wounded body on a waste disposal planet. Hmmmmm. Guess who’s gonna get revenge? Paul W.S. Anderson directed this movie before he became known for marrying Milla Jovovich and directing half of the “Resident Evil” series. This movie offers up just as much in terms of great dialogue. Yahoo! Movies says Russell spoke only 79 words over the course of the 99 minute-film, 11 of which are “sir,” for a total of 24 lines of dialogue, the longest being “Affirmative, two, report to nine and commence firing.” Super, indeed.
Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme are UniSols: genetically augmented soldiers with enhanced healing abilities and superior strength who wear a ridiculous mechanical device over their left eye. Hmmm…I wonder if this violent jarhead action pic was at all influenced by “The Terminator”? In their previous lives before they were cryogenically frozen in a secret military program, Lundgren and Van Damme were U.S. soldiers—enemies who actually killed each other in the Vietnam War. These UniSols are given a neural serum to keep their old memories suppressed, but when they start to surface, everybody in their way is in for a rude awakening, except for when they begin to overheat and shut down—which happens a lot apparently. Bad design, I guess. Lundgren is a psychopathic killing machine, while Van Damme gets to be all sensitive in the end. Meanwhile, sweet supporting players like Tommy “Tiny” Lister and Jerry Orbach liven things up.
Genetically cloned from feared bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temura Morrison), these ‘fighting machines’ made up the bulk of the Army of the Republic in the Clone Wars. Clone troopers’ genes were all manipulated to support accelerated aging, making them grow and mature twice as fast as normal humans. Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) thought something was up and went he went to the ocean planet of Kamino (populated by long-necked alines with no ethics), he tried to look into it, saying “What the stink are they doing in there?” When Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) turned them against their Jedi commanders, many over CGI-ed battles were born. The clone troopers were faceless, helmeted mass, but they were still more threatening than those damned annoying battle droids.
There are two different movies, two different Dr. Bruce Banners (Eric Bana and Edward Norton, respectively) and two different origins for Marvel’s big green guy. In the 2003 Ang Lee-directed “Hulk,” Bruce’s father David Banner (Nick Nolte) combined human and animal DNA in an experiment that was designed to create soldiers that could survive anything. He ended up screwing things up for both he and his son, resulting in a big green CGI power struggle with the actor’s voices yelling at each other inoverdubs. (The film still sports some of the most creative comic-book-like editing techniques, though.) In “The Incredible Hulk,” Banner was unknowingly trying to recreate the same super-soldier serum that created Captain America back in World War II. (General Ross, played by William Hurt, told him it was a gamma radiation immunity experiment.) Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) turns into the behemoth Abomination (a stronger version of Hulk that heals faster as well) after being injected with a frozen sample of the original serum and some of Banner’s blood. In the upcoming “Avengers” movie, the Hulk will be played by Mark Ruffalo, and I’m assuming they’ll stick with the Captain America storyline for continuity’s sake.
These three escaped skin jobs are biorobotic beings genetically designed by the Tyrell Corporation to have differing abilities, all of them superior to humans. Leon (Brion James) is a strong but simple combat model, while Roy (Rutger Hauer) is a self-sufficient combat model with superior intelligence. Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) supposedly specializes in political homicide although she looks like a “basic pleasure” model, and Pris (Daryl Hannah) has an acrobatic head-to-hip fight scene with Harrison Ford that proves she must be some sort of combat unit as well. The whole theme of “Blade Runner” revolves around what it means to be human, so it should be no surprise that the origins of the replicants in the movie are not clear. The opening crawl of the film says replicants are said to be the result of “advanced robot evolution,” but also that they were created by “genetic engineers.” Ironically, this movie was co-adapted by David Peoples, the same guy who wrote “Soldier” (see #10 above).
Joss Whedon’s Western-in-space TV series “Firefly” became this movie when it reached theaters, and it all centered around River Tam (Summer Glau), a hyper-intelligent and possibly psychic young girl who was secretly experimented on by the Alliance since the age of 14 in order to create the perfect assassin. She was subjected to all kinds of experiments behind closed doors, including surgeries that have left her emotionally unstable. After being rescued by her brother (Sean Maher), she tries to recuperate while constantly on the run with a motley crew of space vagabonds led by the cocky Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion).
She finally gets to unleash all her badassery in the final minutes of “Serenity,” fighting off hordes of enemies at a time and remaining virtually unscathed. (See image of her wielding battle axe and sword with piles of dead bodies strewn below her.)
When Peter Jackson brought this advanced breed of super-soldierized Orcs to the screen to do the bidding of the evil Sauron and his wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), I was pretty convinced I had never seen anything so unstoppable and scary. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the books that the Uruk-hai were “bred from the heats and slimes of the earth,” so Jackson had Saruman breed them from fiery, hellish pits deep beneath Isengard in “The Fellowship of the Ring.” It’s as if they came directly from the womb screaming. Huge, muscle-bound creatures with stringy black hair and filthy, gnashing teeth, they were absolutely ferocious. They went on to kidnap the hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) and kill the honorable Boromir (Sean Bean) in the first movie, but after 10,000 of them set siege to Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers,” they were eventually defeated by every army that could be rustled up in all of Middle Earth. The huge walking trees known as Ents decimated all the Uruk-hai that were left at Isengard as well, and that—as they say—was the end of that.
The charming evil tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán)is a character who first appeared in the 1967 Star Trek episode “Space Seed,” but is more well known as the title character from the second “Star Trek” motion picture. Even though he is one of science-fiction’s classic bare-chested bad guys, what you may have forgotten is that Khan was a genetically engineered superman of Indian ancestry. Banished to a barren planet by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in the TV series, the Enterprise stumbles upon him again in the movie, where he controls Chekov and Terrell with eels that burrow into their ears! It looks pretty campy these days, but Montalban is having so much fun as Khan, that it’s impossible not to as well, even if it is impossible to believe that the 61-year old didn’t wear some kind of chest plate in the movie. Extra bit of fun: Khan was voted as one of the top ten greatest film villains of all time by the Online Film Critics Society.
Of course he’s a mutant, so he was born with great strength, superhuman healing powers, and animal-keen senses, but Wolverine’s mysterious past (and the reason he has a metal alloy adamantium skeleton and claws) come from the super-soldier program Weapon X. At a remote clandestine paramilitary genetic research facility, scientists experimented on captured mutants to turn them into weapons. In “X2: X-Men United,” Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) wakes up to the fact that he was kidnapped by military scientist Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) while they grafted the near-indestructible substance to his body. In “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” it’s even more explicitly laid out. Jackman is responsible for making Wolverine the badass that he is today, with his hard-nosed, take-no-shit, smart-ass attitude, he rises above the super soldier mode. (He’s also light years cooler than other Marvel Universe super soldiers from Project X in the movies: Deadpool, Sabretooth, and Lady Deathstrike)
Was there any doubt? First off, let me politely leave out the two sequels. Real “Robocop” fans don’t count those lame cash-ins that taint our hero’s legacy. In the first movie, veteran Detroit officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is viciously mutilated and left for dead by crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), only to re-emerge as RoboCop. Christ figure, anyone? As an answer to the unemployed, decaying Detroit’s skyrocketing crime, the megacorporation Omni Consumer Products (who runs the city’s now-privatized police department) took what was left of his face and brain and applied them to a cybernetic body, creating the ultimate super-soldier for law enforcement. The only problem is that RoboCop begins to, much like Wolverine, wake up to his human past. Despite being hidden by a helmet that takes up half his face, Weller manages to eek out every ounce of humanity from Murphy. And you know what? The movie holds up. Things haven’t gotten much better—look what awful things corporations continue to do today. Director Paul Verhoeven has a cynical and darkly funny sense of humor that make RoboCop (at least the one from the first film) the best super soldier in movie history. His look is still iconic today, and I really hope this remake I keep hearing about doesn’t screw that up. And what’s this about a RoboCop statue in Detroit?