Universal Soldier (1992)

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Universal Soldier (1992)

Post  BoG on Sun Oct 12, 2014 2:14 am


When this first came out and even before, in previews, it seemed to me an attempt to recapture the look and feel of Jim Cameron's Terminator 2 (91). That's not a bad way to go, even if you end up with a pale imitation.  The concept is not quite the same - instead of cyborgs we have here Unisols, short for Universal Soldiers, another in a long line of attempts to create the perfect soldiers (see also Soldier of only a few years later, with Kurt Russell as the title character).  Unisols are dead Vietnam Veterans, revived in some manner and kept in cold storage until needed for some special mission.  They have enhanced strength and regenerative abilities, but also tend to overheat after a short time of being active (hence, back to cold storage). They also have no memories of their old lives and are little more than automatons. Two of these humorless killers are played by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.
The film begins during the waning days of the war in Vietnam.  Van Damme & Lundgren - corporal & sergeant - are at odds with each other because Lundgren has gone off the deep end in the jungle, and they end up killing each other. However, their bodies are packed in ice and - quick flash forward to the present - there's this huge para-military truck which functions as a mobile control center, dispatching a squad of Unisols to deal with some terrorists. Though their memories have been wiped, the Unisols (Van Damme & Lundgren at least) seem to retain their basic personality traits: Lundgren tends to be extra vicious in his work. Van Damme also seems to begin regaining some memory. Enter nosy TV journalist Ally Walker and soon Van Damme is on the run with her - first from the military in general, but later from the still psychotic Lundgren.
This was an early effort from the writer-director team of Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich, who later gave us Stargate (94) and Independence Day (96). As with those, this is designed as crowd-pleasing entertainment. It was something of a casting coup to get Van Damme & Lundgren to square off against each other here; each was at the peak of his career at this time and it was like a sci-fi action film version of the top two fighters in the WWF in final battle. Van Damme is the best fighter but Lundgren is just huge and more powerful. Both also give better-than-expected performances, injecting some needed humor, so that Ally Walker didn't have to carry that part all by herself. Lundgren, in particular, seems to be enjoying himself. Though there's some cartoon-style violence, there's also enough bloodshed that Lundgren poses a real threat at some points - he really does look like someone who can snap your neck too easily. It veers sideways a bit in the climactic fight; I heard they re-shot this to extend it and give it more 'oomph' but it's still the weakest portion of the picture, full of clichés, like Van Damme standing up in slow-mo after he's supposedly had it.
This does have a strong beginning - a nearly haunting retread of the Vietnam War - and you might get a slight chill when the 2 dead soldiers are abruptly reintroduced in modern times. And when they zip up those body bags in Vietnam in the first act, seeming to close the story on the 2 before it even begins, you may think, this could be good. It kind of was.  BoG's Score: 7 out of 10 @  Universal Trivia: there were various sequels - a couple of direct-to-video sequels with different actors in 1998 and also one with Van Damme, Universal Soldier:The Return (1999).  Van Damme & Lundgren then both returned much later in more sequels in 2009 & 2012.
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