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Jan 9, 2007

Han Solo, ha! If I'm around, you don't need that guy.

Originally posted this in Blockbuster Video, but that subforum fizzled out and the thread is now locked. I still wanna talk about Universal Soldier, so I;m bringing it back!!!

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If you've not seen Universal Soldier, I don't blame you--there are so many other superior action movies. for those not in the know, it was an okayish early 90s action movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren that rips off Terminator heavily (it also happens to be one of Roland Emmerich's first movies).

The plot revolves around a secret US military project that takes the corpses of recently deceased American soldiers--in this case two dead Vietnam soldiers (Van Damme as Luc Deveraux and Lundgren as Andrew Scott)--and resurrects them as super soldier zombies to use for counter-terrorism. Things seem all good at first until the super soldiers (UniSols) start having fragments of their memories return. This causes issues when Scott starts to believe he's still in Vietnam and starts killing people indiscriminately. This leads to a showdown between Deveraux and Scott where Scott eventually gets thrown into a hay harvester and shredded into tiny bits.

The film doesn't really deal with the hosed up existential crisis of creating zombies from former soldiers and them regaining their memories. Mostly it's just some cheesy one-liners and action sequences. The scene where Deveraux beats up an entire small town diner because he "just wants to eat" is pretty funny. Also, watching Lundgren ham it up is pretty great:

Anyways, the film underperformed in theatres, despite opening up at #2 (behind A League of their Own), and has a 25% on Metacritic and a 6.0 on IMDB. It's definitely "Okay". If you watch it, try and count how many scenes from Terminator it absolutely rips off.

In the end, Universal Soldier did good enough to warrant a sequel. Here's where it gets weird. First, the studios wanted to do a miniseries for TV to hopefully lead into a new film sequel. This led to two made-for-TV sequels that don't have any of the original cast. Deveraux is played by Matt Battaglia and chronicles his continued adventures to expose and stop the UniSol program. I never saw these and they look like hot poo poo. The only thing noteworthy in either of them that I can see is that Universal Soldier II has Gary Busey in it and Universal Solider III has Burt Reynolds in it. They have a 3 and a 3.4 on IMDB respectively.

Sorry, Busey...

It's safe to ignore these two films; the Universal Soldier franchise did. In 1999, they went ahead and made a sequel to the first movie that brought back Jean Claude Van Damme, Universal Soldier: The Return:

This movie sucks hot poo poo.

After the events of the first film, Deveraux has his cybernetic implants removed to become a normal not-zombie human. He goes to work for the US government's new UniSol program where he meets a new love interest and has a daughter... his zombie genetics still work, I guess. The new UniSol program is run in part by an AI named SETH (Self-Evolving Thought Helix) in order to make stronger and faster super soldiers, such as Michael Jai White and WCW's Bill Goldberg. The conflict happens when SETH learns that the US government is going to shut down the UniSol program due to budget cuts. SETH takes over the facility, kills most everyone (including Deveraux's love interest), and kidnaps Deveraux's daughter. The US military is powerless to stop Bill Goldberg and Michael Jai White, so Deveraux gets his zombie cyborg implants stuck back in because only a UniSol can defeat a UniSol.

This movie sucks hot poo poo.

The scene where Goldberg rips off his shirt and beats up security guards and orderlies who are totally not wrestlers I swear is alright I guess, but none of the schlock is really worthwhile and all the gratuitous violence and nudity isn't going to save it. It's got a 4.1 on IMBD and a 5% on Rotton Tomatoes. It wound up being JCVD's last wide release film for over a decade (he eventually made his comeback with The Expendables 2).

So you think the Universal Soldier franchise would be dead by this point, right?

Like the regenerating zombie soldiers the film series is named after, it just keeps coming back. In 2009, the series was rebooted once again. John Hyams, son of direction Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, 2010, Timecop, and Outland), directed a direct-to-video sequel which brought back JCVD and Dolph Lundgren. It wisely ignored all previous sequels and wound up being a pretty solid low budget action film, Universal Soldier: Regeneration.

That blurb on the film cover, "best of the Universal Soldier" movies? Yeah, low bar to clear, but I assure you it's pretty solid. The plot starts with a group of terrorists kidnapping the Ukrainian PM's son and daughter and setting up shop in the Chernobyl reactor, threatening to detonate it unless their vague demands are met. They also have the advantage of being stockpiled with a bunch of Next-Generation UniSols (NGUs), with the lead one being played by MMA fighter Andrei Arlovski.

When a joint US/Ukrainian taskforce fails to stop them, they turn to Deveraux for help. Since the events of the first movie, Deveraux has been in therapy to deal with the fact that he's a loving zombie and hopes to be rehabilitated back into society. Of course, that doesn't happen and he joins the fight to take down the terrorists, defeating the NGU and taking on a cloned and upgraded version of Andrew Scott along the way. At the end of the movie, Deveraux just walks away from it all, done with all this poo poo like a proper action movie hero.

Regeneration sits at a 5.2 on IMDB, but a 70 on Metacritic--though with only 4 reviews. Pretty solid, by no means amazing, but at this point I think most people have either written off or forgotten about this franchise. One review accurately sums up the film as being "solid b-movie action" from start to finish; there's a great scene where Van Damme 360 no-scopes his way through an entire army. It did great for a direct-to-video movie, though, and has developed a bit of a cult following, prompting another sequel directed by Hyams, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. (Actually, maybe don't watch the trailer. It does an EXTREMELY piss poor job of portraying what the is like. Watch the trailer to Apocalypse Now for a better idea...)

Day of Reckoning takes the franchise in a weird direction. People looking for something good and different tended to like it, while die hard fans of the very first Universal Soldier weren't necessarily happy with the outcome. After the events of Regeneration, Deveraux has gone rogue, freeing UniSols and NGUs from US government control, and formed a terrorist group. Their goal is to take on the US government and military, exposing the UniSol program, and ending the pain they are creating by making zombie and clone super soldiers.

The twist here is that Deveraux is set up as the antagonist.

Instead, Scott Adkins is the protagonist. He plays one of the US government's cloned UniSols and has been given fake memories to make him want to hunt down and murder Deveraux. Andrew Scott makes a return, this time as Deveraux's 2nd-in-command, and a bearded Arlovski returns as the NGU. The film plays out like a re-imagining of "Heart of Darkness" by way of Apocalypse Now (hence my earlier reference), with Deveraux playing the role of Kurtz. In the end, Deveraux is defeated but the US military doesn't win, as his weird free UniSol merc army idea lives on under Adkins.

It's campy, like the first film, but is less sombre than Regeneration in favour of being more surreal. It's the best Universal Soldier film by virtue of being least like a Universal Soldier film. The action is excellent and overall this is a surprisingly good film for a low budget straight-to-video project. In particular, there's a great sports equipment store fight scene and Lundgren continues to chew the scenery whether in a fight scene or in an inspirational speech. It feels like a weird hodge podge of other action movies and ideas but manages to string them together into something bizarre enough that it's oddly compelling and hard to look away. Not perfect by any means. It's got the same gratuitous violence and nudity as previous films, is over-the-top machismo sometimes to its detriment, and excessive use of strobe lights* throughout--but it still manages to entertain.

*seriously, if you have photosensitive epilepsy, be warned

If this is the last Universal Soldier movie, then it's a drat great note to end on. It's got a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, probably the best score a Universal Soldier movie will ever get there, and a 5 on IMDB. Frankly, these scores are criminally low (perhaps a result of the overuse of strobe lights?). It's by no means perfect, but it's a drat good B-movie.

Just to be clear, there are three different Universal Soldier timelines:

The Cheap Made-For-TV poo poo Timeline
Universal Soldier -> Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms -> Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business

The Big Budget Box Office Bomb Timeline
Universal Soldier -> Universal Soldier: The Return

The "Wait, Aren't Movie Series Supposed to Get Worse With Sequels and Not Better???!" Timeline
Universal Soldier -> Universal Soldier: Regeneration -> Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

It's the third timeline that is good. Regeneration and Day of Reckoning are exceptionally good B-movie schlock. You should watch them if you like action movies.


Jan 9, 2007

Han Solo, ha! If I'm around, you don't need that guy.

i had to look up Eric Norris... didnt know he was Chuck Norris's kid! nor that he was such a prolific stuntman... or accomplished Nascar driver!

that anecdote is hilarious though. but with Lundgren, is it ironic or sincere?

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