Universal Soldier (1992): Breakdown by Kain424
Using the bodies of “M.I.A.” Vietnam soldiers, the government creates a platoon of seemingly invincible super soldiers. When one begins to remember who he was in his past life and escapes, explosions, car chases, and fighting ensues in this epic versus film.
Versus films are tricky to pull off, especially in the Action genre. Fans take sides and budgets rise. And for what? Usually a couple stare-downs, no real fight between the two main players, and a cop-out ending. Universal Soldier is different, though. And while by many standards it’s a bad movie with corny dialog and a stupid premise, as these types of films go, it’s one of the best.
Originally to be directed by Code Of Silence director and Steven Seagal collaborator Andrew Davis, the movie ultimately went to Roland Emmerich. The choice is an odd one, seeing as Davis had experience working with Action stars and would go on to make the Academy Award winning The Fugitive. But perhaps the studio execs felt Emmerich’s work on the sci-fi cult film Moon 44 was just that good. Whatever the reason, Emmerich manages to pull it off with surprisingly little fanfare and no destruction of major landmarks. An impressive feat for the director of Independence Day.
As mentioned above, the story concerns the use of the bodies of soldiers who “died” in previous wars for the purpose of making an elite group of impervious weapons, powerful and only human enough to take orders without question. Lundren’s character was a soldier driven mad by the war in Vietnam and ended up killing the platoon under his command, Van Damme included. After being tested in the field, Van Damme and Lundgren begin to remember who they were and their rivalry is born anew.
The Action is fairly simplistic and a lot of it feels like Terminator-lite, but much of the film’s fun comes from an impressively energetic Dolph Lundgren. Completely stealing the show, this is easily my favorite role for the Dolphster. While everyone else is playing it straight and often quite gloomy, Lundgren is shouting, shooting, and screaming for more.
Perhaps with it being the first time he’d played a villain since Rocky IV, Dolph thought he’d play it the polar opposite of his usual stoic character. Easily the standout performance of the whole movie, I am honestly surprised he didn’t get more recognition, and certainly more mainstream work, after this.
Van Damme plays a slight variation on his usual noble-but-strangely-charming-and-innocent character. His performance shows that he could have very well been a terminator in a cheap follow-up to Terminator 2 (which this film almost is). Still, his acrobatics make for great fight scenes and his accent does much in giving the film some humor.
Though the Terminator comparisons are as inevitable as they are sometimes obvious, Universal Soldier ends up being such a nice ride that you really do forget. And that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. Aside from our leads, we get to see some smaller roles filled by respectable Action regulars like Ed O’Ross as the Colonel in charge of the super soldiers, Ralf Moeller returning again to a Van Damme film after his awesome demise in Cyborg, and in even smaller roles Tiny Lister and Chuck Norris’s kid Eric Norris as universal soldiers. Michael Jai White also appears (albeit very briefly), which is great as he’ll play a larger part in the film’s sequel.
For your buck you get explosions, shootouts, and multiple fights between JCVD and Lundgren. Is it worth it? Fuck yeah. How often do you get to see two great Action stars, in their PRIME, duke it out? Fucking never! You owe it as a fan of the genre to check this one out.
[HOW BAD-ASS ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS?]
Jean-Claude Van Damme is GR44 is Private Luc Deveraux
As I mentioned above, this one isn’t too much of a stretch for the Muscles From Brussels, but somebody had to play the straight man here and he does a fine job. Van Damme can fight and look good doing it, which is all that really matters. As for the character himself, he’s determined and hardy. A level-headed farmboy, he still manages to take out Dolph twice. So yeah, I’d say he’s a bad-ass.
Dolph Lundgren is GR13 is Sergeant Andrew Scott
Sgt. Scott is one mean hombre. After killing his unit in Vietnam, he slices off the ears of every one of them, making a gory necklace for himself. Absolutely convinced he’s still in the war, he’s having the time of his life. Facing the horror and trauma that comes with war, he embraces it, become madness and war itself. Not too sure if you can call it bad-ass, but he’s so fucking crazy and yet so dangerous you might as well let him have the title.
[THE BODY COUNT: 40]
While the movie starts with the aftermath of a grisly killing spree by Lundgren, most of the violence featured in Universal Soldier is fairly light. We do get squib hits and broken necks, but nothing too obscene. Still Dolph comes out on top with 18, while Van Damme ends the movie with 11. Both sets of kills can be viewed here.
Other than that, we are frequently shown the after effect of killings, with bodies strewn here and there. All in all, more corpses than it at first seems.
[MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING & DEATH]
The end fight, of course!
Finally blending Van Damme’s impressive acrobatics with Dolph’s power, we get to see two Action legends bust heads like the super soldiers they are. We get impossibly powerful punches, guys thrown through walls, helicopter kicks, violence and drama!
This is one of Action cinema’s best, if only to see these guys go at it. And damn is it worth it.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
While one could certainly read heavily into the rivalry of our two primary characters, the fact of the matter is they’ve essentially been turned into human robots. They show no connection with people in so far as either pain or love are concerned until near the end of the film, and as such they are clearly without sexual wants or needs. Van Damme gets groped by the female lead and doesn’t even flinch, and Lundgren spends the movie so far off his rocker and in war mode he hasn’t time for such matters.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
The character of Veronica Roberts, played by Ally Walker, is one of the most grating female add-ons I have ever had to bear. A chain-smoking, raspy-voiced reporter always trying to get “the big story”, she comes very near to undermining a lot of the fun. Still, she puts a bit of heart to the zaniness and plays as our lead-in to the goofy shenanigans.
But she still ends up getting captured and used against our hero. Times may be changing, but they haven’t changed yet.
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
While the bus chase sequence is thrilling, and the hotel escape exciting, I’d have to go with the supermarket scene for this one’s epic moment.
With the super soldiers’ transport vehicle damaged and Sgt. Scott the only one of those left regaining his sense of self, Scott is going absolutely nuts. He and the remaining surviving soldiers storm into a local supermarket looking for ice and supplies. Screaming about how his whole platoon is almost wiped out, he begins ranting out loud about the traitors amongst his ranks and the ever-presence of “Charlie.” All of this to the horror and bewilderment of the supermarket’s patrons. Four police officers attempt to subdue the raving Sgt. Scott, only to be nonchalantly killed by the maniac.
What’s so great about this moment is that it clearly establishes the fractured mindset of Lundgren’s character, while also revealing him as a major threat. And Dolph completely sells it.
After Van Damme defeats Lundgren, kicking him into the gears of a combine, he starts up the tractor. Before his foe can be completely chopped to bits, Jean-Claude unleashes this gem, so sublime in it’s awful rhyme it becomes awesome:
“You’re discharged, Sarge.”
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Dolph is great as a villain, and the only thing worse than war is the people who profit from it.
[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
[ ] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[ ] Dancing
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Special Move Involving Either The Splits or A Spinning Round-House Kick
[THE LIST OF LUNDGREN: 3 outta 5]
[ ] Ends The Movie Smiling
[X] Gets Captured
[ ] Screams While Shooting
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Teaches Values
[THE CHECKLIST: 17 outta 25]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[X] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[X] Unnecessary Sequel [Universal Soldier: The Return]
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice