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REVIEW: Universal Soldier (1992) – ManlyMovie

REVIEW: Universal Soldier (1992)

In 1969 in Vietnam, a U.S. Army Special Forces team is tasked to hold the fort from the invading Charlies. Private Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) notices that his Sergeant Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) has gone completely mental, with him making necklaces out of his victims’ ears. What should’ve been a verbal confrontation end up with both men shooting each other dead. Their corpses are recovered, sealed up by a shady military squad, and tagged MIA.

Fast forward 23 years later, in present-day U.S.A. in 1992. The Army has unveiled the Universal Soldier – or “UniSol” for short – counter-terrorist programme, where they use deceased and presumed missing military personnel with their memories wiped clean as highly-efficient killing machines. However, Deveraux’s memories come rushing back when he faces a comparable situation that led to his death, leading him to defy orders and go on the run along with an intrepid reporter (Ally Walker). While the UniSol Commander (Ed O’Ross) and a technician (Leon Rippy) discuss potential outcomes, Scott’s psychotic memories come fading back too, leading to a pathway of destruction and chaos that culminates in a mano-e-mano showdown between Deveraux and Scott.

This was one of those “dueling stars” movies where leading stars from certain genres are pitted against each other to see who is the better man, (Sly vs Snipes in Demolition Man, Travolta vs Cage in Face/Off, Captain America vs Iron Man in Civil War (I jest). The hype was fairly big back in the day; production company Carolco, responsible for the first three Rambo films and coming off hot off Terminator 2, was shaping this up to be another hit. They even had a promotional stint at the Cannes Film Festival of that year where both Van Damme and Lundgren had a minor spat that nearly led out to an all-out brawl in reality. Lundgren claims that it was merely for the movie’s publicity, so it goes.

Universal Soldier aims no more to be a slab of red-meat action, and to that end it succeeds brilliantly. Following the footsteps of T2UniSol 1 featured favoured a high-tech, industrial feel towards its approach, and it is all for the better. Resembling a hybrid of 1960s B-sci-fi movie and an A-grade 80s action movie, the film works because of its larger-than-life approach to its action sequences and black humor, the latter of which delivered in spades by Lundgren, who is having a total blast as the mentally insane Scott, never afraid of going over-the-top when it needs be. It makes for a brutally effective (and hilarious) villain. By comparison, Van Damme plays the usual straight-man hero well, but he is subdued by both Lundgren’s charismatic villain and the large-scale action. He would perform this character much better in the brilliant 2009 reboot Universal Soldier: Regeneration.

While Van Damme continued to prosper until the late 90s and Lundgren’s career never really took off after this one, the film was the start for bigger (and not necessarily better) things to come for director Roland Emmerich. He would later go on to direct mega-budget hits (usually in the disaster genre) such as StargateIndependence Day (and its terrible sequel Independence Day: Resurgence), Godzilla (1998), The Patriot starring Mel Gibson, The Day After Tomorrow2012, and White House Down. As Universal Soldier proved, he was more than a capable action director who knew how to shoot and cut juicy action sequences for entertainment’s sake – the intense desert chase that culminates in a gigantic military truck going over a cliff is proof positive. It’s a pity he didn’t really continue down the R-rated action path (The Patriot notwithstanding).

Universal Soldier turned 25 yesterday, spawning in its wake a cult franchise comprising of two TV-movie sequels (starring Burt Reynolds?!!), the retconned cheese-fest Universal Soldier: The Return (which effectively killed off Van Damme’s theatrical career), and the rebooted entries Regeneration and the whacked-out Day of Reckoning. While it may not end up as THE top-tier action film of the 90s (T2 and Speed still hold that crown in my opinion), it makes for an ultra-satisfying watch to this day. A great beer-and-steak movie, here’s to turning 25.

  • Mucho Macho

    1) I always enjoy your reviews comrade. Good job.
    2)25 years already?! Damn!
    I still remember going to this huge movie opera-house type movie theater that were still operating & were popular around that time still but it has been torn down since unfortunately. The theater had two stories and like a hundred foot screen and we got to watch this manly masterpiece projected in that screen…those were the days.
    3) 1992 had some cool manly movies come out that year.
    4) My only complain my amigo about your review if I had one, is that I would’ve given it a slighty higher rating. A 90s Van Damme manly classic 4 sure👍

    • AlTeo

      Thanks mate
      Yeah, time is really flying by, isn’t it?
      We were really spoilt for choice for movies back then, now we’re just struggling to find good new stuff.

      I’d say this would be in the top 5 Van Damme films for me. Hard Target, UniSol Regeneration, Sudden Death and Bloodsport make up the other four.

      • Mucho Macho

        I remember when I rented “UniSol Regeneration” with such low expectations expecting to be honest a DTV cash-grab-crap and just being so fucking surprised and pleased with it. I really think it’s one of the best DTVs or action movies this century, it kicks ass!

        It’s true friend, we were so spoiled back then.. if somebody can get a DeLorean to go back in time when it hits 88 miles an hour please let me know😎

  • Mucho Macho

    Fuckin’ Dolph Lundgren stole da mothafuckin’ show 4 sure!
    🔫https://youtu.be/z3cNiGMYvCk

    True story, a buddy of mine and I still quote this line whenever we run out of something.
    Fuckin classic
    🔫https://youtu.be/tpQUUKL58Cc

  • Mucho Macho
  • Andymovieman

    Best Roland Emmerich film alongside stargate, Independence Day, and the patriot. Best sci fi film alongside stargate and Independence Day. Best movie from Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren before reuniting on expendables 2.

  • Jeff

    Those were the days, man. Love this movie.

  • French Predator

    Great flick.Emmerich was a sort of pro gay director at the begining of his career but after that he directed a bunch of good flicks.

  • ColonelBobi

    As someone who loved the original but never watched any of the billion sequels are you saying Regeneration from ’09 is the best one or even the only one worth my time? Would appreciate some manly guidance here compadres. 😀

    • AlTeo

      I honestly think UniSol 3 is one of the best action movies of the 2000s, period, and the best of them all because of its stark, cheese-less, truly lean and mean streak throughout; it was cold, industrial, unflinchingly brutal and rock solid from the get go, loved every minute of it. The crisp action directing, smooth editing and graceful camera-work were just icings on the cake. It was big yet minimalist at the same time. Think something along the lines of Gareth Evans mixed with John Carpenter.

      Though I understand why other people may disagree with my opinion, I will still hold the opinion that Regeneration remains the best in the series. Proved that you can make gems out of a low budget and a lot of dedicated ambition.

      • ColonelBobi

        Thanks man I will seek it out. So UniSol 3 and Regeneration are the same movie right?

        • AlTeo

          Yep they are the same movie, as far as cinematic releases go, I’d always count UniSol 3 as Regeneration, even though I am aware that there is a TV movie sequel titled also “Universal Soldier III”, which I haven’t seen but I don’t think I have to… Haha

          But yes, Regeneration is gold.

          • ColonelBobi

            Cheers AlTeo and thanks also for the review. I just noticed it’s on Netflix too. Nice!

          • ColonelBobi

            I watched it. Not bad but I was disappointed with the usual DTV tricks of JCVD and Lundgren (especially Dolph) not being in the movie much. The main guy seemed to be the American that was shown to be a Unisol clone at the very end. As DTV’s go though this was a decent movie and well worth my time.

  • David Barber

    I saw this at school when I was 14. It was the last day of term and our teacher gave us a choice of either this or Basic Instinct and let me tell you that quite a few lads wanted to watch the latter but instead we watched Van Damme and Lundgren kick ass instead of Sharon Stone stabbing it! The film was terrific fun and by that point, I was already a Van Damme fan having seen Bloodsport, Kickboxer and AWOL thanks to my brother. I remember by the time I saw the ending, most of the other lads had been for their lunch but me and another lad watched it and he said “Good night, asshole!” after Dolph and Jean Claude said the same. A year later, a lad who was in my class said that he thought it was a crap film and that our teacher apparently thought so too, thinking it was unrealistic that a Belgian and a Swede were playing American soldiers!

    • AlTeo

      Must’ve been one hell of a good teacher to give you a choice between this and Basic Instinct…. Haha

      When I was in high school, it was either Disney movies or Vin Diesel’s xXx… Sad times even back then lol

      • David Barber

        He sure was. A good bloke and I remember he was an art teacher from Southern England. Another class watched Death Becomes Her I think which seemed cheesy to me (prefer Bruce Willis in action movies and thrillers). It was a great high watching UniSol then and I watched it before my brother who normally got hold of Van Damme’s movies before showing them to me. He could have seen it at the cinema himself as he was over 18 but I guess he thought it would be too much like an Arnie/Sly-style slam-bang actioner rather than a Van Damme martial arts epic.

  • TheOldMcClane

    great film, but the one negative is I wish they would have explained the process of reviving dead soldiers to be UniSols.