Sunday, July 29, 2012

Universal soldiers

I watched Universal Soldier and the two so-called official follow-ups in expectation of writing a big piece on them. I even made a reference to this in this post.

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot to say.

Universal Soldier is a pretty pedestrian ripoff of The Terminator, with a bit of Robocop mixed in, although without the character or spark that made either of those movies worth standing the test of time.

In recent years, I've gotten a certain affection for both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, but I'm increasingly feeling like both of them needed to age and grow into having the gravity and presence they have today. I'm working my way slowly through their careers to confirm that theory.

This is one of those "don't embarrass yourself" movies. It's got a ridiculous concept of zombie/robot soldiers being made into the perfect soldiers and the one hunting the other, and all of the effort seems to have been put into making it so no one might feel they were involved in something silly enough to fit that description.

The first sequel, Universal Soldier: The Return is an improvement only in that it has some idea that it's trash. Unfortunately, Van Damme's character has been made human again. Yes, it's kind of like if Alex Murphy from Robocop was just taken out of the suit and restored to normal for Robocop 2.

That said, it's action packed, trashy and has Michael Jai White as S.E.T.H. (Self-Evolving Thought Helix), the computer program that eventual hijacks White's body, which was the perfect Universal Soldier. Unfortunately doing this involves a self-consciously wacky hacker character that I suspect was already out-of-date in 1999.

But it's one more sign that at least its makers had the balls to embarrass themselves.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration is easily the best of the series.

That's not saying it's that great, mind you.

The first thing it does do right is drop any mention of Universal Soldier: The Return or Van Damme being a normal person, recovered from the Universal Soldier program. And the second is to bring back Lundgren who was not asked back for the earlier sequel.

Unfortunately, there is not enough of either star in the movie, although there is plenty of suspense and a good sense of real drama to it all.

It appears returning director John Hyams, son of Peter Hyams, is bringing back both stars along with Scott Adkins for Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. Following the trend, this could be the best of them all.

Aside from that, Hyams clearly had a good sense of what the series needed. Perhaps if this follow-up will get him more money and more time with Van Damme and Lundgren, he could genuinely be able to deliver on the promise of this series.


Peter Nellhaus said...

I only saw the first film back when it came out. Thought it was OK. Mostly I wondered what Buffy Sainte-Marie would have to say about the appropriation of the title from her anti-war song from 1964.

Neil Sarver said...

I'm a big fan of Buffy Sainte-Marie, so I had the same thought. In fact, I considered putting up a video of Universal Soldier, which is a great song here, but I couldn't come up with an excuse that didn't just cause a distraction... so thanks! You gave me the opening to link.

I suspect the first one played better at the time. There's that moment when mediocre things of their time play better than they do later on. Not because they played well exactly, but they played familiar. Now it just plays as something trying way too hard.

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