Film Review: Universal Soldier (1992)


It took years for Jean-Claude Van Damme to properly establish himself in Hollywood. Along the way he also helped fellow Europeans do the same. One of them was German director Roland Emmerich whose conquest of American film industry began with Universal Soldier, 1992 science fiction action film starring Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.

The film begins with the prologue set in 1969 Vietnam, where US Army soldier Luc Deveraux (played by Van Damme) discovers that his superior, Sergeant Andrew Scott (played by Lundgren), became homicidal lunatic. An attempt to prevent him from murdering innocent civilians leads to confrontation in which both men kill each other. Their bodies are later put on ice and, decades later, used in top secret US government program that would result with creation of Universal Soldiers or UniSols, elite unit of supersoldiers tasked with conducting most difficult and delicate missions. One of such task is taking out of terrorist gang which had taken over Hoover Dam. Spectacular action goes well, but it also brings attention of Veronica Roberts (played by Ally Walker), young and ambitious television reporter. She follows UniSols to their mobile base and begins to discover that the robot-like soldiers are controlled with body temperature regimen and drug cocktails that give them superhuman strength, but also wipe out their past memories. Something, however goes wrong both with GR 44 a.k.a. Devereuax and GR13 a.k.a. Scott who begin to retrieve their memories and characters. GR44 decides to protect Veronica, while GR13 wants her dead and goes that far to openly disobey his superiors and use his deadly abilities to create orgy of bloodshed and destruction.

Critics were very unkind to Universal Soldier, descibing it as nothing more than cheap copy of Terminator 2 (although its basic premise has more to do with the one used in RoboCop). Some even mockingly praised the concept of zombie-like soldiers as something quite fitting to acting abilities of Van Damme and Lundgren. Those who watched the film, even those who aren’t the biggest fans of the two, would probably find such claims too harsh. Van Damme has little to do with his simple and relatively underwritten role, but he does solid job, creating a sympathy for the character who ultimately tries to do the right thing. Van Damme is, on other hand, easily overshadowed by Lundgren who went over the top and apparently had the ball playing pyschotic, menacing and intimidating villain. Over the top approach was also taken by Emmerich, whose direction, despite relatively modest budget, was bombastic and delivered plenty of impressive scenes that included spectacular stunts, plenty of car chases, explosions, shootouts, violence and gore and, last but not least, martial arts displays that culminate in final showdown between Van Damme’s and Lundgren’s character. All that was delivered with great deal of skill and Universal Soldier looks impressive, especially in the opening segments.

Unfortunately, script (partially co-authored by Dean Devlin, who would later become Emmerich’s valuable collaborator) is rather messy and too many times sacrifices character exposition and common sense for the sake of cheap action thrills. Probably worst is the idea of having top military officer (played by Ed O’Ross) and scientist (played by Leon Rippy) supervising UniSols displaying great deal of stupidity that allows not only GR44 but also GR13 to get out of their control. Uninspired musical score by Christopher Franke also at times makes Universal Soldier sound cheaper than it actually is. The element that manages to bring the film above water is Ally Walker, young actress that would later earn television stardom as heroine of Profiler. Despite her character being underwritten, she invests a lot of charm and energy in her role and serves not only as an eye candy but also as comic relief. In the end, Van Damme’s and Lundgren’s fans were very kind to the film at the box office and it had good success, resulting in number of sequels over the years. For Emmerich it proved important stepping stone for big blockbusters like Stargate and Independence Day.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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