Monday, March 8, 2010

Universal Soldier (The Series)

Universal Soldier (1992) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Ed O’Ross, Jerry Orbach

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich makes his American debut which is still his best movie years later. The movie rips off The Terminator along with Robocop, but Universal Soldier works in the same light that the Bloodsports, Kickboxers and Punishers worked in. Mainly in the action element and the fact that it works solely because it just gives us one big fight sequence between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. The story revolving around reanimated soldiers killed in Vietnam is an afterthought, as we aren’t sure if Van Damme and Lundgren are zombies or androids, and the action sequences are quite spectacular and really that’s why anyone goes to these movies. So while Universal Soldier can’t over cover come its campiness and exploitive carnage, Universal Soldier wears its badge with honor which is a good thing while Emmerich maintains a level of agreeable energy throughout, mainly in concentrating more on the one on one fight between the stars. Indeed it’s hard to go wrong when the rain soaked finale finds Lundgren and Van Damme throwing each other through walls and using a wood chipper to settle the matter.

Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White, Bill Goldberg, Kiana Tom,Xander Berekely

Directed by Mic Rodgers

Jean-Claude Van Damme returns as Luc now apparently converted back to human (which isn’t even paid lip service to) fights a new army of Universal Soldiers led by Michael Jai White and Bill Goldberg after the computer that monitors them finds out about the U.N’s plan to cut the program. This largely pointless sequel fails miserably because the zip and zany camp that made the original so fun, is instead replaced by merely mindless action with horrendous metal played over the fighting. Meanwhile this attempt on Van Damme’s part to save his career comes up short mainly because this flaccid endeavor is so obviously a cash-grab. Even worse the fact The Return is directed with no style, energy or even aptitude. The action here in particular while frequent, is badly staged, shoddily directed and utterly lame in scope. In other words you’re better off watching the original.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei “The Pit-bull” Arlovski

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren return in this belated but moderately enjoyable sequel that finds Van Damme being brought back into the Universal Soldier program to prevent a nuclear meltdown that terrorists are planning to unleash, and are  armed with new generation Universal Soldiers(Called NGU) , the terrorists also have kidnapped the children of the Russian president and so for reasons unknown the American government (well actually Van Damme is in Switzerland) brings Van Damme back to which he breaches the stranglehold to battle not only the NGU resident bad ass (Arlovski) but a cloned version of his old enemy from U.S 1 (Lundgren) The biggest problem here is that the plot often gets in the way of the action and the documentary approach while visually interesting isn't always feasible with a story surrounding super zombie soldiers that bash each other through walls. Regeneration does in fact work in a low expectations way, in particular the fight sequences in the climax are in very well choreographed and exciting. Indeed the best fight is between Van Damme and Lundgren, which is disappointing since it comes before the Van Damme/Arlovski showdown. It should be noted that Arlovski works fairly well as the emotionless bad guy, but the problem with the film is that it doesn’t have a larger than life villain. In particular Lundgren is in his Rocky IV mode (which is effective) but with nobody behind him the stakes aren’t raised as much as they could’ve been. Meanwhile Van Damme handles some good scenes of dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress, as well as wrestling with his burnout but overall the film’s biggest problem is that the lack of a truly great villain (Lundgren isn't there until the final half and Arlovski is under the employ of someone). Indeed the terrorists are wiped out by Lundgren, and Lundgren kills off the bad guy scientist too quickly,  as the scientist is appropriately smarmy, in other words we lose what could’ve been a great threat. That said I still recommend watching Regeneration, the action is intense, the movie’s directing while not always workable with the material is interesting and overall while I would’ve liked more done with the premise, Regeneration delivers on what it promises, mainly lots of mindless action and a big final fight showdown between three great martial artists. It’s not as good as the first movie, but it still surpasses all the sequels and really it's a lot better than it any right to be.

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