Review: Universal Soldier

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I saw this for the first time in about twenty years last night and have decided to grace you with a review of it. It’s not every day that you see somebody taking the effort to review this film so consider yourselves all lucky!

Universal Soldier is basically about some dead Vietnam War vets who are somehow brought back to life and are genetically changed to become the ultimate soldiers. GR44 (Jean-Claude Van Damme) starts remembering what happened back in Vietnam before he died, takes off, and is chased by GR13 (Dolph Lundgren). GR13 was totally insane when he died and goes after GR44 even though he is told not to. There is pretty much the whole plot. It’s fairly simple, but then again this is an action film so you can’t expect Oscar worthy material here. The screenplay is by Dean Devlin and it’s directed by Roland Emmerich, who both worked on Stargate and Independence Day among other things. By knowing that you can pretty much guess what you’re getting; a basic action film that gets things done.

What surprised me last night about Universal Soldier was that it doesn’t look too dated. Since it was made in 1992 it doesn’t have what I call the ‘poodle perm’ syndrome. You know when you watch an 80’s film and there is no doubt it’s an 80’s film because every woman has an enormous perm? Yeah, that. Since it escaped that by the skin of its teeth it honestly looks like it could have been made recently; Van Damme and Lundgren looked way younger than they are now, but in terms of the production it was really well done. The stunts and chase scenes looked realistic, which could be down to the fact that there still weren’t that many CGI effects being done at that time since it was still too expensive. I think that actually helped this film because I feel that CGI effects would have made Universal Soldier look like a straight to video production.

During the time this was filmed Van Damme couldn’t speak much English, so according to Devlin they purposely made his dialogue short and to the point so that it would be easier for him to pronounce his lines. Yes, it’s easy to tell that the character isn’t a mental giant, but then again he’s been sort of dead since the Vietnam War so you have to give him kind of a break. Van Damme isn’t awful since he kicks much ass as expected and this is probably the role the made him really famous. By the way there are numerous shots of him naked from behind. Yes, as a woman, I can say that he has a nice ass. Don’t be uncomfortable, we’re all friends here! Anyway! I actually really liked Lungren’s performance because he makes GR44 not only nutty, but kind of funny at the same time. It has to do with how he delivers lines such as ‘They wouldn’t listen.’ when asked by Van Damme as to why he’s wearing a necklace of human ears. Have to admit that made me crack up, being the morbid person that I am.

The fight scenes are pretty well staged, especially the last major scene which was done in the rain. It’s actually kind of funny seeing a smaller man like Van Damme fighting a big guy like Lundgren, I mean the guy is huge! However, you can believe that Van Damme could possibly beat him just due to the tenacity of the character. He’s part superhuman since he was genetically enhanced, so if he couldn’t kick ass he would be in trouble. There is a good amount of gore and breaking of limbs, so if you like seeing blood coming out of the back of heads you’re in luck! Just to warn you there are some needle scenes that are pretty nasty, as in them being shoved into the back of skulls.

One of the only weak points in this film is the performance of Ally Walker who played the reporter Veronica Roberts. Quite frankly I don’t like female characters being thrown into action films when all they do is stand there and become part of the scenery. Rather, I like it when they take part in the action and can take care of themselves. Walker plays her like she’s a manic-depressive off of her meds. Then again she plays all of her roles like this, which has always annoyed me a bit. So, this is all about a weakly written female character and an overly enthusiastic actress. It could have been much worse so it really doesn’t affect the film too much, and when you think about it such female characters were common in the action films of the time, and in fact are still pretty common now.

Universal soldier is a fun action film that will satisfy the needs of any fan of the genre, so get out there and watch it.

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