Before Roland Emmerich started blowing landmarks worldwide in a whole string of disaster movies like Independence Day and 2012 he had the towering Swede Dolph Lundgren take on The Muscles From Brussels Jean-Claude van Damme in Universal Soldier, a movie that certainly meant a step up for both of these actors who starred in low-budget action/martial-arts movies until then. Both are the titular Universal Soldiers, or UniSols as they’re called in the movie. Through some genetic altering these soldiers are near perfect, they feel no pain, have a great endurance and seem to possess super strength. They’re also dead by the way. Like RoboCop they are the product of altering a diseased soldier’s body and turning them in what you could call a zombie soldier, only without the rotting skin and appetite for human flesh.
In true RoboCop fashion memories of former lives return to both Van Damme’s and Lundgren’s characters. They were in the same platoon during the Vietnam war when Lundgren’s sergeant went mad and killed some innocent people. When Van Damme tried to stop him, they ended up killing each other and eventually being used for the super soldier program. Once their memories are back, their fight continues and the movie becomes a cat and mouse game.
After the introduction of the main leads and the Universal Soldiers, the movie quickly throws away every opportunity to make a thoughtful film and instead made it somewhat of a 90 minute chase movie. Early on Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux is aware of his past and goes A.W.O.L. (something Van Damme does on a regular basis in his movies) with a news reporter who has seen too much. First he’s being chased by the people responsible for this project, but when Lundgren kills all the superiors and takes over control it becomes more personal… but still the whole movie basically follows this pattern: Van Damme goes somewhere with the reporter, the people following them find them, they escape just barely and go to a new location… until they’re found again and again.
Universal Soldier holds no surprises and even though the budget clearly allows the makers to blow stuff up and use wide aerial shots, this is still a very simple script without any good twists. Even when Lundgren supposedly dies, you can tell by the fact we still have 25 minutes to go that he will come back.
Universal Soldier is the Terminator role for Van Damme. He has only a few lines and they’re delivered in a monotone way. Basically he acts like an idiot savant throughout the entire movie, instead of being a math-wiz he’s a kick-ass-wiz. Lundgren on the other hand gets all the monologues and one-liners and seems to have enormous fun in playing the bad guy once again.
Universal Soldier brings nothing new other than two B-movie stars fighting each other. Something Sylvester Stallone would create a franchise out of nearly 18 years later with The Expendables.