I wanted to do a Dolph Lundgren movie before this whole marathon was all said and done but I had no idea where to start. Originally I was going to do one of his more recent efforts called The Package but it mostly stars Steve Austin and as much as I would like to continue checking out his work, it felt like three trips to the Steve Austin well during this thing might be overdoing it. Then I remembered buying a copy of Universal Soldier like 6 years ago and never actually watching it. So I got to watch a Dolph Lundgren movie AND finally make good on money I spent over half a decade ago. Everybody wins! Mostly me.
Jean Claude Van Damme is Luc and Dolph Lundgren is Scott, two soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Scott loses his fucking mind and massacres an entire village of people (our introduction to his character is him fashioning an ear necklace, a pretty original intro) and when Luc attempts to take him down, both of them are killed in the ensuing fight. They are then both frozen and reawaken decades later as universal soldiers, part of a secret government program whose goal is to create the perfect soldier. However both of them start to regain their memories from right before they died, with Scott remembering he is completely out of his god damn mind and is still fighting a war. Luc remembers wanting to go home and no longer wants any part of the Unisol program so he attempts to leave and Scott recruits all the other soldiers to chase him down and kill him. Also Luc teams up with a female reporter who I think is supposed to be the comic relief but it was hard to tell as she kept saying unfunny things.
Overall this movie is pretty light on plot even though that story summary paragraph felt pretty damn long. There is one good robot and there is one bad robot, these robots fight each other. Boom. I can sort of see why this movie drew a lot of comparisons to Terminator 2 when it first came out though I don’t necessarily agree with it. Outside of both movies prominently featuring robots, they are very different products. Terminator 2 is also a whole lot better though Universal Soldier is certainly not without its charms.
Let’s get my most negative knock against the movie out of the way right now – the comedy. There is a surprisingly large amount of it here and none of it worked too well for me. The director on this one is Roland Emmerich and if you’ve seen any of his other stuff, you probably already know his attempts at humour often miss. It’s not Michael Bay bad as his comedy just makes you uncomfortable, it’s more like sitcom bad in that the jokes are usually eye-rollingly bad. That is often the case here. The reporter character, Veronica, is meant to be the funny and relatable one, making remarks about how crazy everything happening around her is. I just didn’t find her funny. To give you an example, after causing Scott (or more accurately, a hilariously fake looking dummy of Scott) to go crashing through a windshield, Veronica remarks “He really should have buckled up.” *sad horn* That’s the level of comedic material we’re dealing with here. Outside of Veronica’s unfunny quips there’s lots of fish out of water humour as robot Luc can’t adjust to being out in the world. Oh Luc, you can’t run around outside naked like that you silly robot. People are staring!
One scene played for laughs I did enjoy though is when Luc and Veronica go to a diner and Luc rediscovers eating food. While Veronica is outside on the phone, he orders at least 20 meals and only then does the staff ask if he can actually pay for all of it. What I like about this scene is how this short, kinda schlubby cook starts talking shit to Luc and then actually laughs at the idea that Luc could kick his ass. Dude have you seen you? Of course he can kick your ass! Fucking look at him! So Luc of course promptly kicks his ass and then the other bar patrons come over to join the fight, doing the polite movie fight move of only attacking Luc one a time instead of all at once where they might actually stand a chance of winning. It’s a fun scene even though it’s of course completely unnecessary and seemingly only there to up the action quotient a little bit.
The best part of the movie though is Dolph Lundgren (wait….is Dolph short for Rudolph? That may lessen his impact a little bit if that’s the case) who seems to be having the time of his god damn life playing the bad guy. He’s always spouting quips and one-liners and anytime he has to take someone down he does it with a real sense of joy, even cheering when he successfully blows someone up with a grenade. It’s a fun character and he livens up the movie anytime he appears.
The action here is quite solid. A mid movie truck chase is probably the highlight (ok perhaps this movie is a fair bit like Terminator 2 actually) but the climatic fight scene between Luc and Scott is quite good as well. I’m really happy they made good on the promise of that farm thresher after giving us so many close up shots of it. I don’t think there is anything here that is exceptionally exciting, and it’s unfair to any movie to have to follow-up a viewing of Hard Boiled, but it’s certainly entertaining.
So yeah, Universal Soldier is a fun one. Sure the jokes don’t land but the action is good and the performances are better than I expected going in, especially from Lundgren. I’ve heard some pretty great things about the later entries in the series and this one I enjoyed just enough to check out the others. Not really sure where there is to go story-wise at the end of this one, but the existence of 5 other movies means they must have thought of something.
Oh and the end credits song Bodycount is pretty funny since for the first 90 seconds I didn’t think the song contained more than that one word, and even then it barely does.