Universal Soldier: The Return Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

De only way to keel dem is to blow dem up!
Universal Soldier: The Return poster

During the summer movie season of 1999, there has been much talk about the most highly-anticipated movies of the year. Among those films bestowed with such an honor have been "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me", "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut", "American Pie", "The Blair Witch Project", "Eyes Wide Shut", and of course, the most obvious choice, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace". On the other end of the spectrum, you have the least-anticipated movies of the year, celluloid creations that you probably wouldn't give the time of day, with "Universal Soldier: The Return" as a prime example.

"Universal Soldier: The Return" is the sequel to the so-so "Universal Soldier" from 1992. The original movie (and I use the term very loosely) was an early effort of the creative duo of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, who later found fame and fortune with a number of popcorn sci-fi offerings, namely "Stargate", "Independence Day", and "Godzilla". "Universal Solider" was an uninspired mix of mindless action, bad acting, prosaic plotting, and hackneyed sci-fi elements, and it is surprising that it is considered a worthwhile and viable franchise. Even more interesting is the fact that "Universal Soldier: The Return" is actually the third sequel, with the other two having been righteously relegated to the direct-to-video market: "Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms" and "Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business". This latest sequel is the first one to bring Jean-Claude Van Damme (last seen in "Knock-off") back into the role of Luc Devreaux, as well as seeing a theatrical release. Unfortunately, all of what was said about the original movie can be equally applied to this latest monstrosity.

Jean-Claude Van Damme

It is now several years after the last major malfunction of the Universal Soldier program, in which dead U.S. soldiers were brought back to life as fighting automatons ("... they thought they could maintain control!"). Despite the collapse of the Unisol program, it seems that the U.S. government has yet to learn its lesson, and Luc Devreaux is back at work, training the next generation of Unisols. They're faster, stronger, and controlled by a supercomputer named S.E.T.H. (Self-evolving Thought Helix, in case your're wondering).

However, when the military decides to cease funding of the program, which in a sense pulls the plug on S.E.T.H., the supercomputer sets in motion a brazen plan to ensure its own survival. First, S.E.T.H. commands the Unisols to take control of the research complex, wantonly killing anyone who stands in their way. Second, S.E.T.H. fashions himself a genetically-engineered body (Michael Jai White of "Spawn", looking like Denzel Washington on steroids), such that he can escape the confines of his metallic shell and lead his newly-formed army into battle.

Of course, the only man who can stop the imminent carnage is Devreaux, who is assisted by a helpless and the blatantly obvious love interest (Heidi Schanz), a nosy reporter out to get a story. However, Devreaux must go mano-a-mano against S.E.T.H.'s Unisol battalion, particularly a behemoth named Romeo (played by professional wrestler Bill Goldberg), who refuses to be killed. The 'Muscles from Brussels' certainly has his work cut out for him.

"Universal Soldier: The Return" is not merely bad... it is embarrassingly bad. Unless you live for painfully-cliché dialogue and consider watching big bald men beating each other senseless a good time, there is little offered here that will justify spending hard-earned money on such drivel. It is quite obvious that this movie tries very hard to be "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", recycling more than a few of the action set pieces from the seminal sci-fi film, only without the originality or the story to make such over-the-top action compelling. The net result is a noisy mish-mash of cinematic trash that reinforces why James Cameron is the 'King of the World', and not some low-life B-movie peddler working in a dark alley somewhere.

I could go on about what else is wrong with "Universal Soldier: The Return", including an illogical plot that loses track of half its villains, and the obligatory scene in the striptease bar (the hallmark of any bad action movie), but I think you get the idea. "Universal Soldier: The Return" is exactly what you would expect from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie-- a shabby concoction of atrocious writing, amateur acting, big explosions, and an unending conga-line of people getting beat up. Yes, another modern classic is born.

Images courtesy of Tristar Pictures. All rights reserved.

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