Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)


USA. 1999.


Director – Mic Rodgers, Screenplay – John Fasano & William Malone, Producers – Craig Baumgarten, Allen Shapiro & Jean-Claude Van Damme, Photography – Michael A. Benson, Music – Don Davis, Music Supervisors – Jason Alexander & Micki Stern, Visual Effects Supervisor – Ralph Maiers, Digital Effects – E=MC2 (Supervisor – Bob Morgenroth), Special Effects Supervisors – Joe Di Gaetano & Bobby Vasquez, Makeup Effects – KNB EFX Group Inc, Production Design – David Chapman. Production Company – Baumgarten Prophet Entertainment/Indieprod Co/Long Road


Jean-Claude Van Damme (Luc Devereaux), Heidi Schanz (Erin Young), Bill Goldberg (Romeo), Michael Jai White (Seth), Kiana Tom (Maggie), Daniel Von Bargen (General Radford), Xander Berkeley (Dr Dylan Cotner), Karis Paige Bryant (Hilary Devereaux), Brent Hinkley (Squid)


The Universal Soldier program has been revived by the military, with former Unisol Luc Devereaux acting as a consultant. When Washington want the program closed down, S.E.T.H., the artificial intelligence that controls the Unisols, regards this as a threat to its existence and reacts by activating the Unisols and taking over the facility. As S.E.T.H. incarnates itself in an enhanced human body, the Unisols pursue Devereaux who flees in the company of a woman tv journalist with the access codes needed by S.E.T.H.

Universal Soldier (1992) was a mindlessly enjoyable sf/action vehicle. It was the American debut of director Roland Emmerich who would subsequently go onto bigger things with the likes of Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998) etc. Surprisingly, for the eminently forgettable effort it was, there were a number of attempts to mount a sequel and even a tv series. There were two Canadian-produced video sequels, Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms (1998) and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business (1998) that came out around the same time as this. This was a cinematically-released sequel made entirely independent of the two Canadian entries. It was a clear attempt on the part of star Jean-Claude Van Damme (who also produced) to regain some box-office status after a string of flops. (Hint Jean-Claude – try acting lessons).

The result is one of the most mindlessly awful action films that one has sat through in some time. The first film was brainless too but was at least conducted by Roland Emmerich with some flair for widescreen action. This, which is directed by former stuntman Mic Rogers, is only thuddingly mindless. It has no other reason for existing other than to provide a barrage of pounding gunfire, big explosions and martial arts sequences, all overlaid by an extremely loud and irritating heavy metal soundtrack. Most of these are complaints that one could make of most action films but Universal Soldier: The Return is one that lacks any redeeming kind of style, sense of humour, characterisation or panache. The science-fiction element trades on cliches that seem forty years out of date – when activated, the AI gives a speech that seems one entire cliché: “The time of man has ended … We will bring order to the chaos” etc etc. It is rare that one has seen an action film so brainless in all respects.

Jean-Claude Van Damme returned with the substantially better Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) and its sequel Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012), the best of the series, both also featuring him paired up again with Dolph Lundgren.

(Winner in this site’s Worst Films of 1999 list).

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