If you grew up during the nineties, Universal Soldier was one of those movies that you simply loved. At least this was my experience as a young boy mesmerized by all the action and testosterone overload. We follow a unit of nameless soldiers brought back from the dead and turned into perfect killing machines. Perfect until something goes wrong, as it inevitably does. And while it follows the standard nineties action movie recipe with a couple on the run, there are a lot of subtle changes in the background. From the reversal of the gender roles complete with male nudity over poignant war commentary to futuristic technology, UniSol is a creative and well-crafted movie.
Granted, it did borrow a lot from The Terminator, but it’s just so damn entertaining that I’m willing to look past that. The original script for the movie was much darker than what we ended up with. It was more focused on the Vietnam war and painted American military as the bad guys. Something that was quite common in the seventies and eighties. However, after the Gulf war started, US army reputation was at an all time high. This caused the production to change the script and portray them in a much more favorable light. Just imagine how good of a movie that would have been.
Universal Soldier also marks the first really big production for Roland Emmerich. He will go on to direct such classics as Stargate, Independence Day, and Godzilla. Emmerich practically singlehandedly defined the standards of a nineties blockbuster. Universal Soldier stood the test of time and it’s still that great movie you remember. And if you haven’t seen it, I really envy you because you’re in for a treat. You will have the opportunity to see two actors at the height of their careers in their arguably best roles. Jean-Claude Van Damme was excellent here and he didn’t even do one split, which is quite surprising. His character really played to Van Damme’s strengths and ability to get the mood and tone right. Not to mention his perfectly muscular body in all its naked glory. But the socks stay on.
And what to say about Dolph Lundgren as the iconic Sargent Scott with his unforgettable necklace. Forget Ivan Drago and He-Man, this is the role I remember him by. Bigger and physically more imposing than Van Damme, he definitely looked the part. We also shouldn’t forget spunky Ally Walker, best known from the tv show Profiler. She wasn’t your typical damsel in distress but a real person, doing everything she can to survive and help her partner. The script is surprisingly well written for an action movie and it’s not corny or tacky. And yet we have the familiar tongue-in-cheek one-liners. Do you hear me? Also, we have a group of American soldiers played by a Belgian, a Swede, and a German. A truly international effort with German Emmerich at the helm.
It is the year of our lord Satan 1969 and the war in Vietnam rages on. One of the units fighting is under the command of Sargent Scott who loses it and starts killing everybody. However, one of the men from his unit stands up to him and two of them end up killing each other. Fast forward to the present day and we follow a siege on the Hoover Dam, taken over by terrorists. Police and army simply cannot get inside so they call for help. And UniSols are there to do exactly that. These highly trained soldiers have superhuman strength and abilities. But that’s not the strangest thing about them. It would seem that this particular unit is comprised of soldiers who have already died, including Scott and his nemesis.
Universal Soldier is primarily focused on the action. This means there will be a lot of chases, fights, shootouts, and explosions. They all look great and exciting, just the way I like ’em. Plus you’ve got all the gadgets complete with weird-looking airplanes and futuristic heavy vehicles. I vividly remember my infatuation with that mobile base on wheels. The way it expands when parked and all the sounds it makes are a testament to the skill of everybody involved. The correct name of the vehecle is Mobile Lab and it’s a Kenworth K100 truck with a lot of modifications. This piece of movie history was spotted at one junkyard in Los Angeles just a year ago. So it’s still alive after all these years. I wonder how much it costs? Imagine starting a van life YouTube channel, only you’re living in a motherfucking Mobile Lab truck from Universal Soldier.
The locations also look great from the imposing Hoover Dam to the jungle and decrepit motels. This is a movie that doesn’t pretend that it’s anything more than it is, providing loads of fun with fast pacing. It spawned a number of sequels out of which I dare only recommend Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. And even that’s a stretch. Finally, I just have to add that there’s a remastered version of this nineties classic available now in glorious 4k, so be sure to watch that one.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, Dean Devlin
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Ed O’Ross, Jerry Orbach, Ralf Moeller, Tiny Lister Jr.
Fun Facts: Tom Lister Jr. had his eyepiece custom made because the regular eye piece’s design was blocking his good eye.