80s action hero fans must have had a field-day in the late eighties / early nineties when some of the biggest Hollywood action stars started being double-teamed for movies. Stallone had previously teamed up with Kurt Russell for Tango & Cash, went on to face-off against Wesley Snipes for Demolition Man, and technically Rocky 4 saw him take on Dolph Lundgren (even if he was fairly unknown at the time). Universal Soldier saw big action stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lundgren, arguably at the peak of their respective careers, coming together for a properly violent, classically visceral action movie.
Caught up in the chaos of the Vietnam War, Private Luc Devereux is forced to confront his sergeant, Andrew Scott, who has clearly been driven insane by the hell that they are in. After a bloody face-off, the two shoot each other to pieces, coming home in body bags. We cut forward a few decades only to find the two have been resurrected - as part of a clandestine, prototype super-soldier program - and sent on all the most impossible, all-but suicide missions. Near-indestructible, these 'zombie' soldiers are able to run, react and heal faster than any normal individual, but although their genetic modifications and enhancements carry with them significant advantages, there are also some serious side-effects. Their minds erased, they are capable of utter obedience and the ultimate pain-resistance, but in pushing their human bodies to the absolute limit, they not only have to be cooled regularly to prevent overheating, but they also have a drastically reduced life expectancy.
And, of course, we all know what prototype program means - as there are clearly going to be teething issues here. The biggest issues are those experienced by Devereux and Scott, whose traumatic deaths (as if most deaths in the War weren't traumatic?!) apparently made their brains more susceptible to recalling things from their supposedly erased memories. It's not long before they start to behave like their former selves, Scott becoming somewhat psychotic and Devereux correspondingly protective towards his victims. Cue plenty of kicking, punching, impaling and shooting. With stuff blowing up in the background.
Universal Soldier is a classic action movie, properly violent, thoroughly satisfying and with just enough of a dark, sci-fi plot to keep things held together. Van Damme plays the kind zombie soldier in a suitably (and convincingly) dumb fashion, although his romantic interest (whilst played by the strangely alluring Ally Walker) is totally unbelievable, and Lundgren does well in the villain role, really relishing his psychotic behaviour. They're not top quality actors (although some of their recent DTV stuff has shown that they are both capable of more depth than you might expect from either) but they work well in these parts and the film has plenty of brutal face-offs between the two to keep fans happy. These are super-soldiers after all, so they can take a whole lot more punishment, all in the name of entertainment. It may not be a work of art, but Universal Soldier is a product of its time and, as such, serves its purpose well, turning out to be a thoroughly entertaining boys movie.
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