Universal Soldier: The Return Reviews
The Return has none of that. JCVD is just JCVD kicking bad guys in the face. Goldberg is horribly hammy, the plot is terrible, and the biggest selling point--action--is poorly edited, badly choreographed, dumb, and ver yhard to pay attention to (not because it was too choppy, but because it was too boring).
At the time of The Return's release, I didn't realize that a 2nd and 3rd Van Dammeless Universal Soldier movies had been released, and it doesn't much matter. The Return was playing at Seattle's Northgate cinema, a single feature cinema that is no longer in existence. I tried to get a summer job there after my Freshman year in college, hoping to see Universal Soldier: The Return for free, or actually get paid to see it. I didn't get the job, never paid to see it. Rented it one time, thought it sucked, then I bought one of those compilation DVDs that they sell for five bucks in a basket near the checkout stand at a one-stop-shop's electronics section. I thought it would be worth some small fraction of five bucks to re-watch it, but not only was I wrong, I feel that I was wronged. THIS MOVIE SUCKS.
Having mostly enjoyed Universal Soldier: The Return upon my first viewing and enjoying Universal Soldier the second time around, it was time to give this sequel a second chance. Unfortunately, a contradiction once again occurred and I found myself discovering little value in Universal Soldier: The Return.
With a film like Universal Soldier: The Return, the story is hardly one of the more important assets of the film. Yet with Universal Soldier: The Return, the story decides that somehow the series protagonist Luc Deveraux has gone from being a Universal Soldier in the first film to a fully functioning and intelligent human being in this one. It is never explained, nobody even tries to pretend that it matters. Because of this, the entire route taken by the film feels significantly different to the first Universal Soldier and the absence of Roland Emmerich reinforces this notion when it comes to the technical values of the film. In all essence, the story in Universal Soldier: The Return is packed with a generic plot points and poor dialogue, but some of the characters are especially poor. The antagonists of the film are not as robotic as they should be. The actors are appropriately robotic their limited abilities, but for Universal Soldiers they speak way too much. For some reason, they are fed some of the cheesiest lines in the film which are seemingly modeled after the nature of writing that was given to action heroes of the 1980's. The screenplay in Universal Soldier: The Return is blind in its incompetence due to its inability to even write the villains to be thin enough to be appropriate for the story. Everything in the film is thin and shallow, but this is a case where it is the wrong kind.
Universal Soldier: The Return has an even bigger budget than its predecessor, and so that suggests that it should end up being an even bigger spectacle. However, the film opts instead to take on a more generic root which combines the action themes of Die Hard with the science fiction aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That should be fun enough, but unfortunately the lack of Roland Emmerich is all to clear. While that man is off directing blockbusters like Godzilla and The Patriot, Universal Soldier: The Return features the directorial efforts of Mic Rodgers. There is a clear reason you've never heard that name before, and that's because his directorial style is so distant from the actual project and bereft of a sense of style that he buries the film into the generic roots of countless other Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicles. The man has experienced extensive success working in stunt choreography and that's the area he should stay in because some of the action scenes in Universal Soldier: The Return are decent because the film is structured out of mainly mindless explosions and shootouts with the occasional use of Jean-Claude Van Damme's flexible fighting talents, but as the visual style has such a small scale feeling in contrast to the wide angles and tracking shots used in Universal Soldier. This film does not have any great imagery, and the simplistic visual style with its repetitive colour scheme and uninspired editing ultimately ends up making everything look rather cheap.
Even the cast of the film do not carry the gimmicks effective enough to prevent the extensive failure of Universal Soldier: The Return.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is a generic lead in his return to the role of Luc Deveraux. While he carried some strong gimmicks as a robotic action hero in Universal Soldier with his fighting skills and his restrained line delivery, in Universal Soldier: The Return he is forced back into playing a fully functioning human character once again. This aforementioned flaw forces Jean-Claude Van Damme to play a more legitimate part even though neither William Malone and John Fasano know how to write one. Because of this, Jean-Claude Van Damme goes for the limited expectations that he is condemmned to by everything else in the production. There is no denying that he is not the greatest actor in the world, but Universal Soldier: The Return makes this all too clear by expecting him to carry a $45 million film on his back when the story does not give him enough situations to deliver his iconic fighting techniques. Jean-Claude Van Damme is forced through a terrible script and generic story in Universal Soldier: The Return, and while some of his most dedicated fans will appreciate his fighting skills, most of them will see that he deserves a lot better than he gets.
Kiana Tom is so cheesy in her attempts to capture the melodrama in the screenplay that her effort ends up on par with the intentionally over the top efforts of Charisma Carpenter when she portrayed Cordelia Chase in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. This would work if the film was trying to be cheesy, but since it takes itself so seriously and yet she does not, she drags down the experience whenever she is on screen. Kiana Tom's severely limited acting abilities are all too clear in Universal Soldier: The Return, and the fact that her brief period of screen time actually stands out says a lot about her.
Heidi Schanz is also frustrating. As the damsel in distress of the story, Heidi Schanz has no charisma whatsoever. The character is annoying enough in the first place as she is an ignorant reporter who drags herself into a bad situation, but the heavily archetypal nature of the character and excess of repetition in her dialogue makes her annoying very quickly. Because of this, it would be far more appealing if her character Erin Young was actually killed. The fact that Heidi Schanz creates the complete opposite effect in her character is not completely her fault, but she has no gimmicks to add to the film's slight chance of success as even a guilty pleasure.
Brent Hinkley is supposed to supply the comic relief in the film, but as the experience is incredibly unfunny and his only real claim to fame as an actor was a notable stint on one episode of Seinfeld, he has nothing to boost his credibility. He is not the only Seinfeld actor in the film as Daniel von Bargen is given a prominent role in Universal Soldier: The Return and manages to act better due to his natural ability to take on a commanding role, but he is another actor severely limited to playing an archetype without the experience to transcend it all.
Really, the only cast member with the slightest bit of value aside from Jean-Claude Van Damme is Michael Jai White. His acting charisma is the furthest thing from rich, but his handsome demeanour and strong fighting style make him appropriate for the part. And since he is the most robotic character of the film he feels the most legitimate in the part. His attempts to be antagonistic are befitting, even if they are extremely cheap and more valuable for their unintentional comedic value than anything else. Overall, it is just worth brief appeal to see Michael Jai White go against Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Bill Goldberg's stature and cheesy delivery of his lines are also slightly appealing at times, even if its because they add to the value of the film as being occasionally entertaining for its guilty pleasure appeal.
But despite the small amount of appeal in the presence of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Michael Jai White as martial artists, Universal Soldier: The Return is more incompetent as a sequel than a genuine film, which is sad considering how rooted in subpar storytelling and generic action it already is.