Universal Soldier: The Return Reviews
The only saving grace of this movie is the villain SETH, played by Michael Jai White. He's got some martial arts talent and his final battle with Van Damme is the film's only faint highlight.
Bill Goldberg breaks character and isn't an interesting villain, and even though the movie does bring in a daughter concept they never flesh out any character development. An interesting route they could have taken would be that Luc doesn't show his daughter enough attention as much as Seth, and that could be something he could work on.
Its not the worst movie in the world, but as a follow up the excellent Universal Soldier, its terrible.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Michael Jai White
Written by William Malone, John Fasano
Produced by Daniel Melnick, Michael I. Rachmil, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Allen Shapiro
Directed by Mic Rodgers
Giving sequels a bad name is this absolutely ridiculous sequel to Roland Emmerich's 1992 sci-fi actioner UNIVERSAL SOLDIER that somehow managed to get a theatrical release and drum up half of its squandered $19 million budget, presumably on the waning box office draw of returning star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Even the presence of talented martial arts actor Michael Jai White, who was stuck in career purgatory after starring in SPAWN two year prior could not salvage this cinematic disaster. It provides the perfect example of what happens when a filmmaker neglects sound plotting, clean editing and acting fundamentals in favor of mindless explosions, shootouts and fighting sloppily cut together and drowned in irritating metal music. Van Damme has starred in a fair number of disappointing action films but this is easily one of his worst as of 2010.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN is the first solo directing gig for veteran stuntman and second unit director Mic Rodgers, a professional whose experience in handling action sequences extends to major films like BRAVEHEART, MR. & MRS. SMITH, NATIONAL TREASURE, and APOCALYPTO. It's also the last film he has directed which isn't surprising given how badly the direction of this movie is. Like the original film, THE RETURN is essentially a rip-off of better sci-fi movies but with the introduction of a rogue supercomputer it seems like the creators aren't even trying to mask their lack of creativity in the slightest.
Sporting a bit of gray, Van Damme returns to the role of Unisol Luc Deveraux but this time he has been fully rehabilitated from an emotionless killing machine into an ordinary human with a daughter and a sense of humor. Like a freed slave choosing to work as a slave master, he now works freely for the government, helping them to train other Unisols. Everything is fine and dandy until the government decides to cut costs by shutting down the program. When a "HAL 9000? supercomputer character at the Unisol facility named S.E.T.H. (Michael Jai White) learns of the cancellation it goes into self-preservation mode and begins to reprogram the Unisols. As they begin to take over the facility, Luc, now joined by another nosey TV reporter (Heidi Schanz) struggles to stop S.E.T.H. and his Unisol army. To make the struggle more tangible, S.E.T.H. conveniently downloads himself into a Unisol body which allows martial arts movie fans to witness a screen fight between Van Damme and White which presumably would be a lot more exciting than watching Van Damme roundhouse an off switch.
Problems with THE RETURN begin with its ludicrous script by writers William Malone and John Fasanco. It takes a cue from the completely forgettable TV-movie sequel UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II: BROTHERS IN ARMS by giving Unisols personalities, whereas in the original film these genetically modified super soldiers had lost nearly all sense of their humanity. This is best evidenced by a Unisol named Romeo, played by buff pro wrestler Bill Goldberg, who develops a smarmy rivalry with Luc that takes on added dimension when he is reprogrammed. Lack of personality was one of the few compelling elements about the Unisols because it made us pity their loss of humanity and free will, at least for Luc. In THE RETURN they're reduced to smirking, wise-cracking characters fit for a cartoon series for children. Yet the whole movie is more or less directed like a cartoon so at least there is some consistency here.
All acting across the board is uniformly dreadful. Even Daniel von Bargen, a usually dependable character actor portraying an Army general, struggles with his role. That means Van Damme and White don't stand a chance. The worst performances come from the women, notably Schanz as Luc's reporter friend and former ESPN fitness guru Kiana Tom as Luc's friend who hilariously gets turned into a female Unisol in a very bizarre bit role that appears to have been trimmed down. The monotone delivery of both women makes Ally Walker's turn as a stereotypical news reporter in the original UNIVERSAL SOLDIER look like an Oscar-caliber performance in comparison. Likewise, no praise can be spared for the actor portraying an obnoxious computer hacker who aids S.E.T.H. in claiming his body although that has more to do with the script which produces yet another cartoon character.
As with most action B-movies, many of the film's flaws could be forgiven so long as the action is good. That's not the case here. While there is plenty of mayhem in the film it's poorly arranged and edited with little suspense or reason behind it. For instance, the opening sequence is an elaborate jet ski chase that could have been the lead in for a low-budget James Bond movie but it makes little sense when you discover why it's happening. It's a flimsy gimmick like most of the action in the film. The gunplay is bland, explosions are cheesy and worst of all, the fight work is mutilated by confusing and excessively chopped up editing. The end fight between Van Damme and White represents a career low for both actors but blame again falls squarely on the direction and editing that completely destroys what could have been a decent match between two skilled screen fighters.
For their subsequent sequel UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENGERATION, father and son Peter and John Hyams pretty much ignored both TV sequels and this regrettable feature film sequel which was a good idea. Like the HIGHLANDER series, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is a solid action B-movie that has largely been maligned by most of its successors. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN is good for an unintended laugh but that's about it.
You can see why this film was not a hit upon release and since ignored. The whole look of the film is not much better than the previous made for TV films. Everything is set within your standard cliched generic military base/weapons experimentation type facility, it all looks very dull, very grey and with plenty of glass and computer monitors to shoot up hehe.
The plot about the master computer brain taking over the UniSol project it looks after and basically setting all the UniSols free is basic but reasonable. This equal lots of faceless military types getting shot to pieces every 5min and plenty of 'Terminator' style posturing from the UniSols. The saving grace being the fight between JCVD and White, White being one of the best visual fighters in the biz. Unfortunately Goldberg doesn't quite get the true fight he deserves and merely lurches around as comical relief half the time, if you can call it that.
The whole film feels very watered down and not really in the same adult vain as the original film. There is even a 'Hal' moment in the film clearly ripped from '2001', its like they are trying too hard with the material. End of the day this film hasn't broken away from the 'made for TV' look n feel of the previous two efforts.