In anticipation of the upcoming Manborg I have been consuming a crap-load of 80s & 90s sic-fi action flicks... this week I ploughed my way through the Universal Soldier franchise and as it's been years since I've paid any attention to the series I was surprised at how much fun I had. And so in chronological order....
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992)
I feel like I'm getting old because I vividly rememberthis playing at the cinemas and remember renting it when it was a new release on VHS. It was a fairly hardcore movie for the time and it came branded with an R18+ rating. Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play two soldiers who are killed in Vietnam and are reanimated by the government under the Unisol Project. A Unisol is a super soldier, remotely controlled and obeys all instructions. When Van Damme's character begins to remember things from his past life, he breaks away from his command and spends the film running from Lundgren's character. It's a simple story but it's action packed and well paced. Of course it is ludicrous at times but that's what most fans love about these movies.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 2 (1998) / UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3 (1999)
Um.. yeah. Now here's two reaaaaally shit movies. Picking up directly from where the first movie left off, Universal Soldier 2 is a low-grade made for TV movie with an entirely new cast. It was made back-to-back with part 3 and looks like it was made on a dodgy camcorder. The dialogue is poxy and the action is terrible. Because these were made as an intended gateway to a potential tv series, you can very easy skip these and disregard them from the franchise. CRAPOLLA!
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN (1999)
Rightfully this 4th instalment ignored the telemovies and continues the Unisol story following the original movie. Van Damme's character (Luc Deveraux) is now employed by the government and it working for Unisol, keeping them honest and making sure that the program runs smoothly. He is also now a functioning human thanks for a reversal in the experiment (LOL). The Unisols are slightly more human now too, showing characteristics of humour and compassion. Of course things go wrong when the main computer system evolves to think for itself and transfers its brain into that of the strongest soldier amongst the bunch. Its up to Deveraux to stop him and the usual sci-fi action/fight sequences ensue. The movie is full of cliches and the acting is atrocious... but it was never made as high art and so it still makes for a good little popcorn movie. A bit of fun.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (2009)
With 10 years between instalments, this next chapter in the Unisol legacy more or less ignores the last movie. It continues using the framework of the original film with Deveraux still undergoing therapy/rehabilitation (in Switzerland) to return him to civilisation. When a terrorist group take the Russian president's children hostage and threatens to blow up the Chernobyl reactor, the Unisols are called into duty and Deveraux is recommissioned. this is a HUGE step up for the franchise and it's a fucking awesome movie! Every bit of kitsch is removed and the story is treated with deadly seriousness. The action sequences are fantastic and this turns out to be a really gritty and engaging movie. I considered it the strongest in the franchise.... until.....
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012)
The final chapter (for now) in the Unisol story is without a doubt the best. Having watched it for the first time this week it has been playing on my mind since. This is not your ordinary action movie and it's an entirely different kind of thing to any of he previous instalments. A family awakens to a home invasion. The mother and daughter are brutally killed by Luc Deveraux and the father survives, only to fall into a 9 month coma. When he awakens he is driven by a strong need to avenge his family's death. So that all seems pretty straight forward but this movie goes so much deeper. Nothing is really what it seems and the overall arc is quite clever. To reveal much is to spoil it and so I will just say that this is ULTRA violent and really disturbing. As a horror loving gore-hound I was shocked and elated at the graphic extent to which this flick does. Van Damme and Lundgren don't own a lot of screen time but when they do, its great stuff. For me this is a big deal when a sci-fi/action franchise like Universal Soldier can end up with the 6th instalment being the best of the lot. The last two movies are fantastic and it's thanks to director John Hyams who is the son of legendary sic-fi director Peter Hyams. He has seen potential in the series and delivered to serious and well executed movies. Well worth checking out these last two, at least.