Universal Soldier, by Albert W. Vogt III

When I returned home from the nearly three-hour snooze fest that is Dune, luckily there was still time in the day for me to watching something a little more exciting.  Who else would I turn to in order to inject some thrills into the rest of my evening than everyone’s favorite Belgian, Jean-Claude Van Damme?  The Legionnaire has covered some of the good and bad of his career.  Thus, I decided to go with one of his whackier films.  One of the things I remembered in the roughly twenty years that have passed since the last time I watched Universal Soldier (1992) is Van Damme as Luc Devereaux fighting a group of country bumpkins in a diner, crumbs from a recently consumed sandwich visible in the corner of his mouth.  That and the majestic mountain ranges of Louisiana are two of many examples of some rather puzzling choices made by director Roland Emmerich.  Stay tuned for more.

With explosions and gunfire all around, Luc quietly moves through the jungles of Vietnam in the opening shots of Universal Soldier.  As he inches along, he begins hearing reports of his sergeant, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), going berserk in a village ahead on the trail.  When Luc arrives, he finds Andrew wearing a necklace made of the ears of Vietnamese citizens he had killed.  He has decided that they all need to be eradicated, whether or not they are helping the enemy.  To this end, Andrew orders Luc to kill the remaining two villagers kneeling helplessly before them, begging for their lives.  When Luc hesitates, Andrew decides to execute them anyway.  This prompts Luc to kick Andrew’s gun away, and in the resulting fight they end up killing each other.  Their bodies, though, are flagged by a mysterious person who shows up at the scene of their deadly duel, ordering their corpses to be taken to a special place.  We then jump to the United States during modern times when a giant airplane lands, unloading a large semi and rig.  From it emerges a group of robotic soldiers, Luc and Andrew among them.  They have been sent to the Nevada desert to respond to a hostage situation on the Hoover dam.  With silent, lethal efficiency, they set about killing all the bad guys and freeing the prisoners.  However, there is a moment of hesitation from Luc, now GR44, when he sees two of the scared hostages, triggering a flashback to his time in Vietnam.  He then looks up and sees Andrew, now GR13, staring back at him.  Still, the mission is accomplished and they return to their special trailer to receive healing and deprogramming of their brains.  They are followed there by plucky reporter Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker), who wants to find out more about these strange men.  Sneaking into the temporary compound around the truck, she discovers the reanimated body of one of the soldiers, GR76 (Ralf Moeller), her pictures being what awakens him.  This alerts the project’s commander, Colonel Perry (Ed O’Ross), who does not want the existence of this off the books government experiment being leaked to the press.  In order to stop her, they send out GR44 and GR13, but when GR13 is about to summarily murder Veronica, GR44 has another flashback and decides to help her escape.  Hence, we have an alliance of convenience, with Veronica needing GR44 to get the story she is after, and her assisting him to remember his past.  While they do their best to evade Colonel Perry’s men, they are able to sneak back about the trailer and obtain a number of documents to help both of them.  Also, the longer GR44 is away from the treatments he receives from the government, the more he remembers about his past. The same is true for GR13, especially when Luc sets a trap for his former comrades that results in most of them being destroyed.  Hence, Andrew begins making it his personal mission to take down Luc as he did decades previously.  For Luc, the last piece of his memory is unlocked when he and Veronica visit Dr. Christopher Gregor (Jerry Orbach), a psychologist partly responsible for the project that brought Luc from the grave and turned him and the others into super soldiers.  With a clear knowledge of who he was, Luc decides to return home.  He is followed there by Andrew, and we have the inevitable final battle between the two adversaries.  Luc, of course, wins and presumably has a fairytale mountain Creole ending to his life.

Universal Soldier is a dumb action flick that sought to capitalize on Jean-Claude Van Damme’s fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a quick buck.  It might not come as a surprise to you that Roland Emmerich also directed such “blockbusters” as Independence Day (1996) and Midway (2019).  I put that word in quotations because it is shorthand for a certain vein of movies that cares much more for intense action than plot, or any other sensible aspect of film production.  I have already mentioned a few silly moments that found their way into the final cut.  They are relatively benign.  Some that are a little more insidious are the ones where Luc is naked on screen.  The first time this is explained by his need to cool down.  Apparently, the one weakness of these soldiers is overheating.  The second time is when he asks Veronica to dig out the tracking device the government had planted on him.  Basically, he asks her to feel him up, all in the name of their overall safety, of course.  I understand that actors and actresses are called upon to do some extraordinary things, but I wonder how Ally Walker felt about this scene?  Was there not some other way they could have gone about doing this part?  Yes, this is me being a Catholic.  Our Faith teaches that our bodies are temples, but not the kind that should be revealed willy-nilly whenever we have an electronic locator embedded in our skin.  Such revelations should be shared between husband and wife, and Luc and Veronica clearly had only recently met.

There are worse films out there than Universal Soldier.  It is also another of those moviess that we see differently as a seasoned adult than as a younger person.  The younger me was enamored of cool looking kicks and explosions.  Older me notices mountain ranges where they should not exist.  As such, there is no reason to watch this film.  The good guys win, but there is a lot of stuff in getting there that could be done without, not to mention the gratuitous violence.


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