‘You’re discharged… Sarge.‘
Nostalgia is a powerful beast. Despite watching Universal Soldier roughly 86 times as a kid. I haven’t seen it once since I was a teenager. This is mainly due to the fact that I want to preserve it as it is in my mind – a thrilling head to head between Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme. In recent times I have removed some of these childhood former favourites from cold storage and on the whole, they haven’t disappointed. On that note, I’m happy to report that Universal Soldier remains as wonderful as ever…
Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Lundgren) are soldiers serving in Vietnam who also know kung fu for some reason. This is never addressed. When Scott goes full Colonel Kurtz and starts cutting people’s ears off and wearing them as a necklace (again, never explained), Scott takes him out but dies in the process. This all happens within the first ten minutes. Later, Deveraux and Scott are revived as autonomous super soldiers who exist only to follow orders. Elsewhere, Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker) is a news reporter and hot mess who somehow becomes embroiled in the whole thing.
This is a film that wears its influences on its khaki sleeves. Other than the afore alluded to Apocalypse Now, both The Terminator and Robocop loom large over the entire enterprise. While it lacks the special effects of the former and social satire of the latter, it does have two huge ridiculous men kicking the shit out of each other for 102 glorious minutes. A powerful reminder of what cinema is all about. Joking aside, this is probably Van Damme’s finest performance, and Lundgren makes for a formidable and memorable big bad. The real ace in the hole; however, is Ally Walker’s Veronica. Without her, Universal Soldier would struggle for personality.
Sure, it’s generic and unoriginal in places, and sure, it’s often ridiculous, and yes, far too much screen time is taken up discussing ears, but on the whole, Universal Soldier is a charming throwback to the golden age of action movies. Sublimely absurd.