Thursday, May 20, 2010

Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)


Aka "Universal Soldier IV"

Believe it or not I was looking forward to this film when it was released. First of all I enjoyed the original Universal Soldier, second it had the return of Van Damme, and third it was the franchises return to a theatrical film after two ultra lame TV made sequels in 1998. Even the title got me excited... "The Return". I thought it was the return to what made Universal Soldier enjoyable, the same enjoyable factor that the two TV made sequels buried in a well, 50 feet Deep, covered in concrete then had a house built over it. As you can tell by my rating my childhood dream of actually having a decent Universal Soldier sequel came to a crashing halt.

The film's plot completely ignores the previous TV made sequels and thankfully so. The title even ignores those lame entries by having no number. I usually dislike sequel titles that use a subtitle and no number however I am okay with it for this film. They couldn't call it "Universal Soldier 2" because one already existed and that would just confuse the shit out of people. They also couldn't call it "Universal Soldier 4" because that would mean they would have to acknowledge that II and III exist and trust me, they shouldn't be acknowledged or remembered. So instead the film opens after a ultra lame title sequence with Van Damme on a Jet Ski with what looks like a handful of universal soldiers on his tail. It ends up being a training exercise and Van Damme, whose character is now completely back to acting like a normal human being, is the man in charge of training the UniSols for battle. The UniSols are all run by a central computer named SETH. Once SETH gets word that the Universal Soldier program is going to get shut down, he goes all Hal 9000 on their ass by trapping every crew member in the building and releasing the Universal Soldiers to wreck havoc. SETH later gets its consciousness transferred to a human body (in the form of Michael Jai White) and predictably it comes down to a showdown between him and Van Damme.

Despite being a theatrically made film with a higher budget, this sequel threw everything it had going for it for making an entertaining sequel to B-action classic in the toilet. Everything about this film is God awful! The's just Hal 9000 having a temper tantrum and killing people with re-animated soldiers. The acting is also atrocious. It's a sad day when Van Damme is actually one of the better actors in the lot. WWF wrestler Goldberg makes his film debut as the muscle soldier for SETH and it proves he should stick to television entertainment and keep his greedy little hands out of feature films. The Rock he is not! Director Mic Rodgers is a stuntman turned director and it shows. He gives the film a flat, direct-to-video look and fills the film with moronic sequences. The films three ultimate lows he filmed includes a sequence when SETH on a computer monitor types "on the other hand, FUCK YOU" complete with a caricature of a hand flipping the computer programmer off. The second sequence has our heroine ride on the back of Goldberg down a stairway like a sled, slamming his head through a cinder block wall. The third sequence has Goldberg actually tear off his shirt and use his signature wrestling spear move on a soldier. I actually felt a little sick at the complete stupidity infecting my living room from my TV screen.

Director Mic Rodgers would never direct again and I thank God for that every single day. He had the chance to reclaim the B-action glory of the first film that was wrecked by two TV movie sequels and he failed making this theatrical effort even worse than those two previous abominations. I never for one moment thought this franchise could get any worse but it did and the Universal Soldier franchise deserved to die. It actually did kill the franchise for 10 years until one day I was shocked by another sequel on the DVD shelf entitled Universal Soldier: Regeneration. I was fooled 3 times into seeing Universal Soldier sequels and all I got was a shit sandwich and I was not going to take a fourth bite. However thanks to my brother I gave it shot and was pleasantly surprised. People like me who have given up on the franchise are still recommended to see the next entry, even if it means skipping the first three ultra shitty sequels.

Bonus Rant: What was up with the look of the Universal Soldiers? They looked all sleek and stylish.... and not very soldier-like. I'm sorry but I can't take a soldier wearing Oakley sunglasses seriously. The outfits in the original made them look like bad ass soldiers. Here they just look like snowboarders.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

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