It’s Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Michael Jai White! C’mon people!
I don’t remember if I’ve ever stated this (I probably have, more than once), but Jean-Claude Van Damme is my hero. Just putting it out there. Has been ever since I was a kid. I also have a huge love of Dolph Lundgren and his movies. Those two guys and their movies were my entire childhood. So when I first saw the trailer for Universal Soldier, I went berserk! These 2 titans of action were gonna fight it out in a movie?? I’M THERE!
And as you all know, it was epic. One of the best action movies to ever come out of the 90s. End of discussion. What? You thought I was gonna talk about Universal Soldier? I mean, I’d love to, but that isn’t my quest. Oh no. I’m here to talk about the sequel. No, not the 2 showtime sequels. We don’t count those (what a waste of Jeff Wincott too). No, I mean Universal Soldier: The Return! One of the greatest action movies ever made!
What? Why are you looking at me like that? It is. Oh hush you, this movie rules!
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
Luc Deveraux must team up with the whole army, as well as a plucky news reporter, to stop the new and improved breed of universal soldiers when the supercomputer SETH goes haywire.
I LOOOVE this movie. I really do. Call it crappy taste in movies all you want, but I see no problems with this ultimate piece of badassery. Just 82 minutes of karate fights, shootouts, explosions, chases, and thundering heavy metal. What more could you want from a loud, dumb action movie?
For starters, let’s look at our cast: the Muscles from Brussels returns to one of his most memorable roles as Luc, the original universal soldier, who is now perfectly human again because… the script said so. But enough sarcasm, this is truly one of his better performances. When we find Luc in this one, he is happily human again, raising his daughter Hillary, but with a deep sadness after the death of his wife (it isn’t stated outright, but it is believed to be Veronica from the first one).
JCVD has always shown himself to be more emotionally available than a lot of his counterparts (*cough* Steven Seagal *cough*), and his performance here is no different. The scene where he cries himself to sleep in the dark while holding a picture of his late wife is so beautifully profound for a movie that features an extended gratuitous brawl in a strip club. Bravo, JCVD.
Michael Jai White and Crew
The supporting players are great as well. WCW legend Bill Goldberg chews the scenery and spits it out as Romeo, the resident bad boy of the new unisol crew. Heidi Schanz is up to par as the new love interest. Kiara Tom holds her own as Luc’s sidekick, and genre veterans Xander Berkeley, Daniel von Bargen, and an underutilized James Black all round out a very impressive B-movie action cast.
But as you can see, I left out a pretty important member of the cast, because they say you should save the best for last (hey, that rhymes). I’m talking about the Black Dragon himself, Michael Jai White as the living embodiment of SETH. MJW 100% walks off with the movie with his epic portrayal of ultimate action badassness in the role of super villain SETH.
While he had minor roles in action movies before, including a blink and you’ll miss him part in the opening scene of the original Universal Soldier, I believe this is the role that cemented him as the force in ultimate action movie history that he is today. Even people who don’t like this movie readily admit “Well, at least MJW was awesome in it.”
JCVD is the Fred Astaire of Martial Arts!
And speaking of awesome, how undeniably awesome is the final fight between him and JCVD?? This monumental battle is to this day one of my all time favorite movie fights. The level of badass karate on display here borders on pure sorcery. It’s like the Fred Astaire of martial arts did a scene with Gene Kelly. Absolutely phenomenal! I can’t recommend it enough!
Any issues? Well, the movie IS pretty dumb. Like dumber than a bag of wash rags. The plot seems more suitable for a SyFy original movie. But we don’t watch movies like this for its plot, so who cares? Also, did the movie have to end so abruptly? The movie literally ends not even 15 seconds after the final explosion.
Like damn, that’s it? We couldn’t get a fade out? Just straight cut to black? Ok. And is it just me, or does the movie look significantly cheaper, yet costing nearly double the amount to produce than the original?? Maybe most of the money ended up as JCVD’s paycheck? Who knows what happened, because that money sure as hell didn’t end up on screen.
But with that being said, this is a fun time that I think people are entirely too hard on. It knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t try to be anything else than what it is: a loud, dumb rock ’em, sock ’em action flick. And what’s so wrong about that?