Monday, June 2, 2014

Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) Review:

After Roland Emmerich's Universal Soldier (1992), the series was capitalized on its success by producing sequels to it that were released on TV. However, these "sequels" as they were called, were received poorly due to fans’ lack of interest and a far less entertaining cast. Then 1999 rolled around and Universal Soldier fans were surprised to see this come to their TV informing them trailer style that Van Damme was returning. It's curious to say what the title to this actual sequel just meant “the return” of. Was it the return of Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Deveraux? Or was it that the plot to this installment revolved around Deveraux returning to a similar station where Unisols were created just like him? Maybe it wasn't even that deep. Perhaps the producers just meant it was the return from the TV productions back into actual theatrically released movies. No one will know and probably not many will care either because this installment barely qualifies as a sequel.

What? I thought Van Damme was better than this!?
The reason why it is difficult for this movie to be called a sequel to the 1992 original is because of how flimsy the writing connects to its predecessor. After the 1992 film, there wasn't anybody left working on the Unisol project. Everyone except Deveraux had died because of how badly the project turned out to be. Yet, here we are (with no perception of how much time has passed between both films), Deveraux is now one of the leads of operation at a new Unisol factory. Apparently he acquired his humanity back from two meaningless scientists that have very little importance later on in the film. During a regualr day, the main computer system (S.E.T.H. - voiced by Michael Jai White) becomes self-aware and decides that it's time he takes control. So who exactly approved the Unisol program? Plus, all the scientists were dead. Who knew how to regenerate more dead soldiers? It was a tiny select group of people.

But this is the least of the problems. First of all, why is Deveraux assisting in the creation of more Unisols? What's his motivation behind this? What possible benefit could he have from this if he knows exactly what could go wrong? It doesn't make any sense. There's even a scene where Deveraux has a flashback to his death and the kind of treatment he was given when he was a Unisol. This almost hints at that Deveraux isn't passed his own stress, but it's never visited again. Deveraux even has a daughter named Hillary who he named after his wife of the same name - wait what? In the 1992 movie, the nosey news reporter was named Veronica and most fans can safely agree that it looked like the future couple was going to be Deveraux and Veronica. Where did this Hillary girl come in?
Even more insulting is how obvious and obligatory it becomes when Deveraux comes in contact with another thickheaded female reporter, guess where that goes.

These issues alone amount to a very confusing, poorly written main character that feels like a totally different person. Forget trying to even understand anyone else that's brought in because his or her development is given far less attention. The villain played by Michael Jai White brings up multiple questions as well. Just because a computer system becomes self-aware does not mean it all of sudden knows how to perform martial arts. S.E.T.H.'s motivations are also unexplained besides him wanting to rid the world of chaos. I assume this was apart of the fad for 1999 - making all computers self aware and ready to massacre mankind. Then there's Bill Goldberg as the skull-smashing wrestler turned Unisol. The only thing audiences will know about him is that he hates Deveraux. Why - no will know because it's never explained. What's the point of creating a personality if there's nothing to back it up? I enjoyed him more as the silent type in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

William Malone and John Fasano are the writers behind this. Fasano was probably the man behind all the parts to the film that tried to recollect on what made the original as good as it could be. For all that, it seems like Malone's parts were favored more, which is what made this story so inconsistent. Malone is also the director behind the illogical Creature (1985) film. Just horrendously bad. What's even stranger is that these two writers tried to incorporate comedic lines that are as subtle as the ones of the first. For example, going back to Goldberg, he would be flattened by something and say "I hate that guy" in a cartoony way. What made the first movie funny at times was that of how deadpan it was delivered. Here, it just sounds silly.

and then there's this barrel of potatos
Mic Rodgers whose real profession is in stunt coordination directed the film. It's also very obvious because this movie contains a lot of action scenes involving stunts so it fits that this would be what he focuses on most. However, this doesn't fix anything. The action is generic and again, cartoonish at times. It's mindless action - nothing complex. Surprisingly for 1999, there aren't many special effects either. Cinematography isn't great either because very little of this movie takes places outside a building, and if it is, it's in the dark. Lastly, Don Davis' score has some quality to it but again, it's nothing that's really memorable considering several times hardcore metal is put in from time to time. Metal is fine but it has to be used in the right manner. This wasn’t it and Davis isn’t a newbie at composing. He scored the Matrix trilogy!

It's practically nothing like the 1992 original. For a title that supposed to signify the return of greatness - the return is far less than even minimally acceptable. Continuing stories do not contain writing like this.

Points Earned --> 2:10

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