Universal Soldier makes my Review go WTF

Finding movies to blog about can be hard sometimes. Over the last few weeks I have compiled a list of possible candidates to blog about which basically are movies I have already seen long time ago but are on a good enough level so I will “waste” my lifetime watching them again and write something about it.

Universal Soldier never made it on this list since I never considered it or even remembered that movie in the first place. After reading about this movie in a TV magazine I gave some thoughts about it. And I was close to not watch Universal Soldiers because this blog already has a strong SciFi focus (Rollerball, Akira and Avatar are good indicators for this trend).

Sigh… in the end it would have been better if I ignored Universal Soldier completely.

You know, the first and last time I watched Universal Soldier was shortly after its release on the good old video tape when DVDs only were legends. At that time (yeah I was young) I really thought that the movie was cool as hell. I had fun with it and was impressed with everything.

And now?

Time certainly wasn’t merciful. That much I already knew seconds after the movie started.

There are many reasons why Universal Soldiers is a bomb to me. Normally it takes at least some minutes to spot the first problems, when you get to know the characters or the setting.

But when I began to watch Universal Soldiers it only took me some mere seconds. No, not because of some bad Voice Over Narration but because it’s riddled with some really horrible lightning quality.  In each and every pixel in each and every frame of the movie I smelled this bad lightning situation all around the actors.

Somehow I am not truly convinced that the vietnamnese village was shot on location

Somehow I am not truly convinced that this Vietnamese village was shot on location. But that's only a guess.

It’s the typical problem of many 90s movies and cheap TV series which lit their scenes in ways impossible in real life. You know, you have so much lights pointed at the characters on screen that you wonder how many suns earth truly has. Or wonder if night always was this bright.

And well, this somehow ruined to movie for me from the start because I only could think of the lightning aspects instead of the plot or characters.

But it got even worse because of something that I call “Technical Limitations of the 90s (TL90)”. Universal Soldiers basically managed to totally piss me off by using that one. I don’t blame the team personally but it simply is beyond shit when Universal Soldiers never truly let me glimpse the superhuman possibilities of those hot-cold blooded guys.

When the universal soldiers spring into action, we don’t see how fast they swim to a dam (Hover Dam?) in which some hostages have to be freed. We are only told that fact and basically have to imagine them being awesome. What’s worse is that when Emmerich shows us those soldiers in action I never got the feeling “Wow, a stuntman couldn’t have accomplished this”.  Because…well, it was a stuntman who did this and no digital double, which – for example – could slide down the dam losing an arm on the fast way down.

Time really is a nasty fellow, even more so when it’s combined with technology. We live in a time in which digital departments even spiff up pure blue skies and the Bourne Trilogy showed us (or at least me) who’s really the boss in terms of non-martial fighting. As a result most of the 90s stuff simply doesn’t thrill me anymore – if it ever did. So watching an action flick where two slow guys beat themselves up by using their marketing moves was as thrilling to me as looking at my watch.

Yep, the fighting between them was that good

Yep, the fighting between them was that good. They really are goddamn Super Zombies.

Another thing that made Universal Soldiers almost unbearable to watch is those goddamn clichés of the 90s. Universal Soldier not only incorporates them but takes them to extremes. Basically the script manages to boil down every cliché hip at that time to one single character: the female journalist. Jep, you read correctly: female journalist. Not only is she a woman (which is not bad at all but it’s an action movie cliché to rule them all) but also a journalist. The writers really must have taken their time to forget everything they knew as this shit’s been used only hundreds of times already.

Although these problems above are big on massive proportions I probably could have lived with that – even with the constant downhill route in terms of quality.

But then came along this one single scene that totally ruined Universal Soldier completely.

If you have seen the movie you’ll probably know. It’s the scene in which the female journalist manages to not only get close to the rolling center of one of the most secret operations ever, no, she even manages to walk around and take some photos of a universal soldier who’s not that dead after all. Seriously, I had to visit a doctor after this scene because I smashed my fist through the monitor.

Meet the epitome of cliché. By the way: in this shot she walks around in the center of the military operation

Meet the epitome of cliché. By the way: in this shot she walks around in the center of the secret military operation. Why? Because she can!!!!

After that scene I couldn’t take Universal Soldier seriously anymore. It could’ve saved itself by pulling some fantastic stuff. But it didn’t. Quite the contrary: it only got worse.

One thing is that even though the writers intended to show us super secret and super modern stuff, the whole operation called “Super Secret Super Zombie Soldier Experiment” only oozed the smell of a kindergarten. Nobody really knew what they were doing and where they were heading.

For what reason did they create those universal soldiers? For war? For suppressing riots? For something else? For what? I really hope it’s not to only save some hostages on a dam because buying them out would have been way cheaper. Moreover the seemingly multi-billion dollar operation was not important at all because later in the movie one obscure phone call was able to stop the whole experiment – which in the end meant that no big meeting was necessary to pull the plug.

No Jean-Claude, this is not how to look intimidating. This is how to look after the 200th take and still not getting right.

No Jean-Claude, this is not how to look intimidating. This is how to look after the 200th take and still not getting it right.

The longer I watched Universal Soldier the stronger my feeling that the writers didn’t really know why they were writing this movie. Or they didn’t want to because they even didn’t think of some of the most basic aspects. For example: was this operation top secret at all? So our walking cliché (the journalist) gets a close glimpse of the soldiers. She then gets hunted down for doing just that. Sounds okay at first. But then I started to remember the memories of the minutes that came before. You know, this one single scene I mentioned above which showed that US military seemingly doesn’t care about security.

But there’s more…

When the movie introduces us to the cold guys, we also see cops and other people who witness the universal soldiers (supposedly) working on a level beyond anything a normal human is capable of – in broad daylight. Heck they even have no problem with several witnesses seeing how one soldier gets shots to death only to zombie-shoot the mastermind a minute later. And heck, the military even didn’t send a whole army to secure everything and prevent just this from happening and to secure everything to obscurity.

Many people call them cops. They themselves call themselves cops. I call them unneeded witnesses.

Many people call them cops. They themselves call themselves cops. I call them unneeded witnesses.

Where’s the logic in this? It seems they really have no problem with the whole world knowing but when a journalist takes a photo all hell breaks loose. There really would have been better way to bring Van Dammes character back to the good side – it wouldn’t have been necessary to pull of such a stupid stunt.

Thinking about, the plot of Universal Soldier truly is a treasure trove for the chaos theory.

Another thing I couldn’t wrap my mind around is the fact that the movie begins during Vietnam War, only to smash cut 25 years into the future. Why didn’t they go for something simpler like a street fight in the vicinity of a lab for example? That would have been way more realistic. But they didn’t and so I constantly searched my brain for possible explanations of how they managed to stitch dead corpses back to life hours or even days later. It ruined the movie on a high concept level to me.

This is one of the rare moments I was glad the camera didn't move down...

This is one of the rare moments I was glad the camera didn't move down...

Oh yeah, and don’t make me get started to rant about some naked Van-Damme running around half the time. And don’t make me start ranting about the stupid ending of Universal Soldier. Or this “Hyper-Acceleration” stuff any zombie would’ve been proud of. Or the rest of the remaining plot. Sheesh…

So what else could I possible rant about despite the plot? Oh yeah, Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van-Damme. To call those two “actors” would even insult Steven Seagal and his one and a half expressions (hey, he at least blinks sometimes).

I am this harsh because both actors never gave me the impression of cold blooded professional zombie killers. I bet Jason Bourne even wouldn’t even have turned around for our beloved anti-freeze agents. This fact got only more painful to me when I remembered that even our beloved but somehow inept Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to give his Terminator a feeling of terror and pure presence. These two guys in this movie? Zippo, nada, nothing.

You know, Universal Soldier could have become totally badass. Heavily modified soldiers who lost everything human about them running wild? Call me hooked up even if this high concept probably has been done to death. There’s lots of potential for fucking cool fights, some heavy drama and thoughtful stuff. But the writers more or less blew it here. And the actors. And the director…

Moreover there’s some time problems. Because for this kind of movie to work on a visual level the 1990s basically was one decade to early. It’s almost impossible to tell a grand story of genetically modified supersoldiers using the technical abilities they had.

So, sorry to all true fans out there but to me Universal Soldier simply was one thing: shit.

There's not much saving it from being a disaster.

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