A Brief History of Universal Soldier
Looking back to the tough, no-nonsense 1992 original, the first Universal Soldier film was a thrilling blend of sci-fi and martial arts action as two major genre stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, fronted one of their all-time biggest hits. They played two regenerated dead soldiers continuing their rivalry even when resurrected as assets in an illegal government scheme. The movie boasted great production values, a good story, quality action and a strong soundtrack, notably the Ice-T fronted Body Count track "Body Count's in the House" from their first album.
After the original movie was released, Carolco, the production company that backed the film went bankrupt and in 1995 sold the rights to Skyvision Entertainment in Toronto. After this, two TV movies were released direct-to-video and produced for Showtime / The Movie Channel as a ‘backdoor’ pilot for a series. These movies featured Matt Battaglia as Luc Devreaux and co-stars included the likes of Jeff Wincott, Burt Reynolds and Gary Busey. Interesting entries and still part of the history.
Later in 1999, Van Damme returned for the fourth film, Universal Soldier: The Return, not so well received initially, but enjoyed now as a cult film among fans and nonetheless brought the exceptional talent of Michael Jai White to the table.
The most recent titles in the series, Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, overlooked the events of The Return and took the franchise in a far darker direction. Director John Hyams, who first established himself making documentaries, aimed to show the edgier, horrific side of cloned and regenerated soldiers and took the series out of 90's action territory and totally remodelled it, blending themes of horror and psychological drama in the mix. He even added prolific names like Scott Adkins and UFC champ Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski into the fold. Whatever your movie preference, the entire franchise and its arc is hugely entertaining and makes for a great anthology. Each chapter is distinctly of its time and can be enjoyed on its own merits.
Here’s a recap of the evolution:
Universal Soldier (1992)
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme & Dolph Lundgren
Luc Devreaux (Van Damme) and Sgt. Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) are two soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam and are brought back to life 25 years later for a secret government program. Known as "Unisols," they're genetically enhanced, unstoppable killing machines with no memory, no feelings and no free will. But on an antiterrorist mission, Devreaux's memory starts to return and he escapes from the program. A superhuman chase across the country begins, with Sgt. Scott in unrelenting pursuit of the man who killed him. Devreaux heads for his home where Sgt. Scott corners him for the ultimate showdown.
Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms (1998)
Directed by Jeff Woolnough
Starring Matt Battaglia, Chandra West, Jeff Wincott & Gary Busey
After the terrible events of the original Universal Soldier testings, the budget has been slashed by the government. Under the orders of a CIA director, a gang of mercenaries take control of the new line of Universal Soldiers and try to use them into helping smuggle diamonds to the highest foreign buyer. When Luc Devreaux starts causing problems, his newly found younger brother is taken prisoner along with news reporter Veronica Reynolds.
Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business (1998)
Directed by Jeff Woolnough
Starring Matt Battaglia, Chandra West, Jeff Wincott & Burt Reynolds
Luc Devreaux and Veronica Roberts continue their attempts to expose the Universal Soldier unit. But after a hostage situation mistakenly leaves Veronica a fugitive, the two escape the city and go into hiding. The CIA Deputy Director and Dr. Walker are also in the middle of engineering a powerful new UniSol clone of Luc's brother Eric to assassinate him and Veronica, and a new battle commences.
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
Directed by Mic Rodgers
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White & Bill Goldberg
Years later, Luc, now devoting his life to fatherhood, is serving as a technical expert on a special Government project to revive and improve the Universal Soldier Training Programme. Sophisticated, intelligent and agile, the new breed of soldier is under the control of SETH, a supercomputer who proves to be a real danger when he develops a mind of his own. Developing a plan to destroy Luc, SETH kidnaps his daughter. Racing against the clock to keep his family safe, Devreaux must battle SETH and the UniSols once again.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Directed by John Hyams
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren & Andrei Arlovski
The world is in danger and the government is being threatened. Crazed terrorists are on the loose and will stop at nothing to cause death and destruction. Using stolen technology they have created their own version of the Universal Soldier: a lethal robot warrior whose only programme is to kill and kill again. The government's only hope is to regenerate Luc Devreaux, a decommissioned Unisol and expert assassin. His mission: to infiltrate a highly armed fortress, slaughter the enemy and save the world from nuclear disaster. But somebody - or something - is waiting for him.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)
Directed by John Hyams
Starring Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme & Dolph Lundgren
Forced into hiding, a rogue troop of UniSols have formed an underground militia of deadly warriors. Lead by the merciless Andrew Scott (Lundgren) and Luc Devreaux (Van Damme), their plan is to rage a war of total destruction. Only one man can stop them. Hell bent on revenge for the death of his family, John (Adkins) is on a mission to hunt down and kill all UniSols, unless they find him first.
With these latest entries re-igniting the franchise and getting fans excited once more, director John Hyams has commented on the possibility of making another movie. With a director of his vision bringing so much fresh energy to the franchise, here’s hoping a new title is eventually on the cards. If not, it's been a great ride and a pretty amazing slice of action genre history.
Did you know?
To end lightly, there was even a Universal Soldier video game released in 1992! However, it was a conversion of Turrican II: The Final Fight for the Sega Genesis and Game Boy and the similarities are more than a little obvious….