Van Damme’s 1992 blockbuster hit Universal Soldier
And the multiverse that followed
Today, we are going to discuss Jean Claude Van Damme’s 1992 blockbuster hit Universal Soldier and the multiverse that followed. Let’s start at the beginning.
The DTV (direct to video) Timeline:
Of course it still starts with the original theatrical film from 1992, Universal Soldier
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1992 – Universal Soldier
Directed by Roland Emmerich, Universal Soldier is the story of Luc Deveraux (Jean Claude Van Damme) and his psychopathic rival Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren).
While serving in Vietnam, Scott sadistically attacks villagers. Deveraux intervenes and the two soldiers end up fighting to the death. Decades later, the two soldiers return to life following a secret military project called the “Universal Soldier” program. Their memories are erased and they become the perfect soldier and killing machine. On a present day mission, Deveraux begins to gain consciousness while Scott resumes his ruthless behavior. They are assigned to kill Veronica Roberts, a TV journalist (Ally Walker). Deveraux escapes with Roberts and the two are pursued by Scott and his team of Universal Soldiers. In the end, Deveraux and Scott have a fight to the death rematch with Deveraux standing tall.
On a side note, JCVD and Dolph came up with a clever way to promote the film. The Universal Soldier rivalry was recreated at the Cannes Film Festival.
Optional Behind the Scenes Clips:
Following Universal Soldier, in the direct to video timeline came 2 movies produced by Rigel Entertainment, and are set in a standalone continuity loosely based on the original film.
In 1998 came Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms
None of the original actors returned for this direct-to-video sequel. Luc Deveraux is now played by Matt Battaglia and Veronica Roberts is replaced by Chandra West. Burt Reynolds joins the cast as Mentor, a CIA director. Gary Busey also joins in on the fun.
The film’s tagline is: “No Memory, No Emotion, No Mercy… Until one of them decides to become human again”.
As far as the synopsis goes,
The Universal Soldier budget has been cut by the government. Of course, the budget for this film in comparison to it’s predecessor has been drastically cut as well. Anyway, The CIA takes over and allows a gang of mercenaries to use Universal Soldiers to smuggle diamonds to the highest bidder. The UniSol controllers activate a homing beacon inside Luc Deveraux’s body to lure him out of hiding, causing him to travel to the UniSol base and have his memory reprogrammed. Veronica rescues Luc and discovers that Luc’s dead brother Eric has also been resurrected.
Runtime of an hour and 32 minutes
Also 1998, Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business was produced as well, with the tagline: “Back in action and deadlier than ever!”
In this one,
Luc and Veronica travel to Canada to expose the Universal Soldiers. After a hostage situation, Luc and Veronica become fugitives. Mentor (again played by Burt Reynolds) and his team create a powerful UniSol clone of Luc’s brother Eric, to assassinate the fugitives.
The two films were produced for Showtime as a miniseries meant as a backdoor pilot for a tv series. Unfortunately, the series never happened. So that concludes the Universal Soldier direct to video saga.
Now, we are going to talk about an alternate timeline. Let’s go back to the beginning.
The Return Timeline
Directed by Mic Rodgers, Universal Soldier: The Return hit theaters in August 1999.
Pick up your copy here: https://amzn.to/3Q0OzoY
In this one, Michael Jai White returns to the cast!
MJW briefly appeared in the first movie. He said, “I was chopped down to basically one line in the beginning of the movie. I was not going to tell Jean-Claude that we worked together in the first one, but he remembered.”
Professional wrestler Bill Goldberg also appears in the film. Van Damme said about Goldberg, “He’s a big guy. When I see him wrestling I’m amazed. In the ring these guys are slapping each other down hard to make the snap and that’s some incredible control.” On a fun side note, In 1999, Van Damme along with Chuck Norris briefly appeared in WCW along with Goldberg.
As far as the synopsis goes, Luc Deveraux has returned to a normal life. He works for the government as a technical expert and assists with the Universal Soldier program. Luc and his partner Maggie (played by fitness buff Kiana Tom) work with an AI called S.E.T.H. (Self-Evolving Thought Helix) to improve the soldiers. Unfortunately, budget cuts hit the Universal Soldier program (which seems like a common theme in these films). Much like HAL 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey, SETH doesn’t believe in shutting down either and betrays his colleagues. He programs himself into the unnamed soldier played by Michael Jai White. SETH and Romeo (played by Goldberg) wreck havoc and along the way, several people die and Luc’s daughter is kidnapped by SETH. With the help of Maggie, Luc defeats the army of evil soldiers and escapes with daughter; but not before laying the smackdown on Goldberg and MJW.
Universal Soldier: The Return was also meant to be a return for Van Damme, and bring his career back to prominence after a string of Box Office disappointments such as Double Team and Knock Off (make sure to check out the videos I did breaking those down.
Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/hIiocBToEhE
Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/_IUXd6huNSM
Unfortunately, Universal Soldier: The Return ended up becoming a box office dud as well, grossing just over 10 million dollars on an estimated 45 million dollar budget. I still remember seeing it in the theater, and I wasn’t the only one that was disappointed, the audience clearly wasn’t enthused and I even remember a heckler making some negative remarks, and the theater seemed to agree with his sentiment. The film was directed by Mic Rodgers, who previously worked as stunt coordinator, with Universal Soldier: The Return being his first and last film that he directed. He would continue to work in the stunt world for another 2 decades though.
The UltraViolent Timeline:
2009 – Universal Soldier: Regeneration
Directed by John Hyams, MMA fighters Andre Arlovski and Mike Pyle join Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in the film.
Terrorists kidnap the Ukraine Prime Minister’s family and demand the release of their imprisoned comrades. They threaten to detonate a bomb if their demands are not met. A Next-Generation UniSol aka NGU (Arlovski) is working with the terrorists and protecting them. The prime minister agrees with the demands; however, the terrorists victory is short lived as Andrew Scott shows up and kills them all. In typical fashion, Scott reactivates the bomb and looks for the missing hostages for a new ransom. Capt. Kevin Burke (Pyle) and Luc Deveraux are sent to save the hostages. Burke tries to rescue the prime minister’s family but is killed by the NGU. Luc fights with Scott and defeats him with a gruesome shotgun blast to the head. Luc saves the day by using the terrorist’s bomb on NGU and rescuing the hostages. Capt. Burke’s body is later shown stored in a cryogenic chamber and becomes a new universal soldier.
This film marks the first time Peter Hyams has acted as cinematographer without also directing. He previously worked with Van Damme in Timecop as director and cinematographer. In Universal Soldier: Regeneration, his son, John Hyams acted as Director.
Speaking of sons, Van Damme’s son Kris Van Damme appears in the film as well as its follow-up.
This film also marks the reunion of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren to the Universal Soldier franchise with the fitting tagline, “Reanimated, Rearmed, The ultimate Rematch”
Following this timeline, 2012 would see Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (aka A New Dimension)
In an interview with Collider, director John Hyams said, “Day of Reckoning is either the third, fourth or sixth film in the franchise depending on if you include the pair of non-canon Direct-to-Television sequels and/or the totally retconned Universal Soldier: The Return.”
In this one, John (Scott Adkins) awakens from a coma to learn that his family were brutally murdered in a home invasion. John learns the attacker was Luc Deveroux. Over time, he learns Deveraux (Van Damme), Scott (Lundgren), and Magnus (Arlovski) have created a team of Universal Soldiers free of government command. John defeats Scott and Magnus but can’t find Deveraux. However, John learns he is not who he thinks he is. John has been implanted with fake memories and is actually a Universal Soldier clone on a mission to kill Luc Devearaux. John confronts Luc about everything that happened. The two engage in combat. John defeats Luc and becomes the new leader of the Universal Soldier resistance army.
Jean-Claude Van Damme reportedly had trouble with the long-winded and exaggerated choreography in the final fight with Scott Adkins, saying “people don’t fight like this”. Adkins, for his part, stated in an interview that he moved slower than he normally would to accommodate Van Damme, who was used to a more deliberate style of movie fighting than the Hong Kong style Adkins is known for. Adkins was also apparently suffering from a torn ligament during filming of the scene, which impaired his mobility.
I personally much prefer Van Damme’s movie fight style over Adkins, check out my video on why Van Damme is the Best onscreen fighter ever to find out out why.
Reportedly, Jean-Claude Van Damme did not like that his character would be killed by Scott Adkins in the final fight and was only persuaded to do the scene as written the day before principal photography began. Director John Hyams admitted “there was a lot of negotiation around how that all played out” and cited it as an example of Van Damme “passing the torch”.
So that was back in 2012, but we never did get another Universal Soldier film since.
Rumor has it, there is another reboot in the development. What are your thoughts on the Universal Soldier timeline? Which film is your favorite? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Watch the full video on Universal Soldier Timelines here: https://youtu.be/EmIea2vbxfA
Special Thanks to Peter for providing the research for this article.