We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.
Universal Soldier is a title I remember hearing in the past, but I never really looked into the film before today. I wanted to do a war film in honor of Veterans Day, but I’ll be honest with you, I’m not really a war movie kind of gal. I’ve seen a handful, and the ones I’ve seen have been good (Pearl Harbor, D-Day, 1917, The Patriot, etc.), but to be honest, they all kind of run together for me. Regardless of point in history, the plots of these films don’t actually vary that much.
When I ran across Universal Soldier, I knew I’d found something different. Obviously, this is a fictional film, and I hope that me choosing this film for the Veterans Day edition of #WayBackWednesday does not come across as disrespectful, as that is not my intent. I simply wanted to take a look at something different. I’d call Universal Soldier more like “RoboCop goes to war.” There are a few interesting things about the film that I think are worth pointing out on this day. Check out the trailer for the movie and let’s get started with #WayBackWednesday.
The Horror of War
Universal Soldier does not glorify war or define war as solely a heroic act. This movie makes no bones about showing how truly horrific war can be, placing our leads, Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) in the throes of the Vietnam War.
I will caution you that Universal Soldier is extremely violent and many of these acts of violence tip into horror movie levels of disturbing, rather than standard fare war movie violence. My father was drafted to the Army during the Vietnam War, and while he has never detailed much of his service there to me, from what I do know of the conflict, I can certainly understand why he would not want to recount it. Again, while this is a science fiction war flick, I appreciate that the filmmakers chose not to omit the horrors and price of war.
At first glance, one might think of Universal Soldier as simply another violent action flick with Van Damme and Lundgren grunting, hitting stuff, shooting stuff, and blowing stuff up. And on one level, that’s certainly true. If you enjoy action films with these two martial artists, then you’ll certainly enjoy this movie for that reason.
For me, as a student and fan of science fiction, I could not help but notice that the eyepieces worn by the universal soldiers were not unlike that of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also, the idea that these re-animated soldiers are now spliced with technology and cybernetics, screams not only Borg to me, but also is not unlike 1987’s RoboCop. Some of the over-the-top humor and violence in this film is not unlike RoboCop either. If you’re into watching the influence of science fiction bleeding into action flicks, look no further than Universal Soldier.
There’s More Where That Came From
In researching this film, I was surprised to learn that a, let’s be honest, middling science fiction action film, begat FIVE film sequels, a comic book mini-series, and a rebranded video game tie-in. (And there’s still only ONE season of Firefly…). But hey, if it works, it works.
If Universal Soldier is your jam, then you’ll certainly want to read the 1992 mini-series adaptation from NOW Comics written by Clint McElroy of The Adventure Zone podcast, watch Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms, Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business, Universal Soldier: The Return, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, and play Turrican II: The Final Fight, which was rebranded as Universal Soldier for the Sega Genesis and Gameboy systems.
If you’re looking for a different sort of war movie for Veterans Day, give Universal Soldier a try. Heck, if you really like it, you’ve got a built-in marathon with the whole franchise.
Universal Soldier is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.