Universal Soldier

The Return

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Details At A Glance

Category Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital City
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 79:39 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Cast and Crew
Featurette - Behind The Scenes (4:46)
Featurette - Looking Back, Moving Forward with Jean-Claude Van Damme (9:31)
Featurette - A Universal Soldier's Workout with Michael Jai White (4:05)
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Mic Rodgers

Columbia Tristar
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
Michael Jai White 
Kiana Tom
Daniel Van Bargen
Bill Goldberg
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $39.95 Music Don Davis

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    Now, lets see ... where is that Robocop 3 review? Okay, here it is ... yes, I think if I replace the words Robocop 3 with Universal Soldier: The Return, I might be able to get away with a quickie review here.

    Having previously suffered the delights of Universal Soldier, I have to confess that I was somewhat baffled by the announcement that a sequel was to be made. I never thought I would see the day that a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie would be deemed to be so successful that a sequel was required. Whilst Universal Soldier was a mildly entertaining film - well okay, very mildly - I never saw anything in it to warrant a sequel. Yet they did indeed manage to pull off this amazing event and produce the sequel. Now, what is the one problem common to most sequels? They are never a patch upon the original film. So if the original film was not particularly great, what is the sequel going to be like? Yes, you got it in one - a complete load of cobblers. Sorry, but Universal Soldier: The Return is precisely that, and hence the comparison to the ill-fated Robocop 3. Whilst it has very slightly more merit than that appalling effort, it is not by much and I would have thought even JCVD fans would be hard-pressed to find redeeming features in this rubbish.

    And what laughingly is referred to as the plot here is pretty much the same as most JCVD films. JCVD fighting to save the girl/child/world/country from the baddies. In the process of overcoming appalling odds (as usual), JCVD not only saves the girl/child/world/country but also gets the girl (as usual). Unfortunately reprising his role of Luc Devereaux, Jean-Claude Van Damme is part of the team responsible for the creation of a new, improved version of the Universal Soldier, known as Unisol 2500 and going by such cheery names as Romeo (Bill Goldberg). The whole team of improved Unisols is controlled by super computer S.E.T.H. (Michael Jai White), but when S.E.T.H. feels threatened by the military's decision to close down the programme, he goes a little berserk and takes over complete control of the Unisols. Trouble is he needs to find the password to stop his automatic self-destruction, which only Luc has after the demise of his boss, and hooks up with disgruntled former employee Squid (Brent Hinkley) to transfer his consciousness to a super body, and is ultimately hell bent on destroying Luc. Throw in some woeful child and love interest subplots and this really goes off the rails in a humungous way. Spoiler alert: he fails miserably despite being a squillion times more powerful and clever. (highlight with your mouse if you want to save money)

    So what we have here is a pretty lousy plot, brought to life (in the loosest possible way) by some pretty poor acting and compounded by some rather average directing. After so many films, you would have thought that poor old Jean-Claude Van Damme would have at least managed to get some of the rudiments of acting down pat, but they still elude him. The acting is so wooden, and the delivery of lines so obviously contrived, that this really is bordering on a joke. At least Michael Jai White is slightly more adept in his acting in comparison (although Anthony Hopkins he is not), whilst Bill Goldberg approaches his role with an almost flippant attitude, and consequently just about succeeds. The female interests in the film have very limited roles and are barely given the opportunity to show what they can do. Add into the mixture an almost irrelevant scene at a nudey bar so that the obligatory naked women could be shown, and there really is no depth that this effort failed to try to plumb. Although having the computer screen proudly displaying "F*** You" managed to plumb depths not often reached by any film, no matter how bad. Add to that the shocking misspelling of the word anomaly on another computer screen shot, and this really is rubbish indeed. However, the fight sequences are handled pretty well and JCVD and MJW both prove that they do not lack anything in their martial arts abilities. But that simply is not enough to carry this turkey too far and perhaps they should have killed it for Thanksgiving so that we did not have to suffer it.

    This dross garners a solid 3 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, and I for one am not going to disagree with that assessment. To think that a Collector's Edition has been wasted on this tosser of a film, and that we have to fork out $40 for the privilege to acquire it, is almost too much to bear.

Transfer Quality


    Well, the film might be a load of old cobblers, but the transfer is not, although I found it a curiously underwhelming effort.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    What surprised me is that this is not an especially sharp transfer and seems to lack something in definition. The overall effect I found to be quite flat with very little in the way of depth of field. This may of course be how the film was shot, but for such a recent film, I was expecting to be dazzled by sharpness and definition. Overall shadow detail was pretty good, but again nothing like I would have expected from a film of this vintage. There does not appear to be any low level noise problems with the transfer, although at times the picture does seem just a little grainy.

    Overall the colours seemed to be a little muted and do not display any sort of real vibrancy at all. The overall problem seems to be a lack of colour saturation, so whether this is again the way the film was shot I can only speculate.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, and film-to-video artefacts were virtually non-existent, mainly comprising some extremely minor aliasing and minor shimmer. Film artefacts were barely noted during the film, reflecting the fact that this is a very recent film.


    There are two audio tracks on this DVD, both Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts: English and German. I listened to the default English soundtrack.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.

    There were no audio sync problems with this disc, although some of the foley work seemed to be poorly co-ordinated with the visuals.

    The score by Don Davis lacks any sort of individuality and really left no indelible impression at all, other than being very clichéd.

    Again for a film of this recent vintage, I found the soundtrack to be lacking just a little in detail, and was really expecting a lot more from the surround channels. This was especially noted during the rather underwhelming explosions when the building was levelled at the end of the film. There was also one rather brief but noticeable audio drop out at about 50:43. Overall, whilst being a little underwhelming, there was not much really wrong with the soundtrack, and the soundscape is reasonably convincing, even from the relative lack of action from the surrounds and the bass channel.


    Well, here is the bad news. There are some, and actually are probably better in some respects than the feature - just read on. But this hardly qualifies for Collector's Edition status.


Theatrical trailer (1:40)

    Not an especially inspiring effort this, but I suppose it would be expecting too much for it to be.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    The usual ho-hum collection of snippets of the main cast's film careers.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (4:46)

    Really nothing much more than an extended promotional trailer with some minor behind the scenes footage that really does not add much at all to the effort. Presented in a full frame ratio, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this is not much of a contribution to the Collector's Edition package.

Featurette - Looking Back, Moving Forward with Jean-Claude Van Damme (9:31)

    Well this is where JCVD demonstrates that he may have a future in comedy, because this had me rolling on the floor with laughter. Completely unintentional of course, but when JCVD comes out with such immortal lines as "... I saw myself becoming an actor..." and "I made it", with a completely straight face, you have to laugh. Sorry, I simply could not help myself. This is really nothing more than an extended promotional video for previous JCVD films on Columbia TriStar and adds nothing at all to the package in that sense. Presented in a full frame ratio, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, the unintended comedy actually makes this the highlight of the whole package, film included.

Featurette - A Universal Soldier's Workout with Michael Jai White (4:05)

    This is really nothing more than an excuse to show off MJWs well developed physique and as such will no doubt keep a lot of women very happy. Cannot imagine that there are too many people that would otherwise find this full of worthwhile insights. Presented in a full frame ratio, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this really is of dubious value in the package.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     Hardly sufficient to prefer the Region 1 release, so lets call it evens.


    Another tosser of a film that should be avoided at all costs - and this one is going to cost you at $40. And just to be sure, I watched this with a friend of the family and his assessment was even worse than mine!

    The video transfer is pretty good.

    The audio transfer is pretty decent.

    The extras are nothing to get excited about.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
17th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL