UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 9, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“The sequel to Van Damme’s first ‘UNIVERSAL SOLDIER’ is action-packed. Featuring former all-star wrestler Bill Goldberg, pro martial arts expert Michael Jai White and fitness guru Kiana Tom, if you are familiar with Van Damme films, then you know already what to expect. Leave your logic at the door!”
TITLE: UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN
DURATION: 83 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Language(s): English, French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish (Latin Am) 5.1, Subtitles(s): Arabic, Dutch, English (UK), English (US), French (Parisian), Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Latin Am), 1080p,Aspect Ratio: 1.85
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2009
Directed by Mic Rodgers
Produced by Craig Baumgarten, Allen Shapiro, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Written by William Malone and John Fasano
Executive Producers: Michael Rachmil and Daniel Melnick
Director of Photography: Michael A. Benson
Production Designer: David Chapman
Editor: Peck Prior
Music by Don Davis
Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Devereaux
Michael Jai White as S.E.T.H.
Heidi Schantz as Erin Young
Xander Berkeley as Dr. Dylan Cotner
Justin Lazard as Captain Blackburn
Bill Goldberg as Romeo/Unisol 2500
Kiana Tom as Maggie
Karis Paige Bryant as Hillary Devereaux
Daniel von Bargen as General Radford
James Black as Sergeant Morrow
Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the heroic former Universal Soldier, is about to be thrown into action once again. With the Cold War over and defense budgets slashed, the entire Universal Soldier team is facing elimination, including SETH, the super-computer that controls the ultra-warriors. Knowing that his days are numbered, SETH decides to seek revenge by destroying his creators and implementing a reign of terror on the outside world. Morphing into human form as the quintessential Universal Soldier (Michael Jai White), SETH begins to unleash his wicked plan with the aid of his top soldier (Bill Goldberg). When conventional military strength fails to thwart his efforts, Luc must take charge. As Luc faces SETH and his team of unstoppable soldiers, a battle pitting man against machine and good against evil ensues, offering the kind of high-intensity sci-fi action you’ve come to expect from Van Damme in a story you won’t soon forget.
In 1999, the big screen sequel to the popular 1992 “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER” film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme was unleashed. Directed by Mic Rodgers, well-known for his stunt work for major blockbuster action films such as “Twister”, “The Rock”, “Titanic”, “Lethal Weapon 4”, “Braveheart” to name a few, Rodgers is joined by screenwriters William Malone (“Supernova”, “Creature”) and John Fasano (“Profiler”, “Saving Jessica Lynch”, etc.).
Having spawned two direct-to-video titles, “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” would be the first film for wrestling superstar Bill Goldberg and would be the last film for Van Damme on the big screen (since “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” all films featuring Van Damme have gone straight to video) but sure enough, ten years later since the second film will be a third titled “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE NEXT GENERATION” which will reunite both Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.
As for “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN”, Van Damme returns as Luc Devereaux. This time working working with the US government with his partner Maggie (Kiana Tom) to perfect the Universal Soldier aka UniSol program to create a stronger breed of super soldier (faster, stronger, smarter, etc.) which the government can use for military operations without risking any American soldiers lives. The UniSols are connected to Self-Evolving Through Helix (S.E.T.H.), an artificial intelligent computer system.
We have learned that Luc is a technical consultant and he and Maggie would go on missions trying to help develop the soldiers especially the arrogant Romeo (wrestling superstar Bill Goldberg), a leader of the UniSol team. But for Luc’s personal life, things are difficult since the death of his wife and now he is a single parent raising his daughter Hillary. While Luc is at work, Hillary has the help of S.E.T.H. who helps her with her studies.
But things are not all good in the facility as one of the UniSol soldiers goes crazy but is quickly put down by Luc. But later on in the day, the artifical intelligence computer S.E.T.H. overhears a conversation between head of the UniSol program Dr. Dylan Cotner (Xander Berkeley) and General Radford (Daniel von Bargen). The government is moving away from its Cold War policy and ending all funding for the UniSol project.
Immediately, S.E.T.H. does what he can to protect the UniSol project and unleashes all UniSol against those who try to shut them down. So, immediately the UniSol’s start killing everyone that may try to shut them off inside of the facility and for S.E.T.H., he needs a password from Luc to disable his automatic shutdown.
As everyone tries to escape the facility, Romeo goes after Maggie and Luc’s daughter who takes a fall from the stairs but is taken away from the facility thanks to Maggie. Meanwhile Luc and a persistent television reporter named Erin Young (Heidi Shanz) try to help each other in trying to find a way to stop S.E.T.H.
Meanwhile, a disgruntled hacker who was fired from the project gives S.E.T.H. (Michael Jai White) a humanoid body and thus the cat-and-mouse chase begins as both Luc and Erin try to escape from S.E.T.H. long enough for him to shutdown. But luck is not on Luc’s side as S.E.T.H. kidnaps Hillary. Luc has no option but to face S.E.T.H.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” is a film that probably hasn’t been taken care of in the vault as the 1080p transfer (1:85:1 aspect ratio) is dark and has quite a bit of grain because it was shot in low light conditions. Of course, it’s way better than a DVD transfer but for a High Definition transfer, the picture quality is not something to rave about.
Where the film does get pretty good HD treatment is for its audio. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack does pack quite a punch in several action scenes from the boat chase to the explosions and gunfire. Sound quality that you would expect the most impact for in an action film. The film does feature non-stop action, so expect your speakers and subwoofer to be utilized throughout.
The audio is also featured in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for English, French and Portuguese but Spanish is in normal 5.1.
Subtitles include English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Dutch.
Special features included on the “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” Blu-ray disc are:
- THE MAKING OF UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN – A 5 minute featurette featuring interviews with director Mic Rodgers, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White, Bill Goldberg, Kiana Tom and other talent.
- MICHAEL JAI WHITE: A UNIVERSAL SOLDIER’S WORKOUT – (3:58) A featurette with an interview with martial arts pro Michael Jai White on how he bulked up in muscle for his role in “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN”. Learning about his workout, regiment, what he eats and just an all out featurette on his preparation to play the role of S.E.T.H.
- JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME: LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD – (12:09) An interview with Jean-Claude Van Damme and a look at his career from past up to the point of working on “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN”. The actor talks about the various directors he had work with major HK directors such as John Woo, Cory Yuen, Ringo Lam and Tsui hark. Also, the various talent he has worked with such as Natasha Henstridge and pretty much reflecting on his career. Also, discussing personal situations such as why he was out of the film industry and how he was in a bad point in his life for several years, unable to film but now appreciating life and his movie work.
All special features are all in Standard Definition and BD Live is enabled.
“UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” is indeed a Van Damme film. As there are actors who you come to expect a certain type of film from, may it be Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Jet Li, Jason Statham… the same can be said about Jean-Claude Van Damme.
I’ve watched many of his films growing up from “No Retreat, No Surrender”, “Bloodspot”, “Kickboxer”, “Double Impact” and of course “Universal Soldier”. It’s typically about non-stop action, getting the girl and you just enjoy a Van Damme film for how much he can bring to the film.
“UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” is not a horrible movie but nor is it anywhere as enjoyable as the first “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER”. It’s just an action film that you enjoy because there is non-stop action and he seems to hook up with the girl who he hardly knows (ie. James Bond). And of course, occasionally bad acting. Kiana Tom, who I remember watching her fitness show early in the morning on ESPN going for an acting career, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Fortunately, since “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN”, she has returned back to her fitness and continues to look incredible.
As for Bill Goldberg, Goldberg is Goldberg but he does bring a certain edge and also humor to the film, so I’m sure his inclusion in the film not long after he was dominating WCW at the time was well-planned and of course, since this film, he has done many acting and hosting gigs.
Michael Jai White actualyl plays a pretty cool, kick ass villain and as for actress Heidi Schanz as Erin Young, a television news report who tags along with Luc and immediately falls in love with him. She actually did a good job as well.
But the problems of the film is if you try to bring your logic to the viewing of this film and you start asking yourself “why”. There are far too many illogical scenes than I can count for this film but knowing this is a Van Damme film, it’s best not to ask why, you just watch and enjoy.
As for the Blu-ray release, it would have been nice to have a director’s commentary and hear from Mic Rodgers or even Van Damme.
Again, “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” is a Van Damme film and there is an acquired viewing enjoyment for his films, again like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler films and the others talents I mentioned, their films have a similar type of vibe and there are those who watch these films, leave logic at the door because they know what kind of film it will be and just enjoy.
The same can be said for this film. Enjoy it for what it is and if you are a Van Damme film fan, leave logic at the door and just enjoy it for what it is. Otherwise, if you have never seen a “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER” film or let alone a Van Damme film, more than likely this film may not do anything for you.
But if you are a fan of the first film and know what to expect from Van Damme, then “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN” can be an entertaining, humorous and campy type of action film.
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