Universal Soldier II: Brothers In Arms


When Jean Claude Van Damme’s Luc Devreaux hit the “on” button on the farming equipment that Dolph Lundgren’s deranged Sergeant Andrew Scott was impaled on way back during the climax of 1992’s Universal Soldier, there was no way to either of them to realise what they were about to set in motion. Via either a tear in the fabric of the space time continuum or the greed of cheap-ass filmmakers (you decide which), we actually live in a timeline where there are two, completely separate franchises that spun off from Roland Emmerich’s brawny grudge match with one featuring the eventual returns of Van Damme and Lundgren while also featuring such affordable stars such as Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins and human wrestling juggernaut, Bill Goldberg – and the other…? Well, let’s just say there’s a damn good reason it’s since been ret-conned into oblivion.


Soon after the rain sodden events of the first movie, the surviving branches of the UniSol programme struggle to take stock of this technically treasonous act of scientific perversion and the shadowy benefactor of the entire programme brings in toothy facilitator Otto Mazur to oversee the former military unit head into the more lucrative mercenary business.
Meanwhile, ex-Universal Soldier and formerly KIA Vietnam vet Luc Devereux is still recuperating at his parents farm house, enjoying necessary ice baths to keep his altered physiology stable while reporter Veronica Roberts tries to jog his wiped memory of more human pursuits like kissing. While making out as he literally chills in a tub of ice seems like something of a mixed message, her attempts to get him to remember jokes proves to be equally frustrating.
However, when UniSol activates their contingency plan to compel any wayward UniSols to return back to base in the form of an implanted AWOL inhibitor (weird how they never used that in the first film, but anyways…) Luc finds himself recruited back into the fold against his will, but after the tenacious Victora manages to track him down, she makes an unlikely discovery. Also hidden away in UniSol’s frozen vaults is Eric Devereux, Luc’s older brother who was declared KIA in ‘Nam years before Luc headed out there himself, but proved to be resistant to the resurrection progress and has been on ice ever since. Freeing him and recruiting him to help free his brother, the trio go on the run while simultaneously plotting to thwart UniSol’s nefarious plan… whatever the hell that actually is. Something to do with diamonds I think. I don’t know, it got a bit boring there at the end, I may have zoned out a little, but I did notice a disproportionate amount of line dancing lurking in the climax…


So, a quick history lesson, then. Universal Soldier II and III were both churned out by the Showtime Network in ’98 in an attempt to launch a TV series off the back of them, but as both proved to be as intellectually stimulating as sleeping sickness, other filmmakers continued years later with a completely different plot line, acting as if this first attempt never existed. Sounds nice, I wish I could do the same…
So what we have here is a curious alternate timeline that brings back the main characters but not the actors and blissfully (and rather insultingly) pretends that nothing’s changed despite our hero having a completely different accent and UniSol having far less cool toys to play with as our actors shiver their way through chilly, Toronto weather. Right from the word go, the film is laced with red flags (the score is credited with four composers?) and half hearted attempts to connect to the original (we get Andrew Scott’s memorable demise reshot without any of that pesky excitement or tension getting in the way) and were supposedly meant to ignore any plot holes by trying to figure out which is the more outlandish, that a vaguely feral looking Gary Busey agreed to be in this or that the movie managed to afford the rights to play “Spirit In The Sky” on the soundtrack.
Busey is – well, he’s Gary Busey, isn’t he; and despite sporting a hairdo that looks like he’s skinned a groundhog and eyes that stubbonly refuse to focus on anything approaching sanity, you can’t say the producers didn’t get their money’s worth. But even more baffling still is the reveal of a mystery puppet master played by none other than – well, I don’t want to spoil it but his name rhymes with Blurt Blenolds, who had only appeared in Boogie Nights to universal acclaim merely one year earlier and who chooses to attack this role with a ridiculous Irish accent that makes Warrick Davis in Leprechaun sound like a native.


Still, as curious as it is to witness these once great icons metaphorically roll in slop for dollar bills, they’re far more watchable than any of the trio of leads who sleepwalk through the muddled plot like they were shot full of tranquilizers every morning. Of the three, minor 90’s action star Jeff Wincott (brother of Michael and boasting a head so square he could have walked right out of Minecraft) fares the best even though his character’s existence literally makes no sense and Chandra West’s take on Ally Walker’s sarcastic, wise cracking reporter actually has the most to do, tracking Luc down and casually sneaking into maximum security areas like she’s cutting the line at a log ride. However, as bland as they are, Matt Battaglia’s Luc Devereux makes Van Damme seem like the greatest actor of his generation as he blankly drawls his dialogue and fixes everyone with an expression emptier than the cabinet of his acting awards. Yes, he’s supposed to be playing a resurrected super soldier, but at least JDVD sprinkled some charisma in there among the fly kicking (which is also AWOL) and comedy nudity (which decidedly isn’t). In fact watching scenes of Victoria trying to get her slab of undead himbo to be more human is utterly excruciating as she uses the kind of self-help shite middle-aged white women usually have as wall decorations in their kitchen. “Laughter is life”? Fucking shoot me now.


Loaded with uninspiring action that includes barely one explosion and a couple of fights so stilted, you openly wonder if they choreographed them on the actual day, Universal Soldier II isn’t even bad enough to be accidently good – even when panicked lab coats are squealing out lines like “Mercenaries? That’s illegal!”. Yeah, like murdering soldiers and bringing them back from the dead fucking isn’t?
These soldiers are long overdue for a dishonorable discharge.


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