(My apologies in advance for not doing my homework and watching the first Universal Soldier film, which would have given me a better understanding of exactly what The Return is, other than a desire to quickly put the DVD back in the red envelope and in a mailbox.)
The primary theme of Universal Soldier – The Return (1999) is one that has been neglected for far too long in Hollywood: Can zombies reproduce and become productive members of society?
Based on flashbacks in the The Return and information gleaned elsewhere, the U.S. Army, in conjunction with a private company called Ryan-Lathrop, took some frozen dead soldiers from the Vietnam War and reconstituted them into Universal Soldiers (their slogan is UniSols 2500: Dying to Serve), who are stronger and whose only requirement for R&R is time in a walk-in freezer. For The Return, they improved somewhat on the (beta) zombie soldiers with new 2.0 releases, but still encountered a few bugs to work out.
Our hero Luc, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, is himself one of the original beta versions of the UniSol. And he has an eleven-year-old daughter. So, yes, zombies, apparently, can reproduce with humans. Which is gross and should be outlawed. But, wait, there are more questions that need to be answered.
The film opens with a fascinating look at a winged, horse-like creature. Oh, that’s the TriStar logo. When the film does begin, a pervasive sense of danger looms, thanks, in part, to the camera moving through a building that has more warning signs than the Surgeon General’s supply closet. After the opening titles, a montage of swamp shots is interrupted by a loud motorboat/jet ski chase, in which our hero and his sexy female Asian sidekick are pursued by muscular guys in black. Shots are fired. Fortunately, no one is hit.
Turns out this whole scene was a military exercise with the 2.0 version of the UniSols. But not for long. Due to budget constraints, the military is cutting the UniSol program, which they were never comfortable with in the first place, since it was run by a private company. Also, zombies creep them out. Luc reminds the Army general that zombies are better than real young American soldiers dying. I think that was a message.
Back at the company’s headquarters in Dallas (naturally), the human-voiced all-knowing computer named Seth, which resembles a Rubik’s cube in a large, round lava lamp, senses that something is not right in Texas and decides to take control of the situation, but not before helping Luc’s daughter with her homework. There are no other movies with which to compare this idea of a computer taking control. We’re in new territory here.
Once Seth seizes control of the UniSols and kills the smartest guy in the room, the Army is forced to move outside and set up a tent. The Army general is not happy. Five UniSols come out to play, and the general orders them shot. The UniSols fall down amid a blaze of gunfire. But not for long. Cue heavy metal music and lots of explosions. Many white soldiers are killed so the Army calls in a black guy. Yes, one black guy.
Amid all this chaos and death, a female reporter from a local news station has followed Luc demanding to know what is going on. Luc, however, is concerned for his daughter, who he entrusted in the care of his sexy Asian sidekick. She, however, allowed the daughter to suffer a head injury while fighting off the biggest UniSol of the bunch, who is so mean he always sneers and says things like, “I don’t like that guy.”
To top it all off, Luc and the previously mentioned smartest guy in the room (now deceased) are the only people in the world who have the secret code that Seth the computer needs in order to keep himself running. If Seth does not get the code, he’ll suffer the blue screen of death in a matter of hours. In order to improve his chances of getting the code from Luc, Seth has inserted a mobile version of himself into the brain of a large, muscular black zombie soldier. Since the previously mentioned good black soldier was killed, the story can now proceed with the traditional Western version of good versus bad.
The situation looks dire. Two truckloads of UniSols have escaped, headed toward Fort Worth perhaps. Luc and the female reporter need to check their email, but they don’t have an internet connection. Power is out all over Dallas. Who in the world would still have an internet connection?
Enter strip club. If the core audience has become uncomfortable with all the hunky half-clothed guys, they can now get some wood on thanks to multitudes of fake boobies at the strip club, before moving to the next heavy-metal laced scene of violence and destruction. Don’t think for a moment that all the fake boobies are gratuitous. They are a metaphor of society’s desire to make things bigger and better, much like the military did with the UniSols. But the pressure for bigger boobies (or zombie soldiers and smart-ass computers) will eventually work against us, threatening our existence. This film sends a strong message about using technology and reconstructive surgery to make everything, boobies or soldiers, bigger and better.
Our hero Luc says the only way to kill a UniSol is “to blow them up and hope the pieces don’t keep fighting us.” Again, I’ve searched far and wide to find any other films that may have delved into similar scenarios but have to conclude that USTR is entirely original is this respect. As it is, I’m having a difficult time completing my review because I want to smash my computer into little bits, for the sake of humanity.
And so the battle of centralized techno-plastic surgery versus former zombie turned caring father comes to a head. Luc has a choice, offered to him by the embodied Seth. Give him the code to save his life so he can take over the world and kill all humanity, and Luc’s daughter lives. Or don’t give Seth the code and Luc’s daughter dies from her head injury, which does seem to bother Seth a little since he has spent so much time helping her with her homework.
Actually, strike that choice. Seth has been multitasking and cracked the code himself. Game over.
Not yet. Luc didn’t die, come back as a zombie, and father a child for nothing. Plus the Army has wired the building with explosives, which should be going off any moment. Luc, after taking out Seth through a tedious battle with lots of broken glass, tries to make his escape but the big UniSol zombie who has been after him all movie prevents it. To make matters worse, sexy Asian sidekick, who was killed earlier by the UniSols, turned into a zombie soldier herself, and then shot again by Luc, has returned to finish Luc off.
Game over for sure. No! Sexy Asian former sidekick zombie sticks true to her man and shoots the big UniSol bully instead of Luc. Zombies can make right after all. I think this is good news for fake boobies, too. But what about the future of Luc and his daughter?
Thanks to my secret sources, there is another chapter of Universal Soldier in the works and the synopsis goes something like this: Luc takes his daughter (half zombie herself) to a small town where they start over. Luc marries a nice woman and opens a coffee shop on Main Street. Daughter gets bullied at school. Luc encounters bad men at coffee shop and kills them. Daughter goes off on bullies at school. Bad men come after Luc, revealing his secret zombie past to his family. Will they stick by him?
Again, sounds like Universal Soldier is charting new territory. If you want fresh ideas, Universal Soldier films should be in your future.
This review is part of the the Third Annual White Elephant Film Blogathon.