August 19, 2012

Soldier vs. Universal Soldier

One is a highly regarded action romp amongst action fans, while the other is a “lost in the shuffle of a time when Hollywood was making its reinvention of itself”.

Universal Soldier was released in 1992 at the height of JCVD’s popularity and Soldier followed several years later, right when Kurt Russell’s ride on the “A-list” train was coming to an end. Does this play into some fan’s opinions a little too much? That is a question that will never be answered. But, after watching both back-to-back, I shall attempt to put in my 2 cents worth. (Which may actually only be worth about 1 cent.)

The basic plot of both films is obviously the same. In other words, yes Soldier does take a few pages from its predecessor. We begin each film with one soldier versus another. Universal Soldier having JCVD and Dolph Lundgren, while Soldier pits Kurt Russell against Jason Scott Lee. The hatred between Universal Soldiers characters is much more evident, so therefore more intense in terms of wanting our hero to win. Soldier’s hero and villain are raised from birth, to be very emotionless, making them more of “the perfect soldiers” that they were meant to be.

JCVD does a very nice job of playing the hero in Universal Soldier. However, I have always felt that the script takes a few too many opportunities to use him as comedy relief, therefore reducing our hero to a buffoon at times. James Cameron came dangerously close to this same trap in T2 and it is evident that he recognized this when you see some deleted scenes that didn’t make the cut for his film. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Universal Soldier and the film suffers some due to this fact. Kurt Russell made a very brave choice to play the lead role in Soldier, as he barely speaks a word throughout the entire film. This is a perfect example of how sometimes less can be more. A note that Dolph could have taken a bit more of for his role as the villain in Universal Soldier. He is so over the top during most of the film, that he seems like a charachiture and therefore takes you out of the danger of the moment. I am all for a one-liner here and there, but as he is beating on JCVD during the conclusion, it just distracts me from the moment that I should be worried about our hero and wondering “how will he ever find a way to beat this guy?” Jason Scott Lee is used more for his strengths in Soldier (that being his intimidating look and fighting abilities), rather than his weaknesses (acting). That is why he has like two lines in the whole film. I believe this made for a much more menacing villain.

The supporting cast in both films is only there to drive the story along. So, I don’t feel that one movie is particularly stronger than the other in this regard. Although Soldier does have Gary Busey and his teeth, so there is that as an advantage. But, it is the story that is told through these supporting characters that does help separate Soldier from Universal Soldier in my opinion. While JCVD’s character in Universal Soldier is becoming more aware of his emotions throughout the story, again it seems as a way to add humor or either it just falls flat because you don’t care about him as a person. You just want to see him kick some ass and move on. The subplot in Soldier with the family that has been living on the waste planet that Kurt Russell is dumped on provides some much needed heart and meat to an otherwise cut and dry story. Russell’s character wants to be wanted and it hurts him that he doesn’t know how to express the feelings that he so desperately desires. You can see the agony that he feels as he tries to climb out of the dark abyss that he has been taught to live in since birth. This gives the viewer more stock in the hero’s wellbeing.

Although both scores are equally well done and therefore offer no weight to making one film better than the other, they both do deserve mention. Their themes are very militant throughout and they also bring the emotion when necessary.

The direction of both films is about on the same level. The acting is not why you are seeing these types of films and that is a good thing. The action scenes in Universal Soldier are fast paced and fantastic. Roland Emmerich was just learning his way behind a camera during Universal Soldier and it is a shame that he has never returned to a movie in this genre since. Paul W.S. Anderson gets ripped on just a little too much in my opinion. He is not an award winning film maker by any means. But, I don’t think he has ever claimed that he should be either. He is a passionate director who likes to try and make fun movies. His attempts fall flat a lot of times, but that is a blog for another time. His direction on Soldier was very solid. This is one of the last films to still use a great amount of practical effects, before Hollywood became over-saturated with CGI and I must say that I find it a joy to look at. It does have its “fake” moments, but then again CGI has certainly proven that it still has a long way to go as well.

The final fight scene would have to go to Universal Soldier. But, I will say that it is actually closer than you may think. Again, Dolph’s dialogue is almost too much at times. But, Soldier’s fight scene is just too short and the final blow tries just a little too hard to tug at the heart strings. It is trying to say that our hero hates to have to do this, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Plus, the icing on the cake has to be the awesome villain death that Dolph receives at the conclusion of Universal Soldier. This is the one time that you feel that his incessant yammering pays off. By the end of the film, you are so sick of him, that his death seems so enjoyable and yet still better than he deserves.

Well, I tried to make it as even as possible folks. But, I think it is obvious that I am more of a fan of Soldier. I will admit that the sci-fi aspect of it helps for me as well as Kurt Russell being one of the coolest cats in my book. But ultimately, its pacing and heart win me over. Neither film is fantastic by any stretch of the imagination. But, they are both fun and I am glad that I revisited them!

About the Author

Brian M
Movies have been a big part of my life since the creation of the VCR. They have always been a way for me to escape. The action genre allowed that feeling more than any other, because the heroes in these films were living in an ordinary world, but were doing extraordinary things. Watching action movies encourages my imagination to explore while I am doing even the most mundane thing and make it exciting. Don't be afraid to use your imagination and keep action alive, no matter how old you get.



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