Universal Soldier is a 1992 American military science-fiction action film directed by Roland Emmerich, produced by Allen Shapiro, Craig Baumgarten, and Joel B. Michaels, and written by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, and Dean Devlin. The film tells the story of Luc Deveraux, portrayed by Jean-Claude Van Damme, a former U.S. Army soldier who was killed in the Vietnam War in 1969, and returned to life following a secret military project called the "Universal Soldier" program. However, he finds out about his past, though his memory was erased, and escapes alongside a young TV journalist (Ally Walker). Along the way, they have to deal with the return of his archenemy, Sgt. Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), who had lost his sanity in the Vietnam War, and became a psychotic megalomaniac, intent on killing him and leading the Universal Soldiers.
Universal Soldier was released by TriStar Pictures on July 10, 1992. The film has a 35% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed $95 million worldwide against its budget of $23 million and spawned a series of films: theatrical sequel Universal Soldier: The Return, alternative direct-to-video sequel Universal Soldier: Regeneration, standalone direct-to-video film Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, and two direct-to-TV films, Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business.
It was the first film on-screen collaboration between Van Damme and Lundgren in the film series, who both later worked together in The Expendables 2 and Black Water, and their voice-roles in Minions: The Rise of Gru.
In 1969, a U.S. Army team secures a village against North Vietnamese forces. Luc Deveraux discovers members of his squad and villagers murdered. Deveraux's sergeant, Andrew Scott, has gone insane, made a necklace of severed ears, and is holding a young couple hostage. Deveraux tries to reason with Scott, who executes the man and orders Deveraux to shoot the girl to prove his loyalty. Deveraux refuses, and Scott kills the girl with a grenade. After shooting each other to death, Deveraux and Scott's corpses are recovered by a second squad and cryogenically frozen, their disappearance classified as "missing in action".
Deveraux and Scott's corpses, with others, are reanimated decades later and selected for the "Universal Soldier" (UniSol) program, an elite counter-terrorism unit. They are given a neural serum to keep their minds susceptible and their past memories suppressed. Their group is deployed to the Hoover Dam to resolve a hostage situation. The team demonstrates its superior training and
physical abilities against the terrorists, such as when UniSol GR76 withstands close-range rifle fire. Deveraux regains memories from his former life upon seeing two hostages that resemble the Vietnamese villagers. Deveraux disobeys commands from the control team and becomes unresponsive.
In the mobile command center, the UniSols are revealed to be genetically augmented soldiers with enhanced self-healing abilities and superior strength, but they overheat and shut down. Because of the glitch, Woodward, one of the technicians on the project, suggests removing Deveraux from the team, but UniSol commander Colonel Perry refuses. TV journalist Veronica Roberts, who was fired while covering the Hoover Dam incident, tries to get a story on the UniSol project to regain her job. Roberts sneaks onto the base with a cameraman, discovering GR76 immersed in ice, still alive despite normally fatal injuries.
When Roberts is discovered, Deveraux and Scott are ordered to capture her dead or alive. She flees to her cameraman's car, but they crash. Scott coldly murders the cameraman against orders. Deveraux rescues Roberts, and they escape in a UniSol vehicle. To protect the program, Colonel Perry sends the remaining UniSols to find Deveraux and Roberts.
Deveraux and Roberts flee to a motel, where Roberts discovers she has been framed for the murder of her cameraman. Deveraux collapses from overheating and has to take an ice bath. The UniSols completely destroy the motel, but Deveraux and Roberts hide in a bed until they leave. The couple flees in a stolen car to a gas station, where Deveraux has Roberts remove a tracking device from his leg. They set a trap and when the UniSols arrive the gas station explodes. Colonel Perry is ordered to terminate the mission, but Scott's insanity returns, and he kills Perry and all but two doctors. Deveraux and Roberts sneak onto the command center bus and steal UniSol documents. Scott orders the rest of the mindlessly obedient UniSol team to kill Deveraux and Roberts.
Using information from the stolen documents, Roberts contacts Dr. Christopher Gregor. Gregor informs them that the UniSol project was started in the 1960s to develop the perfect soldier. Although they were able to reanimate dead humans, they could not overcome the body's need for cooling. Another major problem is that memories of the last moments of life are greatly amplified; Scott believes he is still in Vietnam fighting insurgents. When Deveraux and Roberts leave the doctor's home, police arrest them. Scott and GR76 ambush the police convoy. After a chase, the police bus and the UniSol truck both drive off a cliff and explode, killing GR76. Deveraux and Roberts head to Deveraux's family farm in Louisiana.
After Deveraux is reunited with his parents, Scott appears and takes the family and Roberts hostage. Scott's use of muscle enhancers enables him to mercilessly beat Deveraux. Roberts escapes, only to be seemingly killed by a grenade thrown by Scott. Deveraux grabs the muscle enhancers Scott used and injects himself. Now evenly matched, Deveraux impales Scott on the spikes of a hay harvester and activates it, shredding Scott to pieces. Roberts, who survived the explosion, embraces Deveraux, who then tells her that Scott is "around".
Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Deveraux
Dolph Lundgren as Andrew Scott
Ally Walker as Veronica Roberts
Ed O'Ross as Colonel Perry
Leon Rippy as Woodward
Tico Wells as Garth
Ralf Moeller as GR76 (credited as Ralph Moeller)
Robert Trebor as the motel owner
Gene Davis as Lieutenant
Drew Snyder as Charles
Jerry Orbach as Dr. Gregor
In February 1990, Andrew Davis was hired to direct, and he also contributed to the screenplay. He was later replaced by Roland Emmerich, who brought on his creative partner Dean Devlin to rewrite aspects of the script.
Principal photography began in August 1991. Carolco, the company that produced the film, was having financial troubles and hoped that the film's box-office return would keep them afloat.
RECEPTION & BOX OFFICE
Universal Soldier opened in theaters on July 10, 1992 where it grossed $10,057,084 from 1916 theaters with a $5,249 per screen average. It opened and peaked at number two, behind A League of Their Own's second weekend. Grossing $36,299,898 in the US and Canada and $59 million internationally ($44 million via TriStar), for a worldwide gross of $95 million.
Mainstream critics dismissed it as a Terminator 2 clone, or as a typical, mindless action film. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 34% of 35 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 4.5/10. The website's consensus reads: "Universal Soldier unites a pair of veteran action stars behind a potentially intriguing premise, but on this battlefield, entertainment value is largely AWOL." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 35 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable" reviews. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
In a retrospective review, Drew Taylor from IndieWire said: "This movie rules. The introduction of the Emmerich/Devlin double-team, this high concept, moderately budgeted sci-fi action movie is a bouillabaisse of clichés that somehow manages to be a charming, funny, often positively thrilling B-grade treat".