Fans of martial arts action star Jean-Claude Van Damme should be pleased to know that one of his biggest and most popular movies was recently added to Netflix’s vast library.
Universal Soldier is a 1992 science fiction action flick that stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Deveraux, an American soldier who is killed in 1969 during the Vietnam War. When a team of U.S. Army soldiers is ordered to secure a village from the forces of the North Vietnamese, Deveraux enters the village only to find members of his squad and all the villagers murdered. Even worse, each and every victim had their ears removed. Deveraux then comes across his sergeant Andrew Scott (played by Dolph Lundgren of Rocky and He-Man fame) who has gone insane. He is also wearing a necklace of severed ears.
Scott is holding a young couple hostage and while trying to reason with him, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Deveraux watches Scott execute the man. Scott then orders Deveraux to shoot the woman to prove his loyalty. When he refuses, Scott kills the woman anyway. The impending firefight between Deveraux and Scott ends with both killing each other. As a new unit arrives in the village, both Deveraux and Scott’s bodies are taken and cryogenically frozen.
Years later, both bodies are regenerated. They have been used in the Universal Soldier program that the U.S. government has been conducting in an effort to build a superhuman fighting squad. Their first task is to rescue hostages at the Hoover Dam. The squad immediately shows their capabilities with their physical abilities, but Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Deveraux begins to regain some of his former memories when two hostages remind him of the two in Vietnam. He abruptly shuts down. Seems one of the glitches of these super soldiers is that they have a tendency to overheat and shut down.
TV journalist Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker), who was recently fired while covering the Hoover Dam incident, is trying to win her job back. She has locked onto the UniSol project as a way to make that happen. She sneaks onto the military base housing the soldiers with her cameraman in tow. When their presence is detected, Deveraux and Scott are ordered to track them down and bring them in dead or alive. They are caught and Scott mercilessly kills the cameraman and is ready to do the same to Roberts before Deveraux stops him. Deveraux and Roberts end up on the run.
To prevent the UniSol project from uncovered, Scott is ordered with the rest of the UniSol’s to hunt down both Deveraux and Roberts. As bodies begin to mount because of the hunt’s failures, the mission is scrubbed. But Scott’s old personality is beginning to resurface, and he kills the officer in charge and almost everyone else associated with the UniSol program. Scott then takes command of the remaining super soldiers as they continue their hunt for Deveraux and Roberts.
Fans won’t be disappointed with the big battle at the end. Deveraux and Scott eventually do face off and it is a doozy that includes injections of muscle enhancers and plenty of fisticuffs.
Universal Soldier came out at a time when both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren were making names for themselves in action movies. So, the pairing of the two, along with a halfway decent and fun storyline, was a nice combo. Roland Emmerich, who would go on to direct other big blockbusters such as Stargate, Independence Day along with its sequel, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, took on the duties behind the camera for Universal Soldier. He put together the movie on a $23 million budget and though the critical consensus wasn’t overwhelming, the Jean-Claude Van Damme-led movie brought in over $95 million at the box office. 1994’s Timecop is the only other Van Damme movie that outgrossed Universal Soldier. The Expendables 2 also fared better at the box office, but his role was as a co-star in which he played the big, bad villain.
Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose real name is the even lengthier Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg, first came to prominence with the 1988 movie Bloodsport. The success of that movie led the heavily accented Van Damme right into the action movie genre. He didn’t disappoint with movies such as Cyborg, Lionheart, Death Warrant, and Double Impact before Universal Soldier landed in his lap. For Jean-Claude Van Damme, it was only the beginning.
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s star was on the rise and more martial arts action movies followed. There was the poor adaptation of the video game Street Fighter, Sudden Death, Maximum Risk, Double Team (which somehow employed both Dennis Rodman and Mickey Rourke), and Knock Off.
As far as Universal Solider goes, producers didn’t stop with just one. Matt Battaglia took over as Luc Deveraux in the next two movies, Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business. Jean-Claude Van Damme would return to the role he originated with 1999s Universal Soldier: The Return. He then would come back two more times as super-soldier Deveraux in the 2009 movie Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which also brought back Lundgren’s Scott, and finally the two paired up one last time for the 2012 film Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. While the movies were high on nostalgia for the two action stars, neither one of these movies would gain recognition like the original.
Over the years, Jean-Claude Van Damme has continued to work in the action-adventure genre. His 2008 JCVD was a critical hit, though most of his other movies have been more B-movie status. He even returned to his Kickboxer roots, a movie he originally starred in back in 1989, then again in 1994s Kickboxer 4. He returned once again in Kickboxer: Vengeance and Kickboxer: Retaliation but this time not as his original character but as Master Durand. There is also a rumor that Jean-Claude Van Damme will go at it one more time with Kickboxer in the upcoming Kickboxer: Armageddon.
For now, you can get your Jean-Claude Van Damme kicks with Universal Solider on Netflix.