Dir John Hyams US (15+)
It’s not so bad as B-movies go, but the resurrection of early ’90s action franchise Universal Soldier was never going to be a great success, mainly because it’s completely irrelevant.
The best evidence for this is the film’s crumbly stars, Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme, who struggle to mask their age against tell-tale wrinkles and a bad dye-job respectively. Nostalgia can only carry us so far, and you have to ask, why would we pay to watch these granddads execute moves with palpably less verve than they did 20 years ago when there are plenty of younger stars doing cooler stuff, and faster?
There are some half-hearted attempts to bring the proceedings up to date. As terrorists threaten to blow up a reactor in Chernobyl, they’re assisted by UFC champ Andrei Arlovski, playing a ‘New Generation UniSol’. Arlovski’s gargantuan stature and UFC grapples bring a few genuine thrills to the screen, but aren’t enough to lift the generally lacklustre fight scenes and clichéd characters beyond mediocrity.
It’s almost a shame, because a theme about how far the army will go in its counter-terrorism factions is timely (think The Men Who Stare at Goats). We might try to believe the government would reanimate dead soldiers and turn them into super-beings, if only we were given enough adrenaline-pumping action to make it worth our while.
Part of the problem is budget, but mostly it’s a lack of imagination and failure to reinvigorate. The ending is either a sober meditation on the sinister leanings of science or, more likely, an optimistic hint at a sequel: but JCVD and Lundgren’s escape from the debtors’ prison aside, who would that benefit?