Luc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) was part of the Unisol programme, a top secret agency that revived dead soldiers killed in action and made them into super-soldiers, practically impervious to gunfire and explosions, and capable of following any order given to them. That was the idea, but there was a setback a few years ago that Luc was a part of, and as a result he has stayed on to ensure such errors never occur again. The Unisol troops train extremely hard, and if he wasn't already in great shape thanks to the technology Luc would have trouble keeping up with them, but at least he is safe in the knowledge they won't go awry. Isn't he?
Universal Soldier: The Return was the black sheep of the franchise, yes, it was theatrically released (unlike two loose entries for cable TV) but as far as the plot goes, it went in a direction the following sequels declined to match, leaving it an odd one out: for a start, Dolph Lundgren was nowhere to be seen, though Van Damme was back as he would be in each next instalment. Where the next two efforts would broaden the boundaries of what was expected in a largely straight to DVD (in most territories) property, this one more or less stuck to the least imaginative approach possible, with everything you would anticipate present and correct, and not necessarily suspenseful as a result.
The trouble here was that there were no surprises, making the original look like a hotbed of 180-degree twists and turns when it too was a generic action flick with a science fiction flavour. While it had been a fair hit at the box office, on video it was easily a popular rental for audiences wanting nothing but a diversion to play over their beer and pizza on a weekend, nothing taxing, just enough to sustain a low level of interest with the illusion of something exciting going on when there was really not that much, if you were being honest. But Van Damme had his fans who stuck with him through thick and thin, and as his career eased off, they remained loyal to their man.
Not that they were going to be hugely rewarded by the second Universal Soldier effort, especially when their hero essayed his role as if he were acting in a comedy caper, which allowed the tension to significantly ebb away. Not helping were the clichés his Luc character was saddled with, chief among them a young daughter who falls down at one point and needs an operation to save her if her daddy can reach her in time. But the villain is holding her to ransom off the code that will enable him to, er, run rampant, take over the world, you know the type of thing. Making this a shade more interesting was that Unisol villain was played by Michael Jai White, playing the physical manifestation of the lab's supercomputer, HAL 9000. Ah, my mistake, he was playing the not dissimilar SETH.
SETH is put out that his project is to be closed down by the suits for budgetary reasons (always placing the blame on bureaucracy, these sci-fi action entries, credit Aliens back in the eighties for that), so sends his muscled minions on a rampage to get the code that will prolong his time on Earth indefinitely. Only one man can stop him! And he's not taking this very seriously! Van Damme tried out a light parody of the role he had played before, with a new journalist (Heidi Schanz) to tag along and complain at every turn, and such scenes as a brawl in a strip club indicating the production was following the Roger Corman model of brainless entertainment for gentlemen that was lucky to see the inside of a cinema. Mostly it was about boots to the head and 'splosions, and plenty of them, which wore out their welcome fairly quickly; some see this as so bad its funny, and it did have its moments, but the novelty wore off within about a quarter of an hour, leaving you with that numb feeling of wondering what else you should have watched. Music by Don Davis.