One of the interesting tidbits that I learned in the documentary Best Worst Movie is that one of the reasons why the infamously terrible movie Troll 2 is such a disaster is that it wasn’t written to be about trolls. It was written as a movie about goblins, but then a producer offered to turn that script into a movie if the screenwriters would change the title to make it sound like it was a sequel to an established and profitable movie. Instead of rewriting the script to fit the new material they used their word processor’s find and replace function to swap a few words out, but that didn’t really fix the problem that trolls and goblins are completely different beasts.
Some part of me wonders if this was always meant to be a part of the Universal Soldier franchise, or if it started out as something else before it got ground up in the Hollywood sausage grinder. It probably was always meant to be what it is – after all the writer / director John Hyams had directed another Universal Soldier movie in 2009, so he was probably targeted to do this 2012 movie specifically – but it doesn’t feel at all like the franchise I remember from the 1990s.
If anything, it feels like this movie started with someone wondering “wouldn’t it be great if we took the plot of Apocalypse Now and had a confused and unhappy soldier go upriver to take down the agent whose gone rogue and started his own army… but then added MMA moves to the fight scenes, staggered the fights so it felt like our soldier was working his way through the levels of a videogame, and then cast Jean Claude Van Damme as Marlon Brando?” There’s some talk about cloning, and the levels of punishment people can take makes them seem cyborg-ish, so this isn’t completely out of the original movie’s ballpark, but the connections to the first Universal Soldier feel tangential while the Apocalypse Now comparisons seem to run bone deep.
The Universal Soldier franchise does kind of lend itself to a philosophical bent – after all, it’s about soldiers who die in service, are reborn and then killed again, so there’s a certain karmic question inherent in the set-up. If this movie had just explored the same questions that Apocalypse Now did about what war means it could have been fine. Or it could have had more modest goals and given the viewer what a person watching a movie about killer cyborg soldiers theoretically wants. Instead, it went for half and half and did neither well. There’s a reason why Brando didn’t hit everyone iwith knee strikes in Apocalypse Now, and it wasn’t just because at the time he couldn’t lift his knee up that high. (Although that probably didn’t help.)
Winner: The Cat