The first film, Universal Soldier, centered around "UniSols", Super Soldiers made from the bodies of fallen U.S. soldiers brought back from the dead, and the conflict between two soldiers, Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Lundgren), once they start to regain memories of their feud.
It was followed by two direct-to-video sequels in 1998: Universal Soldier II: Brothers In Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business. Brothers In Arms has the UniSol program being used by mercenaries to smuggle diamonds, while Unfinished Business has Deveraux helping Veronica Roberts clear her name, while Deveraux's brother is cloned and turned into a new UniSol. These sequels featured none of the original cast or crew, and are largely considered to be inferior to the original.
Brothers In Arms and Unfinished Business were retconned out of continuity in 1999 with the theatrical release of Universal Soldier: The Return. The Return features ... the return of Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead role.
The Return was then dropped from continuity when the Direct-to-DVD film Universal Soldier: Regeneration was released in 2010. Regeneration received a direct sequel, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, which was released to video-on-demand services in October 2012, followed by a theatrical release one month later.
The original film received a video game adaptation on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy - although it was just a Dolled-Up Installment of Turrican 2 with a few levels taken out and the Universal Soldier license added on.
This series provides examples of:
- Alternate Continuity: As mentioned above, there are three continuities, all using the original film as a starting point, similar to the Highlander franchise, though with fewer installments, so the web is considerably less tangled. We've got:
- Original, Brothers in Arms, Unfinished Business.
- Original, The Return.
- Original, Regeneration, Day of Reckoning.
- Artistic License Biology: A person can be defined as dead if there's no signs of breathing, pulse, or brain activity. Another interesting detail to consider is that brain damage and even brain death can occur from prolonged oxygen deprivation. So unless a UniSol candidate is recovered and preserved within 5-10 minutes after death, they'll become incapable of higher-level brain functions and effectively turn into a vegetable which no amount of surgery or medication at the film's current era can even fix completely.
- Big Eater: Most UniSols are this after coming off of the high-concentrate nutritional supplement they subsist on.
- Bio-Augmentation: Pituitary and Thyroid Augmentations plus deep tissue electrical shocks to reheat a surgically repaired body on ice, along with implied bone, muscle and joint augmentations for added strength, durability and speed, along with other assorted goodies. Later kicked up a notch with gene therapy.
- Canon Discontinuity: The made-for-TV sequels and Return.
- Clone Army: What Project White Tower decides to do in order to create perfect Universal Soldiers, with the prototype being a resurrected Andrew Scott.
- Crapsack World: In various interviews with John Hyams and Van Damme, the world in Regeneration and Day of Reckoning, is not in the best of situations. Financial collapses, economic recessions, rogue states, civil wars breaking out all over the place, etc. Little bits of this pop-up here there, especially with the terrorists from a rogue state taking over Chernobyl with the intentions of blowing the place up if their demands aren't met, and crooked upper-level management for shipping companies hiding deep within their own warehouses, inside of shielded containers, keeping electronic surveillance records on their employees, tracking their movements and keeping an eye on them. Pretty damn grim.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: ANY battle between a human and a UniSol, or a normal UniSol with an upgraded/modified UniSol. These include Luc's fights with SETH and the NGU. Both are subverted because they end with Luc winning.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Downplayed. The only thing that keeps the UniSols under control is a memory clearance drug, which (once it wears off) causes the UniSol to revert back to their former personalities. A lack of temperature regulation outside of the memory clearance drug, causes the UniSols to go berserk. It is shown that the muscle booster that they take to augment their performance even further makes it harder and harder for the memory clearance drug to be effective.
- The Determinator: UniSols in general. Even automatic gunfire at close-range doesn't do anything for them, except temporarily incapacitate them. The NGU takes the cake, surviving heavy automatic gunfire that would of killed an older series UniSol, and walking off a grenade going off at close-range. Getting impaled through the throat and out the back of the neck did nothing but inconvenience him. It took being blown up by a detonator for high-level explosives to shred him into pieces.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: With the exception of John, all of the UniSols originate from elite infantry and special operations backgrounds. Devereaux and Scott were both US Army Special Forces before their death, and according to the original script for the first movie, The Universal Soldier Strike Force was a black ops unit operating in Special Forces.
- Empowered Badass Normal:
- Before someone is made into a UniSol, with the exception of the later Clone Series UniSols like Magnus and John, many of the UniSols are either elite infantry, like Airborne, Rangers, or Special Forces, meaning they already have an incredible advantage before they are augmented. Even without the muscle booster or gene therapy, UniSols are terrifying combatants. Those we see benefit from the muscle booster & gene therapy are a magnitude more dangerous than their fellow UniSols.
- When we get to the Clone Sleepers, they're more improved than their counterparts. Magnus himself outperforms all of his fellow UniSols save for Scott and Devereaux, along with having the ability to regenerate lost limbs and appendages. John himself even more so than everyone else.
- Goggles Do Something Unusual: With the exception of the NGU, the first generation of UniSols in both the original film and Regeneration wear head-mounted eyepieces. The UniSols in the original had removable versions, with a boom mike and an earpiece, that allowed for their handlers to monitor their activities, see things from their point of view, and instruct the UniSols to do things.
- Healing Factor: Because of their augmented thyroid, UniSols have an increased metabolism, which in turn, fuels their bodies accelerated rate of recovery. The augmented metabolism, coupled with the nutritional supplement, allows for their bodies to produce newer cells at an accelerated rate, letting them heal and recover from injuries quicker. However, due to their augmented metabolisms, their bodies overheat rather quickly.
- Hollywood Cyborg: With the exception of the headset and the blackbox, installed in the thighs of the UniSols, there really aren't many cybernetics in a UniSol's body. It's implied that there are additional bone and muscle augmentations for the UniSols, to add to their Made of Iron and Super Strength capabilities.
- Human Popsicle: When they are not being used, UniSols are kept in cold-storage, with the temperature regulated to prevent them from overheating. Two things will happen when they overheat: They become uncontrollable, and prone to going berserk, or they overheat and shut down until they are cooled off.
- Large Ham: Dolph Lundgren reeeally hammed it up as a villain.
- Laser Sight: Attached to most of the UniSols' weapons.
- Lightning Bruiser: Despite their size and their mass, the UniSols are surprisingly quick on their feet, able to move fast and deliver powerful blows to their enemies. Coupled with their increased pain tolerance and stamina, they're capable of outlasting most combatants in a fistfight. The NGU, Deveraux, Scott and John are prime examples of this.
- Made of Iron: Because of their increased pain tolerance, due to their augmented pituitary gland, which increases and improves the production of substances created by the endocrine system, such as endorphins, and their increased rate of recovery and healing, coupled with additional systems in place, UniSols are incredibly tough. They are able to shrug off injuries that would kill regular humans, such as sustaining multiple gunshot wounds to vital areas without dying, and aren't affected by high falls and harsh impacts. Coupled with the body armour systems they wear, the average UniSol is incredibly hard to kill. Examples seen are:
- Monogender Monsters: Averted in the non-Canon movies, where there are female UniSols. Played Straight in the Canon movies. As to why there are no female UniSols, no one knows. It is a possibility, that the process of augmenting a female combatant would be much more time-consuming, as they would have to add more bone and muscle mass to make them as physically strong as their male counterparts without the muscle booster. Its also a fact that when the films were made there were far less female soldiers in general and certainly very few in the special forces from which the Universal Soldiers are derived from.
- Mutual Kill: The beginning of the film sees two Deveraux and Scot in Vietnam killing each other over the war crimes of one of them before they're both frozen and later revived as brainwashed supersoldiers.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Again, the John Hyams-directed films.
- Night of the Living Mooks: the UniSols are pretty much Bioaugmented Cyborg Zombie Super Soldiers.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Bioaugmented Cyborg Reanimated Military Servicemen that are used for black ops missions, and are given a memory clearance drug to control them, while they are kept in cold storage to keep them from overheating and going berserk. They make use of advanced body armour to increase their Made of Iron status, and a powerful super steroid to improve their superhuman strength, speed and toughness, at the cost of making it harder to control them.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a Ragin' Cajun, and his accent is even brought up at one point.
- Psychological Horror: Of the slow burning kind. You don't realize how terrifying the actuality and reality of the UniSols are, and what they're made for and what they do, until Regeneration and Day of Reckoning. Then it kicks in, and you come to realize the horror of it all, and it sinks it.
- Ragin' Cajun: Deveraux. The climactic fight of the first film even takes place on his family home in Louisiana.
- Rated M for Manly: And it gets more crazier and manlier with each sequel.
- Resurrected for a Job: The UniSols are comprised of military special forces operators, who are taken off of the battlefield after they have died or sustained critical injuries, repaired through surgery and augmented before being resurrected.
- Revenge of the Sequel: The series has such subtitles as "The Return", "Unfinished Business" and "Day of Reckoning".
- Rule of Symbolism: The movie series as a whole is a take on Frankenstein's Monster, and melding it with men of war, genetic engineering and other things. The UniSols themselves are bred for war and conflict, and they're controlled by the faceless government overseers who created them, to be used for black ops and secret war over the world. The movies deal with what happens when that system of control falls apart, and men bred for war, take their driving lust for war, against their oppressors and creators.
- Sliding Scale Of Silliness Vs Seriousness: The series rests more-or-less in the middle. After Regeneration, it becomes a lot more serious.
- Sociopathic Soldier: Andrew Scott was a Sergeant in The Vietnam War, where he goes renegade as he starts butchering civilians and kills his own squad when they try to stop him. He cuts off the ears of his victims and wears them in a necklace. He orders Private Luc Deveraux to kill the two remaining 'traitors', two Vietnamese children, doing the job himself when Deveraux refuses. Both are reborn years later as memory-wiped Super Soldiers. As soon as Scott regains his memories he kills his controllers and goes on a blood-filled vendetta across the States to punish Deveraux for disobeying his illegal orders back in Vietnam, graphically killing anyone who gets in his way. At the end he takes Deveraux's elderly parents and Veronica hostage, awarding all of them the death penalty. Despite claims earlier in the film that he thinks he's still fighting the insurgents in Vietnam, Scott later plainly admits that he's fully aware where he is and what he's doing, and his only motive is revenge for Deveraux refusing to partake in his atrocities.
- Super Powered Mooks: An army full of them! Taken to the next level with gene therapy, cloning and sleeper agents.
- Super Serum:
- Part of the process that makes an reanimated service member into a UniSol, involves an infusion of various chemicals that help start up the implanted muscles and bone mass that they receive during surgery. These are all brought online and to full operation, by one final chemical injection, which causes the augmented muscle and bone mass to swell up, in a rather painful manner; as they come online. For the first few seconds after the injection and the swelling, the UniSol sounds like they're suffocating, before evening out. It doesn't sound remotely pleasant at all.
- Then we have the Muscle Booster, which is used to further push the performance of the chemical cocktail surging through a UniSol's body and their augmented muscle and bone mass. It allows for a UniSol to reaching incredibly superhuman levels of performance, depending on who the UniSol is and all of those tiny little factors. In the hands of the original Andrew Scott, it allowed for him to throw Devereaux with enough force to flatten a barn door. For Devereaux, it made him outperform Scott and allowed for him to drop kick Scott through a barn wall.
- Super Soldiers: UniSols are comprised of Bio-Augmentation and Cyborging. Regeneration goes further than the original, and describes the process by which the original UniSols(Operation Black Tower) are created using a combination of freezing the dead soldier, then repairing the body with surgery and then reheating the body with a combination of pituitary and thyroid augmentation, and deep tissue electrical shocks. The Bio-Augmentation grants them an increased metabolism, recuperative abilities and increased body temperature to match, and increased tolerance towards pain, exhaustion and fatigue. The high-concentrate nutritional supplement they are given, augments their physical performance even further and takes care of their dietary needs.
- Super Speed: While not on level with other speedsters, the UniSols are very quick on their feet. They are capable of conducting high-speed military operations much more quickly and efficiently than is humanly possible. Coupled with his Super Strength, Deveraux was able to get a two-ton jeep on empty up to 35 + MPH while on foot.
- Super Strength: Without the muscle booster and gene therapy, A UniSol is strong enough to push a 2-ton jeep on empty and reach speeds of 35+ mph while running, swim a mile and a half upriver in under four minutes, barrel through thick walls like they were made from wet paper, lift incredible weights and manhandle full-grown adults like they were children, and without showing any strain. This is all due to their pituitary and thyroid augmentations, which serves as the basis for the strength and vitality that the UniSols have without the muscle booster and gene therapy.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Shooting a UniSol in the heart and head most of the time isn't the best way to kill them. Even without body armour, UniSols have been shown to survive injuries that would kill a regular Human in a heartbeat. Because of their augmented constitution, the best way to ensure that they stay dead, is to overdo it. Stabbing them multiple times before shooting them in the neck and then impaling them in the head with a machete? Go for it. Giving them an impromptu cranirectomy and then blowing out their brains? Sure, why not? Pummeling the crap out of them, impaling them on a wheat thresher and then shredding them to bits? Most definitely!
- We Can Rebuild Him: Using a combination of advanced surgery techniques, Bio-Augmentation, deep tissue electrical shocks, high-performance nutritional supplements, muscle boosters and a memory clearance drug. Later generations of UniSols benefit from all of those, along with gene therapy for extra measures and cloning, which extends the service life of a UniSol.
- Western Terrorists: The terrorists that take over the Hoover Dam in the first film and the terrorists that take over Chernobyl in the third (official) film.