Richard Kiel aka Jaws from the James Bond franchise has saldy passed away. He was a big man with a big heart and he will always be my favorite James Bond villain. Rest in peace, Mr. Kiel.
Richard Kiel aka Jaws from the James Bond franchise has saldy passed away. He was a big man with a big heart and he will always be my favorite James Bond villain. Rest in peace, Mr. Kiel.
So this week on Classic Action Movie Franchise Reviews, or CAMFR for short (seriously guys, we need a better name) i thought i would take a look at surprisingly the only franchise from Jean-Claude Van Damme. He has made so many movies that could have had great sequels like Bloodsport, Kickboxer and Timecop, but for some reason this was it. Now i know all of those movies had sequels as well, but none of them starred The Muscles from Brussels. So let’s just dive right into the beginning. (btw: i’m not doing the TV movies).
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992)
This is not just one of my favorite Van Damme movies, but one of my favorite action movies overall. This was the first American movie from disaster master Roland Emmerich and you can already tell that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to big action sequences. The opening at the Hoover Dam and the prison bus chase are two that comes to mind. Van Damme does a good job playing this emotionless reanimated soldier. He does the stoic thing very well and can show off his comedic side as well in a few scenes. It’s probably the most acting he had done in his career up to that point. Dolph Lundgren however is the one that steals the entire movie. He is allowed to go as over the top as he wants here and it a such a joy to watch. People always think of Ivan Drago when they think of Dolph Lundgren, but i think his performance as Andrew Scott outshines that role by a mile. He has a monologue in a super market at one point that i know every word of. It’s so good. He really is the best part of this movie and the one that saves it from being just another generic Terminator wannabe. I would put him up there among my favorite movie villains. The fight scene at the end between Van Damme and Dolph is great as well. Both of them get in a lot of great hits and they beat each other up good. Universal Soldier is definitely a classic 90’s action movies that is worth checking out. The sequel on the other hand…
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN (1999)
This really was too little, too late. A last attempt by Van Damme to still stay relevant at this point in his career and the last starring movie from him that i think got a major theatrical release. Why out of all of his movies did they think a sequel to Universal Soldier 6 years after the last one was the best way to go. Timecop came out later and was the biggest movie of his career. But i don’t know the politics and all the rights mess that goes on in Hollywood so i’m not gonna dwell more on that. This franchise somehow went from one of the best movies of Van Damme’s career to one of the worst movies of his career. This is just awful and i can definitely see why his career never fully recovered after it. The director, who is a stuntman that has never directed a movie other than this, clearly had no idea what he was doing. The movie was all over the place. The acting was awful even for a Van Damme movie, the music was absolutely horrible with very out-of-place metal blasting out at random moments, and worst of all the action is just boring. Boring fight scenes, boring chase scenes and boring shootouts. I have only watched this movie one and a half times in my life. Once when it came out and i tried to watch it again when the blu-ray came out and i could not do it. I had to turn it off. Michael Jai White, who i usually love, makes a return from his tiny cameo in the first one as the villain of this one. I thought that was a bit cool, but that is about the only praise i can give this film. They could not even make a fight scene between Van Damme and Michael Jai White interesting. That is incredible. I honestly thought this movie had killed the franchise along with Van Damme’s career, but no. 10 years later i was proven wrong…
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (2009)
Who thought this was a good idea? Resurrecting this franchise 10 years after it’s death. Is it some kind of metaphor? Is the franchise itself a Universal Soldier now? But to whoever did think this was a good idea, thank you! I had absolutely zero expectations for this and it blew me away. This has to be one of the best direct to video action movies i have ever seen. Thankfully it completely ignores the last movie and serves as a follow up to the first movie instead. Not only is Van Damme back this time, but Dolph Lundgren as well. Now, neither of them have starring roles in the movie. Van Damme is more of a broken anti-hero in this one that is forced to come back and save the day after a new super UniSol played by MMA fighter Andrei ‘The Pitbull’ Arlovski takes out all the military’s current UniSols while trying to save some kids. Dolph Lundgren, who people might remember had very little chance of coming back to the franchise thanks to a wood chipper in the first movie (before Fargo did it), but he is a clone. Yeah, there are clones here now. Universal Soldier has never been a franchise for people who want a good story so just go with it. The fight scenes and action in the movie are incredible. Van Damme and Dolph goes head to head again after all these years and it’s so much fun to watch. It’s much more brutal and rough this time around though. No high kicks or splits this time. It’s just two brute forces slamming each other through walls and windows until ultimately Dolph goes out in another fantastic way. Andrei is the one that get’s most of the fight scenes this time around though, but he definitely knows what he’s doing so i’m fine with that. This movie really is just a lot of brutal fight scenes at this old nuclear plant (i think), but god damn it’s a lot of fun to watch. The director is John Hyams, so of director Peter Hyams who has previously made Timecop and Sudden Death with Van Damme, and he has definitely learnt a thing or two from his dad.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012)
John Hymas is back as the director again, and again this is a completely different take on the franchise. This time there is a new hero with Scott Adkins taking over as the lead. I love Scott Adkins so i’m very happy with that. He is definitely the best western martial artist working in action movies these days and this is one of his best movies so far. In a surprise twist Van Damme is the antagonist this time around and Dolph Lundgren and Andrei Arlovski (both back as clones again) are now working for him. This movie is more of a psychological thriller done as an action movie than a straight up action movie. There are a lot of really weird moments in the movie and whole thing always has a very unsettling mood throughout it. You never feel comfortable while watching it. But the action sequences are better than ever. There is especially one fight scene between Scott Adkins and Andrei Arlovski in a sporting goods store that sticks out as one of the best fight scenes i have seen in a very long time. It’s very brutal and you feel every punch and kick in it. At the end there is also a very impressive long take with Scott as he goes through the bunker where the UniSols are while taking them out one by one. I’m sure there are some cuts in it when they are going through some of the very dark corners, but it’s still very cool to watch. The most disappointing part of the movie is actually the fight between Scott and Van Damme. After such an epic movie i was hoping the final fight would top it all, but sadly it felt very short and small by comparison. I know Van Damme is getting old now, but i was still expecting more from him than what we got. His acting in the movie was very good though. It reminded me a lot of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. John Hyams did another fantastic job and somehow topped his last effort with this one. He really is a director that deserves to take on something big now. I will definitely be following him from now on at least.
OVERALL TAKE ON THE FRANCHISE:
This really is a strange franchise. It’s probably the only one where every entry feels like a reboot. It goes from goofy and fun 90’s blockbuster action to dark, dirty and brutal action in the style of The Raid. I never thought it could come back after the second one, but John Hyams was just the man to save the franchise and bring it up to a whole new level. The first one is still my favorite though. I have so many good memories from watching it as a kid and it’s one of the movies that made me a fan of both Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Nothing will ever change that.
Universal Soldier 10/10
Universal Soldier: The Return 1/10
Universal Soldier: Regeneration 7/10
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning 8/10
Overall Score: 7/10
So i have been getting a lot of great suggestions now on what to do with this blog in the future. Instead of just posting movie posters and the occasional blog post here and there, there will be more variety on here from now on starting with a new segment that is called Classic Action Movie Franchise Reviews, or CAMFR for short (we have got to find a better title). This is where i will look at the entire franchise of a classic action movie. And we are starting with my all time favorite: DIE HARD!
DIE HARD (1988)
What an absolutely perfect movie this is. Who would have thought that Bruce Willis, who was best known for his comedic persona from Moonlighting and the forgettable Blind Date at the time, would be such an amazing casting decision for a hard R action movie like this? That would be like casting the lanky nerd from The Big Bang Theory in an action movie these days. Well, maybe not. Bruce Willis was always a little tougher than that. But anyway, whoever made that casting decision deserves a medal. Die Hard owes a lot of it’s brilliance to Bruce Willis and his perfect portrayal of John McClane. He is the far opposite of the regular action heroes at the time like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Instead of being a muscle bound mountain of a man, he is just a regular, average Joe in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is the kind of action hero most people could relate to. But Bruce Willis as John McClane is not the only genius casting decision that makes this movie so amazing. There is also Alan Rickman as one of my all time favorite movie villains, Hans Gruber. He is the perfect combo of smart, slimy, cool and vicious. And of course he has the mandatory European accent that all action movie villains had to have at that time. This movie is filled with great characters, but this is an action movie so we have to talk about the ting everyone wants to talk about here: the romance. John and Holly kiss at the end. Now on to the second most important part: the action. Oh my god is the action here amazing! This movie barely takes any breaks after the action starts and the few times it does it’s just to build tension or hear about Carl Winslow, erm, i mean Al Powell shooting kids. This movie has me on the edge of my seat every time i watch it. And i watch it a lot. At least once a year around Christmas i put this on. It’s not only a perfect action movie, it’s also a perfect Christmas movie. But this is starting to turn into a full fledged review of the first movie, and that is not what this is supposed to be, so let’s movie on.
DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER (1990)
This is a perfect example of a sequel just trying to recreate everything in the first movie and failing. Now don’t get me wrong, this is still an enjoyable action movie, but when it keeps doing the same stuff as the first movie beat for beat, it just makes me want to watch the first one again. But when it’s not just doing scenes from the first movie all over again it does have some cool moments. John McClane stabbing someone through the eye with an ice sickle is something i always think of when i see them every winter. I also like the snowmobile chase in the movie. This movie also manages to go a lot darker than the first movie as well as getting a lot goofier at the same time. While there are horrible scenes like the plane crash, there are also scenes ripped right out of the Looney Tunes like when John McClane uses an ejector seat to get away from an exploding grenade. Overall, this is a decent, but kind of forgettable action movie. It’s the middle child between two great movies. Speaking of…
DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE (1995)
Now this is how you do a sequel! Take the character we all know and love and put him in a new and exciting situation. Don’t just do the same thing over again. This movie takes John McClane out of a small building getting taken over by terrorists during Christmas, and puts him in the big city playing a deadly game of Simon Says during one of the hottest summer days. He also get’s a great partner in this movie with Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus. He makes up for Al not returning this time. This time it’s back to a great villain again as well. I could not even remember what the villain looked like in Die Hard 2, but you will not forget Jeremy Irons as Simon Gruber. He is the brother of Hans Gruber and he’s out for revenge. Or that is what he wants you to think at least. This movie if filled with great action set pieces throughout New York and keeps the tension up at all times. John McClane get’s more beat up in this film than ever before. At the end he looked so sweaty, bloody and bruised that you can almost smell him through the screen. Just like with watching Die Hard 1 ever Christmas, i feel like i have to watch this one every summer. For a long time this was the last of the franchise and i was fine with that. It was a good trilogy. A little slow in the middle, but McClane went out on top. Then one day Hollywood decided to give a new sequel to pretty much every franchise that ended in the 90’s.
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)
When this was first announced i got very excited. Up to this point Die Hard was one of my all time favorite franchises and the thought of a new one after all these years was like a dream come true. Then all the other announcements came along. It was gonna be directed by Underworld director Len Wiseman. It was gonna co-star Justin Long from the Apple commercials and various teen sex comedies. And on top of it all, it was gonna be rated PG-13. What the fuck? Seriously? The last Die Hard movie before this is one of the most brutal action movies there is and you are gonna follow it up with a PG-13 movie? I was furious. Finally Die Hard is returning and it’s getting a PG-13 rating. I almost didn’t even watch this in the theaters i was so mad. But to my surprise, it was not bad. I actually liked it. I would even go so far as to say i liked it better than Die Hard 2. I know, i’m as shocked as you guys. Sure, the PG-13 is really holding this movie back, but it still manages to get in some great action sequences. Sometimes it get’s a little over the top for a Die Hard movie like when he is surfing on a jet plane, but it’s still fun to watch. Justin Long manages to not get on my nerves as well. Kevin Smith is the one who get’s that honor. The villains are also good. Timothy Olyphant, who i love on shows like Deadwood and Justified, does the best he can with what he got. Nobody can play annoyed as well as him and when you are up against McClane you will get very annoyed. I hate to keep harping on this, but i feel like if they had given this movie the R rating it should have had, he could have gone all out and been a great bad guy. But yeah, this was a surprisingly fun movie. I could not believe it. I was so ready to just hate this movie the first time i sat down to watch it, but by the time John McClane takes out a helicopter with a car, i was totally with this movie. So when they announced that the next Die Hard was gonna be a return to the R rating it could only go up from here, right?
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)
I… uh… i… th… wha… WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED HERE?! This was supposed to be the return to glory for the franchise, but instead they decided to take a huge, steaming pile of shit all over it, smear it in good, then take a piss on it for that extra flavor, and call it the day. This movie is the absolute fucking worst insult to the Die Hard franchise i have ever seen. I can’t even explain how bad this movie is. I had to leave the movie theater halfway through it the first time i saw it. I could not sit there for another second and watch one of my favorite franchise get violated in the worst possible way like this. When i finally did finish watching the movie at home it just made me feel sick. How can a once great franchise like this sink so low? I can’t even go on about this film. I don’t want to think about this movie anymore. I think i had actually blocked it from my memory because when i started this write up i was sure the franchise ended at number 4. It was only when i checked Imdb that i remembered this movie existed. So let’s just move on….
OVERALL TAKE ON THE FRANCHISE
When ignoring that last travesty, this is a great action movie franchise. It’s one that not necessarily get’s better by each movie, but it certainly get’s bigger. Bruce Willis was born to play John McClane and no one could have done it better. This is one of the franchises you start with if you want to get someone into classic action movies. That is definitely how i have converted many people. So, if you have nothing to do this weekend, get out you Die Hard box set, get a few beers and some friends, and have yourself a great time. That is what i’m gonna do.
Die Hard 10/10
Die Hard 2: Die Harder 6/10
Die Hard: With a Vengeance 10/10
Live Free or Die Hard 7/10
A Good Day to Die Hard 0/10 Fuck this movie! It does not count!
Overall score: 8/10
Sylvester Stallone has less and less facial hair for each one of these movies. Why is that? Is it a metaphor for something? I just had to get that out of the way because it’s been stuck in my head since i first saw the trailer for this. Anyway, this was a little disappointing. After the second Expendables movie took everything from the first one and made it bigger and better i was hoping this one would continue that trend, but apart from the cast everything really does just feel smaller. It seems like the budget for this one was a lot less than the first two. The locations are just so bland and grey all the time i had trouble figuring out where everyone was half the time.
And the action sequences has also been toned down a lot thanks to a ridicules PG-13 rating. Why is this rated PG-13? This is supposed to be a throwback franchise to the great R rated action movies of the 80’s and 90’s. Not something that is supposed to compete with this decades PG-13 super hero action craze. It really did ruin the movie a lot for me. Jason Statham barely get’s to use his knives this time, and when he does it’s off screen. There is also no blood whenever someone get’s shot. This franchise has always used those awful CG blood squibs before, but even that is better than nothing. You don’t get any memorable death scenes here like someone getting a knife kicked into his chest or getting his head cut to pieces by a plane propeller. Statham has to take out the main henchman by just knocking his head into a wall and even the supposed ‘epic’ showdown between Sly and Mel Gibson that the entire movie has been building towards is over in about a minute.
Most of the action and fight scenes are also filled with awful shaky cam and quick cuts to hide most of the violence and it just looks awful. That is one of the worst trends in action movies these days and now it has infected this franchise as well. If they had gone with the R rating i’m sure this movie could have had a lot of memorable moments, but this one really didn’t have any. I just watched it and i can’t think of any part of any action scene that stuck out to me. And the other thing that really dragged this movie down for the was most of the new cast members. Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas and especially Wesley Snipes were all great. Snipes stole all the scenes he were in. But all the new kids just did nothing for me.
Again, this is supposed to be a throwback franchise to the classic action movies and it’s action heroes. I don’t want to see a bunch of 20 year old kids running around trying to show everyone up. Kellan Lutz was especially annoying. He was trying so hard to be this tough and brooding leader of the new kids and he just looked ridicules. They were hinting towards him taking over the franchise in the future at the end of this movie and if that happens then i’m gonna stop watching. I really wished they had just left all of those kids out of this movie and had just given more screen time to the actual Expendables. That’s who people want to see. But even with all of my complaints i did still kind of enjoy the movie. Like i said, when the Expendables themselves are on screen i liked it. Wesley Snipes was definitely the saving grace of this movie. Antonio Banderas was also good, but they could have toned him down a little bit. I get that he’s supposed to be annoying, but that does not mean he has to annoy the audience as well. Harrison Ford really just took over the Bruce Willis part, but did a fine job at it.
Mel Gibson did a good job with what little he had to work with. This has to be the smallest amount of time given to any main villain of the franchise so far. That is pretty odd considering this is also the longest movie of the franchise so far. But i guess all those damn kids needed their screen time as well. If not for them and the PG-13 rating this could have been a great movie, but in the end it’s just an okay one at best. I feel like i’m being very generous to it by giving it a 6/10 right now, but that might change the more i think about it. This is very disappointing considering this blog is pretty much named after this franchise, but hopefully they will learn from their mistakes this time and be back to an R rating and less kids in the fourth one.
Hey guys. Anyone gonna go see The Expendables 3 this weekend? I’m a bit worried about it because of the PG-13 downgrade and half the cast including teenagers now, but i’ll check it out anyway. I must also apologize for the lack of content here lately. I need to figure out something else to do here besides just posting action movie posters because i will run out eventually. If anyone has any suggestions i’m happy to hear them. I will also get up a review of The Expendables 3 either after watching it tonight or tomorrow morning. I hope it’s good.