Lets get one thing straight. There are 20 sequels, spin offs, and continuations of storylines based on Jean Claude Van Damme movies. While that is marinating in your mind, the only character that Van Damme has ever actually reprised was Luc Deveraux and Van Damme actually made a movie that ignored a previous movie in which Van Damme starred as Deveraux. Deveraux was the main character in the film series Universal Soldier. Universal Soldier became a film series so convoluted that even Roland Emmerich must have broke down in the wilderness screaming “Forgive them father, they know not what they do.”
But before we get to that, lets start from the beginning. Because as awesome as all of this is, this will get confusing quick. There are a few things to remember about Van Damme sequels. First of all, the movie before it pretty much will share only a name with the previous movie. Second, the main character will almost certainly be replaced by a lesser known actor. Third (and most confusing), the lesser known actor will probably come back for another sequel as a different character. With all that in mind, lets take this from the top.
No Retreat, No Surrender – These series always start out with the movie that Jean Claude Van Damme was actually in. In this case, the cinema is No Retreat, No Surrender (1986). In this movie, Van Damme is just getting started. This would make Van Damme the bad guy. Van Damme plays Ivan Krachinsky. This is the 1980’s so you know that Van Damme is the bad guy in three ways. First of all, Van Damme is foreign. This will be very important. Second of all, Van Damme is given a Russian name that you cannot pronounce. As Van Damme will no doubt discuss one day with his good buddy Dolph Lundgren, this is a sure fire way to arouse quick suspicion in the 1980s. This would be especially true if the audience was in the deep south. Things are made really easy in the fact that you are fighting a Communist with American Kurt McKinney. McKinney is not a foreigner in the United States. There is also no trouble pronouncing the name Jason Stillwell. Honestly, what could possibly say anything more American than the fact that Stillwell is trained to be Krachinsky by the ghost of Bruce Lee. As in all martial arts movie, there is also some sort of sub plot about a family member who was not very good at what he did and got his head cracked in.
Before we could get a McKinney / Van Damme rematch in No Retreat, No Surrender 2 though, Van Damme thought that the No Retreat, No Surrender film series would not advance his career. So, both Van Damme an McKinney bailed. Right, that was the film series that would have brought scorn eternally to the house of Van Damme. McKinney’s character of Jason Stillwell was renamed Scott Wylde (on the fly) and Loren Avedon was hired to play him. The movie had something to do with Asian communists and Vietnam. Avedon came back in No Retreat, No Surrender 3. Avedon was no longer Scott Wylde (because if you are renting No Retreat, No Surrender 3 – there is no reason to believe you are actually a fan or have seen the first two movies.) No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers now stars Avedon as Will Alexander with brother Casey Alexander played by Keith Vitali. The movie has something to do with the CIA killing their father. At any rate, No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers was actually released in some markets as Kickboxer 2 (we will get to the actual Kickboxer franchise in a sec) which was another Van Damme sequel. Confused yet? Avedon wasn’t or at least did not act like he was. Avedon would go on to star in No Retreat, No Surrender 4 as a guy named Jack Donahue (because seriously screw playing one more movie as Scott Wylde or Will Alexander.) At this point, it is fairly safe to say that one should never say the name Jason Stillwell to Loren Avedon. He would probably start telling you how he beat up Jean Claude Van Damme in No Retreat, No Surrender.
Bloodsport – The next franchise the muscles from Brussels would spawn is Bloodsport. Van Damme would take his usual pass on the sequel which would give us the character of Alex Cardo. Alex Cardo was played Daniel Bernhardt in Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite as well as Bloodsport III. This would be when Bernhardt realized the “Loren Avedon Rule” about starring in Van Damme sequels. You want their to be some doubt as to whether you really are the guy they saw in the last couple of sequels. The easiest route? Take the role and the money anyway all the time figuring your average Van Damme fan is worse at faical recognition than TSA software. This brings us to Bloodsport IV: The Dark Kumite. This movie again stars Daniel Bernhardt, but this time he is Agent John Keller. Alex Cardo is so totally the last couple of movies. Again, the producers are banking on The Dark Kumite being the first movie you saw in that series and you not reading the credits. It is a Van Damme sequel. Lets be honest. They don’t think you can read.
Cyborg – The original Cyborg film should make you the most grateful fan-boy /film geek in existence. Do you know why? If you have ever seen Cyborg, we are not talking about what Cyborg was. We are talking about what Cyborg wasn’t. Cyborg was released in 1989. Jean Claude’s character in Cyborg was the typically colorfully named Gibson Rickenbacker. All well and all is good as well. Cannon Films, at the time, owned the film rights to both He-Man as well as Spiderman. They had already made Masters of the Universe starring Dolph Lundgren. Stay with me, Lundgren’s name is going to come up… a lot. Cannon Films wanted to shoot He-Man 2 and Spiderman simultaneously with the same director. Keep in mind, they never thought this would be a bad idea. It merely turned into an expensive one. Once Cannon Films was two million in the hole on both films, all they had to show for it was a paid director and costumes for the two movies. So, they hired Van Damme and made Cyborg. Go back and watch Cyborg and remember that every single costume in the movie was originally intended to be placed in either a He-Man movie or a Spiderman movie. Don’t let your brain melt on which costume may have gone to which character. Cyborg 2 actually starred Elias Koteas as someone named Colton ‘Colt’ Ricks and a young Angelina Jolie as Casella ‘Cash’ Reese. This is interesting because the character of Casella Reese is the one that they built Cyborg 3 around. This would have actually been the first film franchise continued by Angelina Jolie… had she actually continued it. As it stood, Jolie bowed out of what became known as Cyborg 3 : The Recycler (the most aptly named Van Damme sequel ever) and was replaced by Krystyne Haje is. In addition to that, its another sad footnote on the otherwise brilliant career of Malcolm McDowell.
Kickboxer – In the original Kickboxer, Jean Claude Van Damme played… a kick boxer. Van Damme was not nominated for an Academy Award. Its ok. Van Damme has the career consolation prizes of starring in movies with both Denis Rodman and Lawrence Taylor. Van Damme also used his considerable influence to try and expand the realm of Turkish cinema at one point. You don’t see uppity people like Steven Seagal trying to further Turkish cinema or starring with Denis Rodman do you? I think I rest my case. Kickboxer actually begat two Kickboxer 2’s. One of them we have already discussed. Now, there was also the canonical Kickboxer 2. While this did not quite cause the flap that Sean Connery starring in Never Say Never Again did, I’m sure like someone noticed. Van Damme’s Kickboxer was Kurt Sloane. Sasha Mitchell starred in Kickboxer 2: The Road Back as David Sloane. In a movie supposedly proclaimed by the L. A. Times as ‘better than Kickboxer,’ Mitchell would boldly use the name David Sloane for the next three sequels. The box for Kickboxer 2 will now tell you that the same guy who wrote this also wrote Blade II. Cinephiles will recognize this person as David Goyer. David Goyer is now the same man who helped write Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. No one is going to mention that Goyer was intimately involved in every film with the words Demonic Toys in the title in the interim. David Sloane would Kickboxer his way through Kickboxer 3: The Art of War and Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor. Someone must have pulled Mitchell aside and said “as much as you may want to. No one does 4 sequels to a Van Damme movie.” Mitchell got a role on Step by Step opposite Patrick Duffy and the reigns of Kickboxer 5: The Redemption (you really can’t make this up) fell to Mark Decascos. Decascos must have felt like he wasn’t up to a homage on the level of daring to call himself a Sloane. As such, Decascos took the character name of ‘Matt Reeves.’
Universal Soldier – There is an old saying that ‘when you make a copy or a copy….’ Well, that is certainly true of the Universal Soldier series. If Van Damme wanted to be in the ‘next Universal Soldier’ he should have begged to be in Stargate. The one person that never came back to the narrative of Universal Solider was Roland Emmerich. Emmerich went on to make Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. Granted, he also did Godzilla, 10,000 BC, and The Patriot. Speaking of The Patriot, when Van Damme did return to the series in, well Universal Soldier: The Return it was the lone directorial effort of Mic Rodgers. Rodgers does have a great history of being Mel Gibson’s stunt double for nearly two decades. That was back when Mel Gibson did things like… you know … act. At any rate, The Return quickly forgot the aptly numbered Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms as well as Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business. Both of these movies starred Matt Battaglia as Luc Benson. Other than rhyming his last name with one New York’s five families from The Godfather, Battaglia is not remembered as well in the Universal Soldier annals. In Universal Soldier II Lundgren’s Andrew Scott character is actually played by an actor named Andrew Jackson. Most everyone would prefer that Universal Soldier III would be not remembered. The main person that would appreciate you never remember or ask about Universal Soldier III is Burt Reynolds (yes that Burt Reynolds) in his understated by nuanced performance as The Mentor. Now, stay with us. Universal Soldier: The Return forgets entirely that II and III ever happened. This is somewhat forgivable. They don’t call it Universal Solider IV. Universal Soldier: The Return was also a theatrical release like Universal Soldier. II and III were both straight to video. It is also easy to believe when you are watching Van Damme that this is actually his character. Van Damme really failed sequels with Universal Soldier: Regeneration. We know that Van Damme is relatively new to sequels. After all, why continue your hits when you can break ground by playing twins in Double Trouble? Universal Soldier: Regeneration though forgets Universal Soldier: The Return ever happened. It was a movie that starred Van Damme. Why would you ever want to forget the time you worked with Bill Goldberg? Regeneration does re-unite Van Damme with Lundgren which The Return did not. The interesting part is that there is now Universal Solider: A New Dimension coming out. This again reunites Lundgren and Van Damme. New Dimension also has the same director and there is only three years separating it from Regeneration. So…they might.. Agree that it happened. Maybe. There are three reasons for making Universal Soldier: New Dimension.
1. There are so many unanswered questions.
2. They a an eternal quested to have a continuity more convoluted than Highlander.
3. They were filming Expendables 2 together and another Universal Soldier was a weekend project.
I’m going to show a slight bit of kindness since they stopped at Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision, though I am aware of it. Likewise, Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li was part of a franchise that Van Damme was merely in but did not really originate in any way. That… and I have a lot of trouble admitting Street Fighter is Raul Julia’s last film. Jean Claude Van Damme…. No one has done more for the term… “Direct to video.”