We’ve been over this all before? – Andrew Scott
The original 1992 macho man overdose UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is one of my fav films starring two of my top action stars; Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme. When the 1999 follow up UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN was put out; I was mucho bummed out by it. Not only didn’t it measure up to the original but it also couldn’t stand on its own as a potent action Sci-Fi bonanza of fun. Granted I appreciate it more today on a cheese level but still – not a sequel worthy of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. Now in 2010, the straight to DVD UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3: REGENERATION aims to rectify the wrong that was Part 2 – did it succeed? F*ck yeah!
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3 was a relentless, mean spirited and visceral action ride that aimed for the throat and ripped it the f*ck out. The flick kicked off its set with an exhilarating car chase and then hardly stopped for air till its end credits. Action, action, action. I'm pretty sure I blew a load when the Van Damme sent in to one-man army the baddies bit kicked in with the camera following him around, in one long take at that (shades of the JCVD opening). Definitely, one of my fav pow-wow scenes from the flick! AWESOME! Moreover, the visual approach the filmmakers took with this film swayed me. Everything was played out bleak and grounded (Hookers and beers to DOP Peter Hyams for his gritty cinematography!), even the Sci-Fi elements were put out in a realistic fashion. Think Universal Soldier by way of Bourne Identity. Same went for the camera moves here, which were refreshingly old school. Lots of over the shoulder goodness, tracking shots and most importantly, hand to hand fights that were done right (wide shots and close ups for inserts...that's it). In terms of the latter point.. WOW... I didn’t think action filmmakers did that anymore – THANK YOU! I esteemed the use of real squib shots as opposed to CG squibs as well – added to the authentic feel of the picture.
And for those of ya looking for Van Damme and Dolph back where they god damn belong, in the cinematic ring together, you’ll be almost happy. Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux, although almost a subplot (he’s in like half the film), made for a compelling hero for all the wrong reasons. He was beaten down, morose and filled with regret (basically me on Sunday mornings). I was captivated by the character for non obvious reasons and also really dug that they kind of brought him full circle with this film. Dolph Lundgren was of course back as the happy-go-psycho Andrew Scott, and although his screen time was WAYYYYYY too limited for my tastes (less than 15 minutes), the fanboy joo-joo cranked up to DANGER ZONE every time he surfaced. I literally got goose bumps travelling up my spine when JCVD and Dolph were finally in the same frame together - long overdue. And what of the rematch between Dolph and JC? All I’ll say is this; the showdown hit the spot, it may be better than the one in the original. The dudes went all out and then some, punches, shoving, kicking (Van Damme still has it!), jumping out a second story window...the works! Fun times! Made for an intense mano et mano!
Finally, let’s face it, a film is only as good as its villain, and newcomer Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski (a former UFC Heavyweight Champion) filled that spot with brutal glee. Imposing physically, photogenic and brutal as f*ck, to say that his machine gun punching technique to the face had me slit throating from ear to ear would be an understatement. Punch that melon bro! Punch it good! F*CK YEAH! Add to all that a minimalist yet effective edgy score by Michael Krassner & Kris Hill (kind of John Carpenter vibed), a sleek capitalization on its locations (that snowy setting owned) a pretty even pace and able supporting players (Zahary Baharov was bang-on as head terrorist Topoff, loved him) and you get a low budget sequel that was much better than it should have been.
But all was not perfect. Unfortunately JCVD’s and Lundgren's limited screen time was often felt and even resulted in one subplot that I didn’t care for: unknown soldier goes in to recon. Not that it wasn’t a compelling sequence in its own right, its just that by that point, the storyline begged for JC and Lundgren in the forefront, that’s where the story was at, hence the scene felt like padding/stalling till the Titans of Brawn got into the full swing of things. Furthermore, more development as to Luc’s story would have been nice and I didn’t fully buy the “cloning” thing when it came to Andrew Scott (why clone a Unisol that went rogue in the past) – but I let that last one go, just happy to see Lundgren in the film. Finally Andrew Scott’s failure at snipping off his enemies’ ears like he did in the original peeved me – all I needed was ONE SCENE of him doing that and I would've been in a tizzy...but... NO DICE!
Overall though; UNIVERSAL SOLDIER REGENERATION wound up being one hell of a sucker punch. I thought I was going to get hit by a soft right - instead - I got a hard left hook to the cranium and then an uppercut to the chin. Thanks for the beating!