Ahhh Universal Soldier…what a fascinating franchise! It first gunned out as a mainstream, big budget Sci-Fi actionner directed by Roland Emmerich in 1992, then took the TV Movie/STD sequel path with the 1998 Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms (Starring Burt Reynolds and Gary Busey…what????) and the 1999 Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business (again with Reynolds), to then go back on the big screen in 1999 (with Van Damme returning), ignoring its STD counterparts via the misfire Universal Soldier The Return, to finally be revived by John Hyams refreshing take on the Uni-Sol world in 2012: Universal Soldier Regeneration. What Hyams did with Regeneration was ground the franchise's sci-fi elements, crank up the grittiness and up the brutality quota. And now the organic evolution of Hyams vision has reached new heights in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER DAY OF RECKONING.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER DAY OF RECKONING played out like a Cannon movie directed by Stanley Kubrick or/and David Lynch. The story was challenging, existential (yeah you heard me) and often enough, the ins and outs were left up to interpretation. There was a mystery to solve and Hyams slyly put us in the protagonist's shoes (reminded me of Angel Heart) when it came to deciphering it. We knew what John knew and that made the discoveries we made with him result in an engrossing sit down. The narrative went on to take me in directions that I didn’t expect which is always rewarding for this a-hole, right down to echoing Apocalypse Now! NICE! Furthermore Day of Reckoning re-thought and expanded on the rules of the series (like the "how", "what" and 'why" behind the Unisols) and I dug where they went with it. A door was definitely left wide open for a sequel, lots of directions were available as the end credits rolled. Hey, if I get more GENIUS like this, I am IN!
The aesthetics of the flick mirrored the meat in terms of their out there demeanor. There were more akin to what you’d find in an art film than say a mainstream sci fi action flick. Mucho experimental and LSD-ish trippy... you’re either gonna love it or hate the shite out of it. I totally got into it. Am talking gripping POV shots, creative use of fade ins-fade outs, some strobe-light action and hypnotizing long takes. But fear not when the action kicked in Hyams delivered the mustard! Arresting slow motion, long tracking shots (that "Adkins f*cks everything up in sight" bit was one for the books) and lots of wide/medium shots to make sure we SEE every punch and every kick. Speaking of the fights, they were INTENSE and BRUTAL! I saw the Rated R version (I hear the Blu-ray will be uncut) and it was one hell of a mean spirited affair that didn’t pull any punches, instead it crashed them through my hollow skull. Brilliantly choreographed and hardcore violent, this had to be the best hand to hand fights in an American action flick this year! Often due to Adkins mad skills! I couldn’t get enough! NOTE: That car chase that preceded one of the key fights was freaking NUTS!
On the acting front, Scott Adkins has finally come into his own as a leading man with this movie. He brought intensity, charisma, empathy and nuance to his character and I felt for the guy! On his end Dolph Lundgren partied hard with the role once more (even going as far as spitting out a one-liner from the first film: "That’s the spirit soldier”). You can never get enough Dolph, and the film came to life even further when he surfaced onscreen. What about Jean Claude Van Damme you may ask? Well I don’t want to reveal too much. Let’s just say that his character of Luc Deveraux has evolved since Regeneration and to me the path they chose made a lot of sense. Van Damme gave a subdued, nuanced, unnerving and hypnotizing show. He was one of the film’s key strengths. Finally Andrei Arlovski was efficient as the go-to killer Unisol. There was just something about him that was off key, yet he was captivating to watch. You bet the crazy beard helped! He showed off some pretty tight fighting skills too!
Any negatives? Hardly. I felt that the Adkins versus Jean Claude Van Damme get-down was lacking a tad. Not sure if it was because the previous fights were so damn badass that it paled in comparison, but I was hoping for more! Moreover, Van Damme’s character limited screen time worked in favor of the story but I needed more Dolph, he should’ve had a more prominent role in the story. With that, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER DAY OF RECKONING acted like a sucker punch. I expected “pretty good” and what I got was “holy shit awesome”! I’ve actually been thinking about the flick since I saw it last night, mulling it over it, didn't see that coming! It is more than you thinki t will be and you'll embrace it or kick it to the curb, Personally it’s one of my top films of the year. So you ready to trip out with JCVD, Lundgren and Adkins! F*CK YEAH!