I love action films. Always have, always will. I first saw the original Universal Soldier in the theater back in 1992 and was in awe by seeing Dolph and Van Damme trading blows and quips. Many years, a stupid theatrical sequel, and 2 tv movies (featuring Gary Busey and Burt Reynolds!) later, a fellow by the name of John Hyams came around and decided to revive the franchise with a DTV sequel entitled Universal Soldier: Regeneration which ignored everything save for the original.
This film was a revelation. It showed that theatrical level quality could be brought to the home video world. With this rousing success, and Van Damme, as well as Dolph Lundgren returning, John Hyams has been given free rein to make the film he wanted with Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning.
Before I start off, I want you all to know that I did not see this in the theater, I had to see it via Video On Demand, as it doesn’t arrive in theaters until late November, and even then, it is only limited. The reason I’m saying that is, it has been widely reported that this film was shot in 3D. Seeing it on VOD, of course it is only in 2D, but to tell you all the truth I didn’t notice anything all that “3D” about the film save for one or two instances.
Hyams brilliantly has taken the franchise and taken it as far off its original course as he could. This is the best possible thing he could have done. This is Stallone taking John Rambo from First Blood, and turning him into the one man army superhero in First Blood Part II level of change.
John Hyams has crafted a film that is only an action movie on the surface, and is sadly being sold as that to the mass audiences. The film first of all is more of a horror movie. Right from the beginning, we have a great first person POV sequence that involves the new lead actor (the always awesome Scott Adkins, Van Damme’s right hand man in The Expendables 2), going to check on “Monsters in the house.” and comes face to face with intruders that kill his family and beat him half to death. He also gets a look at the man who kills his family. Luc Deveraux.
The same man who is the hero of the other 2 films that preceded this film, is effectively “the villain.” I use quotations there, because throughout the film, we start to discover that things are not exactly as they may seem to be. I’ll try not to delve into heavy spoilers, but some may slip out, and believe me, they will only enhance the fact that you need to see this film.
Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning has a fairly subdued first 40-50 minutes or so, with some spurts in there of brutal violence to remind us that it’s not just a mystery thriller. For the most part it’s John (Adkins) trying to piece together exactly what happened. There are some seriously “Kubrickian” shots in the film, that lend a higher quality to it. Kubrick and Universal Soldier don’t exactly go together, but when you have scenes that invoke a certain type of style (looking like living photographs, which is how he composed some of his shots since Kubrick was originally a photographer), and that style is on display in Day Of Reckoning, it’s hard to ignore that someone brought that to what was originally just another sci-fi action franchise, and made it work to the benefit of the film.
Day Of Reckoning also takes from Apocalypse Now towards the end, and makes that work in the film’s favor as well. So what do we have so far? Sci-fi action film franchise that has veered into horror territory, and has Kubrick-like shots, as well as uses Apocalypse Now as an example for its finale.
To further go into the plot, Sgt. Scott (Dolph) is back, and now works as what can only be referred to as the “Spiritual Leader” of the Universal Soldiers. Luc Deveraux has been gathering soldiers from the program, and “deprogramming” them to essentially be their own selves again, and no longer be puppets to be used by the Government. They gather together to continue to spread this new “religion” of theirs to other Universal Soldiers, including ” Magnus The Plumber” played by the returning Andrei Arlovski. The shot of him being activated by the Government is one that opens up many questions. Originally, the Universal Soldiers were simply men who had died and were revived, and used as super secret military team to take on special projects. Now it seems the program has advanced to the point where they have effectively become “Sleeper Cells” and have regular jobs. Until they are activated to go and do whatever they have become programmed to do. This is only seen in this film with Magnus where he is on a job fixing a lady’s broken sink, but when they make the next one (and they definitely need to) it would be great to see the Sleeper Cell angle continued. The deprogramming consists of a strobe light effect that is very unsettling and used very well several times in the film.
The revenge cliche is also turned on its head brilliantly by John Hyams, and sets up the final sequence in the film, that packs in more action than most major studio action films. The beginning of that sequence also reminded me of the scene in Total Recall where they’re trying to bring Hauser back, and Quaid doesn’t want that to happen.
The actors fare very well. Adkins has been accused of not being charismatic, and dour, but that works very well in his favor in this film, basically just being a man running on revenge and confusion. Dolph Lundgren has the showiest role, bringing a bit of the old Sgt. Scott back and having fun with his role, which is not that small, and he has several cool sequences, including 2 fights with Arlovski and Adkins.
Van Damme has the smallest role in the film, which is a practically an extended cameo, but I want to believe this was done on purpose. Deveraux is supposed to be an almost mythic character in the film, showing up and not saying very much at certain points. Van Damme, with a shaved head, evokes Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, and the serious and weary look on his face shows that this is a man who is tired of all the bullshit, and wants himself and his people to be free.
Apocalypse Now. That title and film seem to bear a lot on Day Of Reckoning. Whatever Deveraux and his people are planning, it is something big. We don’t get much information, but they really are preparing for a “Day Of Reckoning”. The shot of Adkins being taken by boat through a small river along with a bass guitar being plucked on the soundtrack made me immediately think of the exact same scene and music beat that happens in Apocalypse Now when Willard and his team first arrive at Colonel Kurtz’ camp.
The music is yet another thing that this film gets right. The previous film employed a largely synthesizer oriented score, and this film continues that with some haunting piano notes that once again, sound like something Kubrick would have used in one of his films.
This is a dark and serious film people. If you’re looking for funny one liners and silly action, this is not it. John Hyams himself has expressed displeasure at the film being marketed as just another action film. Right down to publicly commenting that the final poster for the film is not what he would have done. He even crafted his own poster that he believes properly evokes the feel for the film. Which is to the left of this paragraph.
This is also a brutally violent film. On par with Verhoeven’s films. Body parts are hacked off with an axe, whenever someone is shot, they explode with huge squibs. It is pretty amazing that they got away with an R-rating with this film. Of course, even though this film is serious and dark, it doesn’t forget its roots, and still brings the action and great fights. Fights of which there are many in the film. Usually involving Arlovski, and that guy can bring it. There is also a really good car chase involving him and Adkins that evolves from that into a full on fist fight in a sporting goods store that uses bats, and weights.
The ending of course is not really an ending, and absolutely sets it up for another film, and for everyone who has died, to return (using a plot device (cloning) that shows up in the third film and further expanding on it in Day Of Reckoning), along with another angle that shows up in this film, that literally brings to life the subtitle of the previous film, “Regeneration”. If you’ve seen the movie, or see it after reading my review, you will know what I mean by “Regeneration”. This is another thing, much like the Sleeper Cell angle that was never previously on display in the franchise, but now is there, and can only serve to help out the series.
Can’t say it enough. See this movie. It is not just a simple B-Action film. John Hyams was given the opportunity to make the film he wanted to, and I hope he does another one, because he is the right man to continue this franchise. You won’t regret plunking down the money to see it On Demand. I know I didn’t. This is seriously a contender for my film of the year now. Something that I thought was already a forgone conclusion with The Expendables 2. I mean, when a 4th film in a series like this is this original, and this well made, you have to hand it to them. This series has only gotten better with each installment.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars