By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Here we are, at the end of our three week Universal Soldier journey. We laughed, we cried, we watched Dolph Lundgren die gruesomely multiple times…
It was like the best camp ever.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning swaps up the formula of the series a bit. The lead is actually rising action star Scott Adkins, who witnesses his family murdered by masked intruders led by Jean Claude Van Damme. He sets out to track him down, and in the process discovers shocking details of his own past.
This movie is a different beast from any other Universal Soldier film, and practically any other action movie of its ilk. It’s as much horror as action, from the POV home invasion sequence to open it all the way to Adkins and JCVD’s Apocalypse Now-inspired showdown. For once, the filmmakers are actually engaging with the implications of cloning, resurrection, and genetic engineering.
Don’t worry, though, there’s still plenty of kickass action, and the brutality level is ramped up to the point the original cut drew a NC-17 rating. Andrei Arlovski is back, and his King Leonidas beard just makes him more intimidating.
This! Is! Eastern Europe?
The final showdown between him and Adkins, which goes from a spectacular car chase in which the vehicles are wielded like blunt force weapons to a sporting goods store throwdown where actual blunt force weapons come into play, is simply put the best damn action sequence I can remember from the last several years.
The credit for this idiosyncratic approach and brutally effective action goes to director John Hyams, who builds on his muscular direction of the last film and adds some trippy visuals and flashy camerawork courtesy of DP Yaron Levy (replacing Hyam’s own father, which must have made for an awkward Thanksgiving). This visual sense and the cynical, hyperviolent tone makes the film feel a little like what would happen if Nicolas Windig Refn directed a Direct to DVD actioner.
Only Dolph Forgives, if you will
A last tip of the glass to the ending which is both surprising and able to simultaneously wrap the series up nicely and leave you thirsting for more.
The acting talent is generally not on par with the ambition. JCVD’s come a long way as an actor, and is magnetic in a small role, but Adkins is a little lost outside the action scenes, and the supporting cast ranges from the inoffensive to the truly terrible. Less is more, folks! I’m sorry, Larry the Lap Dance Patron, nothing you do in the role will get you that Oscar. And Dolph’s role is awesome, but he’s definitely lost a step in the action scenes.
If there was a finer pure action film in the last five years or so, I can’t think of it right now (yep, including The Raid).
Take a Drink: for POV scenes
Take a Drink: for every suspenseful room entry
Take a Drink: for flashbacks
Take a Drink: whenever someone sustains impossible damage and keeps walking
Take a Drink: whenever the gore reaches stomach-churning levels
Do a Shot: for every seizure this movie induces