Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)
In 2009 director John Hyams surprised everyone by delivering Universal Soldier: Regeneration, a sequel that actually felt fresh and had non-stop, very violent action - and also marked the return of both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Even if both of them mostly have extended cameos, especially Dolph who pops up from a box, kills a bit and then... well, I don't want to spoil anything, but I think you can guess what happens to a bad guy like him in a movie like this. That was the second official sequel to the 1992 hit (fourth if you count the two miserable TV-movies starring Matt Battaglia and Burt Reynolds - Matt actaully plays the same character as JCVD, so they should be considered sequels and not spin-offs, but Van Damme himself seems to disagree) and how the hell could you take this franchise another step and still feel fresh? The answer came in 2012 when Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning was unleashed on the world, with Scott Adkins taking the lead and the two old farts doing the same old extended guest appearances - but still makes it works like never before!
John (Scott Adkins) wakes up after being brutally beaten. He's been in comatose for nine months and he's ready to go out in the world again, but this time without his wife and daughter - who both got executed during the attack. The only face he saw was that of Luc Deveraux, now a rouge Universal Soldier who seem to have gathered an army around him, of other Universal Soldiers longing to find peace and freedom. John sets out to solve the crime and get back his memory, but Deveraux is on his back all the time and John is in constant danger, mostly from a man called The Plumber, a human war machine who is almost impossible to kill! Will he ever reach the heart of darkness or will Deveraux get him before he finds out the truth?
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is without a doubt the darkest film in the series, and for being - in all honesty - a movie mostly made to be released on DVD and BD it's a stunningly ambitious project. It would have been so easy to do something more easy, something less complex, but instead the filmmakers gives us what could be called a Universal Soldier-take on Apocalypse Now and Rolling Thunder, with a healthy dose of David Lynch and mindfucking stuff like Jacob's Ladder and Hellraiser Inferno. The style is more European than American, with lots of wide shots, characters taking their time to say stuff, people looking at each other - and not just before kicking each other in the head. John Hyams and his teams clearly wants to tell a story here and not just a series of fights. I love Scott Adkins but I never really seen him act that much before - he's an awesome fighter, but can he act? He actually can act - it's a bit uneven at times, but it works and I'm pretty sure this performance will give him a new start in more character-driven movies (and I see now he's also starring in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty).
Jean-Claude Van Damme is brilliant, as usual, doing a Deveraux how seems high both on himself and on drugs, cold and zombie-like, but with a rage inside that's hard to beat. Dolph has less to do, like in Regeneration he's mostly an excuse to deliver some danger for our hero. But don't worry, his character has some interesting turns and the use of him is original and a little bit radical.
As you all know, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is also about action and while it doesn't have the absurd amount of action as Regeneration, it also probably the most brutal and graphic fights shot in a long time. We're taking long takes here, wide angles, lots and lots of bloody hits against head and body, often with a bloody and nasty conclusion. The Raid was fun, but there's a different seeing small guys kicking each other and seeing very heavy, tall dudes bashing baseball-bats in each others face in slow-motion. I prefer the later and it's very impressive fighting and stunts with lots of gore and squibs. This is an action movie for adults, not for people who wants to have yet another Jackie Chan-clone. I'm a bit mean to The Raid, it's good, but it's also very repetitive and unimaginative - it lacks that "it" that's so damn important.