Directed by John Hyams
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is the fourth installment (six, if you count the two television movies) in what was thought to be a defunct film franchise. This time, however, director John Hyams has surprised filmgoers with an interesting twist by making this sequel more horror than sci-fi in this Frankenstein-inspired festival hit that has managed to put in more blood-letting, adrenaline-racing action sequences and well choreographed fight scenes than the mainstream theatrical action films that have been polluting the multiplexes as of late.
The film sets its unexpected eerie tone from the first frame as viewers are introduced to John (action star Scott Adkins) as he makes the unfortunate mistake of checking the rooms of his house after his daughter tells him there are monsters in the kitchen. Shot entirely from John’s point of view, we witness his horror as reanimated soldier Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and two other masked thugs brutally attack him and make him watch Deveraux murder his wife and daughter right in front of him.
Like most action revenge films typically from the Eighties and early Nineties, John wakes up from a coma months later, and aside from the horrific assault he experienced, all of his memories are gone. With the help of a stripper and an FBI agent, he sets on a vengeful mission to find the once heroic man that murdered his family and unravels a mystery he wasn’t ever prepared for. Decapitating head kicks, a graphic whorehouse massacre and fanboy shrills of delight ensue.
After reading this synopsis, it’s safe to say that even if you haven’t watched the previous Universal Soldier films, you won’t be any more lost than the fans of the series since Hyams has delivered a totally different beast that aims to raise more questions than focusing on franchise continuum.
Although it may sound bizarre, many filmgoers are comparing this film to Apocalypse Now, and despite the fact the film features many moments of straight-to-DVD hilarity, it is not an illogical or imprudent comparison for it’s abundantly clear (especially in the final act) that Day of Reckoning is a very loose homage to Joseph Conrad’s classic novella Heart of Darkness.
Like the infamous Kurtz character in Apocalypse Now, the series’ protagonist has gone rogue, and although both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren reprise their roles as the eminent reanimated soldiers, they are merely the bookends in the film and there to please die-hard fans with their extended cameos.
Despite the fact that this movie is not for everybody, it’s hard to ignore how director John Hyams has managed to breathe new life into a franchise that has been ridiculed for years. If you’re looking for a gory horror film immersed with full throttle action, then Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning will be right up your alley.
3 1/2 out of 5