Directed by John Hyams
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning has either got to be the worst movie David Cronenberg never made or the greatest movie Albert Pyun never made.
Anyone that goes into Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning expecting the same old, same old is in for a big surprise… and not necessarily a welcome one. This fourth film does not pick up where Universal Soldier: Regeneration left off. It doesn’t appear to have any connections at all to any of the previous movies aside from Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a character named Luc Deveraux, Dolph Lundgren playing the same character that has now died in two previous installments, and the concept of the military industrial complex creating platoons of super soldiers, although now they just seem to be mind-controlled clones with super strength and stamina instead of the resurrected zombie super soldiers of past films. I don’t even recall if the term “Universal Soldier” or “UniSol” is ever muttered even once.
Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux has gone from hero to megalomaniacal villain with no explanation; he’s now the much feared bald-headed, psychotic Colonel Kurtz-like leader of a UniSol cult who murders women and children and only speaks in either esoteric existentialism or vague threats of revolution. Van Damme isn’t even the star this time, like Lundgren, only appearing a few brief times prior to the climax. Most of Van Damme’s early appearances are in the form of blinding white strobe light hallucinations that will probably kill any epileptics that make the mistake of watching this movie.
Stepping up into the hero role is Scott Adkins. If you’ve ever seen Adkins show off his acting and martial arts chops in Undefeated 2 & 3, then you should have less of a problem accepting him as the new face of Universal Soldier than he has keeping his coming and going accent in check.
The movie opens strong with his gripping first-person perspective of a home invasion that ends with the brutal slaughter of his wife and daughter for reasons unknown by Luc Deveraux. Upon awakening from an 8-month coma, he sets out on a mind-bending and bone-crunching journey to find Luc Deveraux and learn why he and his family were targeted, grapple with what is real and what is merely a figment of his brain-damaged mind, and, essentially, try and figure out what in the hell is going on. When we get to the end of this journey, if you’re like me, you’ll still be wondering what the hell is going on, but at least by the end what the hell is going on involves a whole lot of well choreographed kung fu, gun fu, and machete fu.
John Hyams knocked Universal Soldier: Regeneration out of the park, one of the best direct-to-video action movies of recent years. With Day of Reckoning I got the sense everyone involved was generally bored by the entire concept behind the Universal Soldier franchise and wanted to use its name brand to create an entirely new beast with only the loosest of ties to the product. What they created plays more like a head-scratching experimental film than the b-action movie from which it originated and, ultimately, still boils down to. Existential Soldier is what the movie should have been called since there is so much talk about the nature of free will. We are through the looking glass; black is white and white is black – and for some reason Jean-Claude Van Damme’s head is painted both during the final battle.
I can only imagine the average fan of the Universal Soldier franchise giving this one a look expecting more mindless sci-fi action coming away befuddled and possibly pissed off. Sure, there are enough shotgun massacres, car chases, machete duels, baseball bat brawls, and one-man all-out assaults that should satisfy those looking for their action fix, unless they’re put off by how much more brutal than cartoonish the graphic nature of the violence is. Everything else tying it together will most likely annoy, dull, and given the 114-minute run time, probably lead to many of you switching it off long before Adkins and Van Damme duel to the death.
I can only attest to my own experience, which was a constant mix of intrigue, confusion, disinterest, and excitement, running the gamut from good to bad and back again. If you want to see one of the weirdest action movies to come along in a long, long time, then Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning comes recommended. Otherwise, Death Race 3 comes out on DVD the same day.
Maybe next John Hyams can get hired to make The Expendables 3 and have all the aging action stars spend their down time in between violent set pieces meditating on the nature of their own mortality and whether or not any of them truly control their own fate while an evil Steven Seagal uses zen mind tricks to make them question their own sanity as he prepares his army of genetically-engineered Buddhist commandos for some non-specific uprising.
– “Coming Into Focus”
– “There Is No End”
– “Production Wrap”
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5