on October 27, 2012
Three years ago, director John Hyams' Universal Soldier: Regeneration breathed new life into a thought-dead franchise and thereby made one of the best action pictures of the year. To say that I was interested in seeing this follow-up is an understatement: with a good deal of the previous one's cast and crew returning, along with the new additions of martial arts' "it" guy Scott Adkins and cult fight choreographer Larnell Stovall, this one looked like a surefire topper to its immediate prequel and another great action outing. Did the movie live up to my high expectations? ...well, at least partially. This is, without question, a great action outing with some of the better fight scenes put out this year. However, the same way that "Regeneration" was a huge departure from the style of its bouncier predecessors, so too is "Day of Reckoning" a departure from the standard action genre as we know it, with a storyline so far removed from what I was expecting that it took a bit of time for me to contemplate whether it counted for or against the movie. Overall, this one's definitely worth checking out and even buying, but depending on your expectations, it counts as the end of the "Universal Soldier" franchise.
The story: a husband and father (Adkins, Undisputed III: Redemption) is beaten half to death and sees his family murdered before him by Luc Devereaux, the maverick Unisol (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Recovering from his injuries and plagued by inexplicable hallucinations, he sets out to untangle the mystery behind the killing and exact vengeance on Devereaux.
For those of you who watched the last film, you'll glean from summary that things do not neatly pick up from where the story left off. Looking at the cast list and film poster, you'll no doubt also wonder what the heck Dolph Lundgren and Andrei Arlovski are doing in this picture, since they'd recently been killed off. And as a matter of fact, why is Luc now killing people? Questions like these, along with several others presented by the film's narrative, have flustered enough viewers for them to declare this a "semi sequel" that's not necessarily part of the same story arc. Me, I think it is a proper sequel, and that we're to assume that a good deal of time has passed since the previous flick and this one. Luc Devereaux has become an enigmatic figure to both allies and enemies with a rather grandiose master plan. The character played by Andrei Arlovski is not the same as his last one; I don't think there's meant to be any connection between them, and Arlovski's sporting a beard to make sure he doesn't look too much like the other character. And as for Dolph Lundgren...well, he was cloned once before, wasn't he? His name is never spoken in the film, so I'm wont to think that he isn't even supposed to be Andrew Scott anymore, regardless of what the credits tell us. I've been able to placate myself with these answers, but people who don't want this kind of ambiguity are probably going to be disappointed.
Personally, what jarred me more than any part of the plot was the style of the movie. With its numerous storyline twists, hallucination scenes, and insane amounts of bloodletting, this is very nearly a horror film. At the very least, this one gives equal balance to the action/thriller label. Having the characters rediscover parts of their personal history has always been a component of the series, but in "Day of Reckoning," it's an uninhibitedly dark process, complete with psycho-thriller imagery. I'm still not entirely sure how to feel about it, since this - more than any of the character-related aspects - makes the film feel wholly different from its predecessors. With that said, it does inspire some decent intensity out of the performers... Despite his third-name billing, Scott is clearly the lead in this movie and carries things well, giving a strong performance and again demonstrating why he is the new top action hero in all respects even if Hollywood hasn't caught on yet. Van Damme has surprisingly few scenes in the movie, but those he does partake in are good: he doesn't even need to speak anymore to get his points across, as demonstrated in any scene he shares with his Unisol subordinates (he has those, by the way). Dolph Lundgren has even less screentime than Van Damme (seriously, what are these two doing with top billing?), but does okay with another nice and crazy monologue. Andrei Arlovski, though he, like Adkins, has more screentime than Van Damme and Lundgren combined, doesn't have much to act, and love interest Mariah Bonner (Freerunner) isn't very memorable.
Production-wise, the movie is strong. It looks very crisp, and definitely worthy of the theatrical release it's supposedly going to get, but speaking preemptively, I don't know where the reported 3D is supposed to come in. Action-wise, the film is a powerhouse of extremely brutal hand-to-hand action. Is it as good as I had been expecting? ...it might be better to point that it wasn't *what* I was expecting. After their first collaboration in the aforementioned "Undisputed 3" set the bar for all future martial arts flicks, I had been expecting that Adkins and Larnell Stovall would present us with more lightning-speed martial arts wizardry, but what they delivered instead are brawls. Violent, gritty, gory brawls. I think this had to do with the physical constraints of many of the performers, and in a way, it's disappointing...but then again, the fights tend to be better than good and easy to appreciate for both the physicality of the performers and the gamely shooting and editing style of the filmmakers. We've got seven fights here, and while the fights Andrei Arlovski has with a nameless Unisol and Dolph Lundgren are pretty lackluster, the rest of the clashes are lengthy, technically sound, and appear like either fight could win - all the things I want in a fight. My personal favorite is the second showdown between Adkins and Arlovski, wherein they beat the hell out of each other with baseball bats. While not the barn-burner I had been hoping it to be, Adkins vs. Van Damme during the finale is definitely the best fight the two have had - beating the snot out of their outings in The Shepherd: Border Patrol and Assassination Games.
If I were to nitpick, I'd point out that the Unisols seem a bit frailer than usual, this time around, but neither this nor any of the other criticisms I've written about the film could keep it from the relatively high rating it's getting. Whether or not you appreciate it, I think, depends on both how much you enjoyed the last film and how far you think the action genre can be bent until the filmmakers have to make a choice whether they want to make an action film or a horror flick. The strength of this one's action scenes determined that it could be bent pretty far this time, but overall, I could have done without the change in direction. While there's nothing in the film that I don't explicitly dislike, the things I'm uncertain about keep this one from a perfect score. While its rating is the same I gave to "Regeneration," the four stars for "Day of Reckoning" are of a slightly less enthusiastic variety.
on February 11, 2013
I enjoy cinema in all its forms. I watch foreign films, I watch surreal films, I watch action films. You name it, I'll give it a try. If a movie can keep me interested enough to watch it in one sitting, then it's doing something right. In that respect, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is great. It kept me interested for its entire run time, and then some. But, the thing is this, I'm a huge fan of the original Universal Soldier, and an even bigger fan of Universal Soldier: Regeneration. Both those movies are fantastic in their own respect. Sure, Universal Soldier is really campy by todays standards, but it's still a fun film. Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a truly under appreciated gem of a movie. It's one of those movies that deserves more fame that it has. I really liked the direction that US:R took, and I was hooked with the possibilities.
This is a great movie. It's moody, and the pacing is great. This movie is dripping with attitude. But, to the uninitiated, US:DoR will be confusing and jarring. That's the flaw with this movie. Somebody who just picks this up wanting to see an action flick will be alienated because it's actually pretty artsy. Those looking for a similar movie to the original one will be confused with the ultra-violence going on. US:R was easy to pick up and just watch. It had some great action scenes, pretty good characterization, and an intriguing plot. Day of Reckoning feels more like an experiment than an outright sequel. It seems to me that the director decided to see just how much he could push the envelope of the action/sci-fi genre. I respect that, and I even admire it. But, it won't make many new fans for the series.
Another problem is the unexplained events between Regeneration and this one. I understand Luc Devereaux's evolution as a character. He's free from his shackles, and he's trying to free the rest of the UniSols. But, the story I want to see on screen is how he accomplished this. Scott Adkins is a fine action star with many redeeming qualities as an actor, but I feel more compelled by JCVD's character.
These things aside, I truly did enjoy this movie. It's a great action movie, with some very avante garde aspects. I hope this becomes a cult hit like Regeneration, and I hope they make another one. Should they decide to make another Universal Soldier movie, I sincerely hope that they flesh out Luc Devereaux a bit more. After all, he is the real star of the series.
on January 30, 2013
I was thoroughly impressed with Day of Reckoning's predecessor Regeneration which threw out the campiness of past offerings, and brought in the finely crafted directorial style of the Hyams team, and an intense explosive journey into the UNISOL world. It also introduced a significant dose of realism, and real brutal action.
Enter Day of Reckoning, which, in the overall, eclipses in my opinion Regeneration. I felt that Day of Reckoning bordered on something beyond action and good filmmaking, and achieved something greater. I felt like I had watched a work of art that explored darkness and grim unsettling brutality in a raw and rhytmic way, without the veneer of comic or glossed over effects. It has a very hypnotic feel to it that drew me in completely. The fact that Hyams was able to synthesize these very real dark and human themes into the UNISOL franchise suggests story telling and film making skill far above the norm.
The negative reviews seem to me to be one of two things: that the movie was not actually what the viewer expected it to be.... some campy piece of low budget action trash to mill away 90 minutes on your life on a rainy day (like earlier UNISOL films), or that the trailer and lead up to the film somehow misled the viewer into thinking that Van Damme and Lundgren would have roles as large as their original ones in the earlier franchise offerings. I am thinking that such criticisms, if that's all they are, indicate a pretty good movie at the core here.
HYams, Van Damme Adkins, and Co., have done something very different. They made a movie with a vision of human darkness like that explored in Apocalypse Now and movies and books (Conrad, etc... ) like it. If the Director's name were Scorcese or Coppola and JCVD's and Adkin's names were Brando and Sheen respectively, then this movie would be declared a masterpiece. Such is the sheepish and finicky nature of the world that judges these works of art. To simply say that this movie is bad or good is not a fair baromoeter to use. For me, it was good... excellent because of its quality, and the themes explored as well as the acting and effects, and action. I am still puzzled about a few elements of the film, but rather than that bothering me, it has made re-think about it to see if I understood it all properly... if I got all of the symbolism, and themes that were being presented. It does not mean that the story is left unresolved. It was not left unresolved, by any stretch.
Adkins does a great job here (actually really great), and JCVD, et al, have really come into their own. If I am defining the word "good" as an action film where the bad guy gets his butt kicked, no questions are asked of anyone, and I go home feeling good all over, then maybe "Day of Reckoning" doesn't quite meet that standard. But if I am judging through the prism I described above, then I think it is a magnificent work.
The violence is unsettling and in many ways disturbing, because if anything it is not fun violence. It feels real, and it feels consequential. The movie is dark, very dark, but it is excellent because it doesn't play games. The movie takes no shortcuts or easy ways out. It is truly grim, and is one of the best action arthouse films I have seen. If Hyams and co., are guilty of something, it is delivering entirely against what a fan's expectations are, what they expect from a movie whose basic plot element are regenerated undead soldiers, as campy as that is. However, Hyams shows this is the perfect premise to deliever something totally unexpected, a blast of raw fury and an unsettling journey into the Heart of Darkness, irrespective of the length of time which its two main legendary action icons have onscreen, which incidentally doesn't feel that small in the totality of the film.
If you are truly looking for a serious action epic with some real thematic exploration, I encourage you to give Day of Reckoning a shot. I do not think you will be disappointed. Thank you for reading.
on December 13, 2014
I have always been a Van Damme fan, and really enjoyed Universal Soldier. When Universal Soldier 2: The Return came out a few years later, I was very disappointed. Then Universal Soldier 3: Regeneration was released years later, I was immediately impressed with this rebirth of the franchise, and I was really looking forward to the next entry as the ending showed there would be another sequel. Finally, Universal Soldier 4: Day of Reckoning was released, and I still don't know if I like it or hate it!
Day of Reckoning is not a bad movie at all, it just didn't feel like a Universal Soldier movie. First off, the lead protagonist (or antagonist, by the end of the movie once you learn the truth he may have been the bad guy all along) is John, played by Scott Adkins, a government UNISOL (Universal Soldier) who is hunting the rogue UNISOL Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) for the death of his wife and daughter. It becomes a murder/mystery, with flashbacks of the murder itself as John witnessed the killing of his family. He also has hallucinations of Luc and his dead daughter, tormenting him, while asleep or awake, kinda like Freddy Kruger.
Luc is now a leader of a UNISOL cult, where his second in command is Andrew Scott (played by Dolph Lundgren, assumingly a 2nd clone, since the Scott in 'Regeneration' was killed). It seems the government has once again restarted the UNISOL program, but Luc has found a way to free them from government control, using a serum injected into their necks.
Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski also returns as Magnus, codename "The Plumber" (Magnus is most likely a clone of the NGU from 'Regeneration'). At first he is sent by the government to hunt down the rogue UNISOLs, but eventually is defeated by Scott and freed, joining Luc Devareux's group.
John eventually meets Magnus, who tries to free him with the serum. But somehow, John rejects the serum. This brings about a few nice and bloody fights between John and Magnus throughout the film, Adkins and Arlovski at their finest!
Also in the film (more like a cameo) is former boxing champion Roy Jones Jr., playing a UNISOL in Devareux's camp.
This is a very violent, bloody movie! I own the US blu-ray version of the film, as the uncut NC-17 version is only available in Germany, England, and Canada. But thankfully Amazon has the uncut version on instant video! It is the better version, a bit more gory and a bit more nudity than the US R-rated version. Definitely not for kids!
Like I said this is not a bad movie, but it doesn't feel like a Universal Soldier movie. Scott Adkins does a great job, but the fact that Van Damme and Lundgren are barely in the film (Van Damme and Lundgren don't even share a scene together) feeds into this movie feeling like something else entirely. I do hope that they continue the frachise though, make the next one more like 'Regeneration' and maybe bring back Michael Jae White from 'The Return.' (They could clone him, and would be nice to see White and Scott Adkins fight again, a rematch from the film 'Undisputed 2'). I would not recommend this film for someone looking for mindless action and things blowing up like the previous 3 films. But if you are into gory, graphic violence, a little bit of murder/mystery, and with a sprinkle of horror thrown in, this is your movie!
on January 21, 2013
Yes, Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are only on the front cover as a marketing ploy but the real "star" of this mediocre action movie is Scott Adtkins. A talented fighter that should only serve as a right hand man of the main villain or hero and not as the main character...ever. And yes, I watched Undisputed III...Scott Adkins at his absolute best and still come away with the opinion that he just does not have the IT factor for me to care about him.
The fighting is really good and in your face. Also, you can actually SEE the fights, the choreography, the punches, kicks, flips and throws unlike ADD editing garbage like Taken 2. In that way, I really did appreciate that and it made the movie go from 0 - 3 stars. It would have gotten another star if it had been as action packed as, let's say, a Raid: Redemption (which is the greatest modern martial arts movie.)
But for some odd reason, there is a drag out story here that neither the director nor the REAL main actor, Scott Adtkins are capable of sustaining any interest from me. This movie really loses steam midway through and only starts to pick up the last 15 minutes of the movie...where Scott Adtkins finally goes all out but by then you'll be eager for the movie to just end.
Also, the reason why I knocked it down to only 3 stars is because Van Damme is in the movie for a total of 5 - 7 minutes altogether. Dolph Lundgren has about 10-15 minutes of screen time altogether. Now, I like Scott Atkins. as a on screen fighter he is great and in many ways more versatile than either Lundgren or Damme but the thing he lacks that they have is screen presence, charisma and...acting skills. LOL. I am sorry to say but Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme are actually better actors than the main protagonist. You know you suck when those two legendary stiffs are better
That's actually unfair, JCVD, has become a relatively good actor, his last couple of movies. And I have been impressed by him for quite sometime. Here, much like Expendables 2, Van Damme is the highlight of the movie and turns in another good performance. Dolph is Dolph here and I have a feeling he and JCVD did this movie because they lost a bet.
The HD quality is really good but nothing mind blowing but the audio was really good. I could hear every gunshot, scream or ammo clip in the movie very well.
A rental for sure but do not purchase it as I highly doubt you will ever get the urge to watch it again.
on July 23, 2014
This movie has no right to be this good. But after sleepily starting it on TV one late night and expecting it to put me out, I got fired up to watch the entire thing and loved it.
The opening POV scene is stunning, and is as gripping an intro as any movie I've ever known. I used to praise "Narc" for having the most powerful and visceral start to an action film, (I'm know there's dozens of others too,) but man, this Universal Soldier 4 or 5? really kicks things off in a spectacular manner. And outside of that scene, there's quite a few other top-notch action sequences with one ridiculously great long tracking shot where the hero dispatches dozens of enemies through some catacombs. The hero pulls off some legitimately sweet moves too for a kung-fu actioner. Also, Van Damme and Lundgren are barely in it, and used to maximum effect.
This is basically the Citizen Kane of straight-to-video action films. If you've seen enough recent Stevey Segal or Death Race 8 films, you'd agree too.
on November 8, 2012
Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning is a semi-sequel to the most recent film in the series; Universal Soldier: Regeneration. The film doesn't follow the story of Regeneration and is a spin off as much of a sequel in the series as it introduces a new story and characters to follow.
The only part of the film that is connected to the last one is the clones. In the last film they introduced cloning into the series and this movie revolves around the US Government creating dozens and dozens of Universal Soldier clones that act as spies and assassins for the feds.
The lead of the entire series, Luc Deveraux (Jean Claude Van Damme), is a supporting character this time out. Its my biggest problem with this film. Van Damme kills it in every scene he is in, but he is in the film for maybe 10 minutes at best and doesn't say much until the end. He is the "villain" of the movie, seeking out and recruiting these US gov't made clones and turning them to his cause.
The real lead of the movie is John (Scott Adkins) who wakes from a coma at the beginning of the movie. The only thing he remembers from before his coma is his family being murdered by the Unisols and Deveraux. Seeking payback, John begins to look into his past and seek Deveraux out to avenge the deaths of his family.
Sounds like an old fashioned revenge story, but the movie isn't as simple as that. The best way to sum up the movie is that its a cross between Death Sentence and Apocalypse Now. The similarities aren't hard to notice either as Van Damme's character is a not so subtle version of Colonel Kurtz.
John Hyams, who directed this movie and the previous movie Universal Soldier Regeneration, stages some incredible fight scenes and this is a pretty impressive attempt at trying to take the series in a new direction. Adkins in particular has some great fight scenes with all of the principle cast members and does some great long single take fight scenes where he is just beating up guy after guy with no cuts. The Van Damme/Adkins fight scene in particular is great to watch
But the film ultimately comes up short compared to Regeneration for a few reasons. Adkins, as impressive a performance as he is in the movie, just isn't a strong enough actor to carry the movie. He can handle any action scene but he doesn't have the ability yet to handle the dramatic weight that the role requires. Another deals with Van Damme's role in the movie. The star of the entire franchise; this time around he has maybe 10 minutes of screen time total in the movie and he doesn't say anything until the final minutes of the movie. Even in his small role he manages to completely overshadow Adkins and anyone else in the movie. Lundgren is in the film even less than Van Damme is. Roy Jones pops up in the film for about one minute as well. Andrei Arlovski returns from the last movie as well and, probably for the best, still doesn't have any lines.
It probably would have been a better movie if it was Van Damme in the lead still. But this isn't his story this time around. The story is the art house version of Universal Soldier. I know its apart of the mystery of the story, but they would have been better off focusing more on the JCVD and his army of soldiers than having them take up 10% of the movie. They was more intrigue in watching than John's journey. The ending is also pretty agitating as well. That is where the Apocalypse Now comparisons become less subtle. Its not a clear ending for me that will hopefully change the next time I watch it. It has ending that can be interpreted in a couple different ways. I think I'm going to watch when it comes out in theaters at the end of this month. Its an entertaining and intriguing movie and if you like great action or is a fan of the series then you should check it out.
on January 27, 2013
I thought this movie was 100% 5 star worthy! It's got some good pure action, amazingly choreographed fight scenes and well written/acted. If you didn't like this film, you pretty much need to stop watching movies altogether because you're obviously missing the ability to lose yourself.
This was another excellent installment in the world of Universal Soldier, and a great follow up to Regeneration! It clearly shows the evolution of the Universal Soldier program and upholds the same style of story telling as the original film. The only negative remark I have about this movie is that the gore is impressively realistic!!! So much so that in one scene I had to look away to keep from passing out. Other than that, definitely atleast worth a rental if not a purchase for your collection!!!
on September 17, 2015
Ok maybe it's not Citizen Kane or No Country for Old Men, but this film goes SO FAR beyond expectations, I had to give it 5 stars. It really turns the whole concept of revenge flicks on its ear, and at the same time provides context for the "Ultimate emotionless killing machine", maybe not being all that ultimate. Who would think a part 4 of an average series starring Jean Claude Van Damme would need a "Fully engage brain before viewing" warning. Only gripe is the film is only available in "R" version on DVD or Blu-Ray. At this point at least, to see the real thing you need to buy the amazon streaming version. Even the R rated version is absolutely hyper-violent, but oddly falls into that 1% of films that is completely just in being so graphic, as it is absolutely integral to the story.
on May 19, 2013
If you can handle a tough first scene, i.e. tough on the psyche, then the rest is action, including effective gun fights, regular fights, and car chases. Also, this one is shot in a noir way, subdued at times, and is worth the effect with a cerebral, cybernetic, psychological mystery thriller plot, and couple of story turns, including one at the end. I thought the last one, Regeneration- which was awesome- was a fluke. It couldn't be that they pull something off like that again, right? Well, they did. Even better, I'd say.