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By Chase Whale | October 27, 2012

It’s been an uphill battle for Universal Soldier to get a proper franchise off the ground ever since the original garnered much success in 1992. The star, and reason why my heart still beats, Jean-Claude Van Damme, did not return for the two followed sequels, which were made for TV. (It’s important you know Gary Busey and Burt Reynolds took his place, respectively.) Nine years later, JCVD returned to the franchise for Universal Soldier: The Return, in hopes of rebooting the franchise. It failed at the box office and all hope was lost in humanity (to the 16-year-old me, at least).

Van Damme didn’t have a lot of luck after the late nineties – his films faced the kiss of death and all went straight-to-DVD. In 2008, he made a triumphant return as himself in an unapologetic and sweet self-mockery of his career movie called JCVD (he was robbed of an Oscar nomination. ROBBED.). Ten years had passed since we last saw him in a Universal Soldier movie, and since Van Damme was back on everyone’s radar, he gave the series another shot with Universal Soldier: Regeneration. Dolph Lundgren even returned to fill the fanboy excitement. This film did not have the impact everyone hoped. There was a warm fire to it, however, and Van Damme re-teamed with Regeneration’s director John Hyams to make a fourth installment called Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. This ambitious film takes the franchise in a whole new direction, trading out boring redundant fight scenes with fresh, stylized violence, and roundhouse kicks to fanboy glory. Day of Reckoning is the Universal Soldier follow up we’ve been anxiously waiting for since the release of the original.

In Day of Reckoning, JCVD is back and so is Lundgren (Andrew Scott just. Won’t. Stay. Dead.). Andrei “Pitbull” Arlovski returns to wreak havoc as well. Reckoning is being referred to as a quasi-sequel to Regeneration, and that’s because in the latter, we learn that instead of reanimating dead soldiers, the government has just been cloning the original Universal Soldiers; Andrew Scott (Lundgren) happened to be one of them.

In Reckoning, a new, equally psychotic Scott returns (another clone, if I’ve lost you), and has finally joined forces with his nemesis, Luc Deveraux (JCVD). Here’s why: Deveraux has gone mad and is now an evil son-of-a-bitch hell bent on taking over the government, one soldier at a time, dead or alive. He covers his bald head in warpaint and uses a serum to brainwash meathead soldiers to join his side. The lion-hearted Deveraux we once knew is now forever gone. When Psycho’s Anthony Perkins once famously said in 1960, “We all go a little mad, sometimes,” he was obviously talking about Luc Deveraux. But, I guess if you trick yourself into believing this one’s a clone, it softens the blow.

This go-around, our focus isn’t on Deveraux or Scott, but on fresh blood John, played by Scott Adkins (Undisputed III, The Expendables 2). In the first scene of the film, John’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered right before his very eyes. The man responsible is Deveraux himself. After a nine month nap that’s clinically called a coma, John awakens and sets out to find out why this happened to him – he can only remember so much. Throughout his journey of I-need-some-goddamn-answers, he is plagued by memories of his deceased family and the man responsible for their deaths.

The excitement of this film boils down to Hyams. He tossed out all of the bullshit he used in his first attempt at a Universal Soldier film and made an incredible, intense cyberpunk action film that would make Nicolas Winding Refn crack a smile. Hyams traded in boring fast cuts and close-up kicks and punches for carefully stylized violence. He’s come a long way since Regeneration.

It was also a smart move to give Adkins the lead role. He’s credible enough to lead a film and his fans would agree he should be a bigger movie star than he currently is. It’s a shame, but Scott has learned to really bring out the punches in every film he’s in. His fighting in Reckoning is a slow burn and we don’t get to see much of it until almost the very end. This is actually a brilliant (and courageous) move from Hyams. It gives Adkins room to actually act (which he is exceptional at, by the way) and when it comes time for him to do what he does best (beat the s**t out of people and look awesome while doing it), he does not disappoint. This is a treat for fans both new and old.

Even though we don’t get much of Van Damme or Lundgren, that’s OK, because Hyams has fearlessly taken the franchise in a whole new direction and pulls it off admirably. This could very well be the start of a fresh new and much deserved successful franchise for Universal Soldier.

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  1. Stephen Paternoster says:

    For starters in Day of Reckoning Luc Deveraux is not a clone it is the REAL! Luc Deveraux because at the end of Regeneration Deveraux runs off so the military can’t use him again and Day of Reckoning is set three years after Regeneration where Deveraux returned to the States went insane and shaved his hair off at the beginninng of Day of Reckoning it clearly states that Deveraux was a former UniSol and became a deserter the agent guy then says that UniSols over the last three years were being brainwashed by Deveraux.

    As for Andrew Scott he is just another clone while Magnus which is Arlovski is a clone of the NGU killed in Regneration.

  2. David says:

    guys..this Luc Deveraux is the real one..the original..Ive read John Hyams interviews and he sees Luc as what he would have became after regeneration….John Hyams explains that Luc has been revved up from the chemicals in regeneration plus he is in the knowledege that if he goes back…the goverment would destroy him..or something equally negative..thats WHY re runs off and startes his campaign against the government..LUC in day of reckoning is not bad…john realises thi sat the end and very much continues Lucs fight against their rulers…at the end LUC was clearly gaining the upper hand in their fist fight andd simply gave up..abviously seeing a good successor in John..thats my opinion..but yes..They could make it he was a clone but that was not John Hyams original intentions

  3. Pinakin says:

    I loved both films.. Regeneration was very good…I love it..I don’t know how anyone..specially a Van Damme fan can hate it..but everyone is entitled to their opinion…. I also agree that Reckoning feels like Hyams skipped some midle story connecting Regeneration…But still Reckoning is amazingly crazy awesome entertainment…..I tried to connect the two films in my mind (In spare time)..and my take is ..In Regeneration, Andrew Scott was trying to tell Luc – “Hey, U don’t realize but we are just clones and your original self has gone crazy and locked up in some institution and military is doing experiments on it”..and then in Reckoning this crazy Luc gets out and sets out for world domination with army of clones…

  4. Ibrahim Huneiti says:

    Okay alright let’s get down to busniess. Regeneration was beautiful. Nothing more beautiful then JCVD running across a field being shot at. Excellent acting and excellent everything. But in Reckoning it was more boring. I was waiting for something to happen. The scenes of fighting and killing were awsome just that the story is not what I planned to be and it didn’t meet my expectation. 🙁 But even then I thought the movie had a good ending. Overall Regeneration was much nicely done then Reckoning. But hey everyone has a different opinion and that should be respected. Thanks and eenjoy.

  5. Commie says:

    I love both the John Hyams Unisol films.

    I love Regeneration for its superb editing, cinematography, sound design, fight choreography, and novelty deaths.

    I love Day of Reckoning *because* it is indeed “a perverse oddity,” as Evan says, and also because it is a legitimately good film. Probably among the top 2 or 3 most entertaining films of the year.

    I don’t know how someone can dislike the action in Regeneration.

  6. steve says:

    Very good review, it made me like the movie more than I thought.
    I have added your blog to my movie review list.
    My review

  7. Evan Saathoff says:

    Nowhere else to go with someone who didn’t like the action in Regeneration. I liked the action in this one, too, but there’s wasn’t nearly enough of it. Your idea for Jean Claude in a potential sequel sounds likely, but that would kind of indicate a misstep regarding Day of Reckoning.

  8. Chase Whale says:

    You are right, Luc Deveraux is more of a character in Regeneration, but I don’t need that. I know who he is and where he comes from in the first Universal Soldier. I’m not here to watch Van Damme’s Deveraux show us how sad he is and the troubles he’s having coping with his new lifestyle. I’m here to watch him beat the s**t out of people. And he does, but it’s not engaging whatsoever. I never in my life thought I’d say, “I watched Dolph Lundgren and Van Damme go at it for the first time in 17 years and it was boring.” Watching cardboard cutouts of the two fight would have been more exciting. The action is not done well in Regeneration – too many closeups and running. There’s more running than there is fighting. Regarding Reckoning, Scott Adkins fight scene with Pitbull in the sports store is more thrilling than Regeneration’s entire film.

    There reason why you feel there’s a missing Universal Solider film in between is because this is deemed as a quasi-sequel. I’m guessing they just wanted to bring back Pitbull and Lundgren, and the only way to do that was to continue with the clone story. Van Damme has very little to do with this story, but like I said in the review, it’s a whole new direction and it actually works with Van Damme’s acute involvement. I agree it’s a little unbecoming that there’s not an in-depth reason why Deveraux flipped after decades of being the good guy, but I am guessing that’s because, depending on how well this one does, there will be another with the real Deveraux coming out and saying, “Hey world, I was held hostage while my clone wreaked havoc on you. I’m sorry, I’ll kick some more a*s in this new film and set the record straight.”

  9. Evan Saathoff says:

    Dismissing Universal Solder: Regeneration right off the top presents a perspective on Day of Reckoning so bizarre, I have trouble understanding it. Maybe I could see how you like the latter if you dislike the former, but I just don’t understand how you could have that position in the first place. Regeneration is f*****g amazing. Van Damme is actually a character in it, there’s more action, and events pretty much make sense.

    Day of Reckoning is almost dadaist in its unwillingness to deliver anything resembling a continuation of Regeneration’s story or even a sensical story in its own right. It’s like there’s an inbetween film Hyams just skipped over. Van Damme is hardly in it, and his character’s transformation would have been more interesting if we saw the connection to his old self. But instead he’s just this weird guy with a painted face. Yes, it’s Van Damme, but he doesn’t do anything. By the end of the film, we don’t even know if he’s a bad guy or not thanks to all the clone/implanted memory bullshit.

    I love Day of Reckoning but only as a perverse oddity, while I hold Regeneration among the best action films out there. This is just boring scenes of nonsensical storytelling mixed with infrequent action sequences (which are awesome, it must be said. But I like them in Regeneration more).

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