FEARNET Movie Review: 'Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning'


This is one "no bull" piece of sci-fi / action / semi-horror, but first... a history lesson of sorts:

Universal Soldier (1992)
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

These are generally considered the "canonical" Universal Soldier films, which means that Universal Soldier 2: Brothers in Arms (1998) and Universal Soldier 3: Unfinished Business (1999) are either "unofficial" movies or perhaps a second sequel thread that you can choose to follow if you love Universal Soldier so dang much. The connective tissue of the "true" Universal Soldier movies is the presence of Jean-Claude Van Damme (who has appeared in all four) and Dolph Lundgren, who skipped only Part 2. The stagnant franchise was re-ignited a few years back with Regeneration, which was considerably more fun than what you'd normally expect from a decade-late Part 3 spawned from a Part 2 that practically nobody saw -- and now the same team is back for for manly mayhem with Day of Reckoning.

None of this is meant to imply that the Universal Soldier series has much in the way of continuity, but if you're looking for a dark-edged genre mash-up that feels gritty one moment and slyly satirical the next, there's a nice batch of treats to be found in Day of Reckoning, regardless of if you refer to it as Part 4, Part 6, or a stand-alone carnage-fest. A bit too long at 105 minutes, and boasting perhaps two more plot threads than it actually needs, Day of Reckoning earns some points for pure ambition -- there's actually an attempt at a plot here, and that's always a little bit admirable -- the flick feels like a big dash of Robocop, a small splash of The Terminator, a decent amount of the Universal Soldier nonsense (of course), and perhaps even a semblance of super-anti-hero material.

And if you find that the plot stuff runs a bit long, just be patient. Day of Reckoning offers a handful of outstanding action sequences (one in a sporting goods store, and another in an underground tunnel) before letting our confused hero (Scott Adkins) go toe-to-toe in bad-ass boss battles with (yep, you guessed it) Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The main story is a pretty familiar throwback to Robocop (Adkins is an enhanced soldier who has horrible memories of his family's murder) but director John Hyams and his co-writers also seem to be having some fun with the highly-convoluted Universal Soldier mythology, and despite its flaws, the flick seems intent on not following the established formula, which at the very least keeps you from getting bored.

Obviously the little details help a lot. Michael Krassner's score sets a cool mood in the quieter moments; Hyams and Andrew Drazek have cut their action scenes remarkably well, especially for a low-budget movie; and last but not least, the massive bad-ass known as Andrei Arlovski makes for a great evil bastard who simply will not give up until he smashes Adkins' skull. All in all, the plot kinda flew past me and I didn't really mind all that much, but when Day of Reckoning sticks to the fights, the thugs, and the attitude, it's a pretty good time.