To my recollection, I’d only seen the first instalment of the Universal Soldier franchise when I walked into this latest version last night, but I remember loving it when I was younger – and what’s not to love, really? Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren kicking ass, taking names and, occasionally, blowing stuff up? I’ll take that with a side order of Expendables action any day! Director John Hyams told us before the film’s Canadian Premiere screening that this one focused more on the point of view of the “monsters” – the UniSols created by man can be equated to Frankenstein’s monster myth – and then he promised us a lot more brutal violence than his predecessors had provided. Okay – I’m in!
Now, I am going to say upfront that this film was not my favourite of the fest – but I am also going to state that I’m really not sure why it didn’t hit all the right notes for me. Perhaps the plot was actually a bit too much of a mystery for me to unravel as I watched, because I spent a lot of time not being sure who to root for, or who the bad guy was. Which, in a way, can be a good thing, but I think maybe for me it took me out of the story a bit – I wasn’t sure who to “like”, so I remained a bit more emotionally-detached from it all.
The initial sequence, of a little girl waking her dad in the middle of the night to go check the kitchen because she heard monsters in the house – and having it turn out to be a group of masked men who beat John (scott Adkins) soundly with a crowbar and then murder his wife and daughter in front of him – was freaking brilliant. The whole scene was done from John’s point of view – we saw what he saw – and when his ears were ringing, so were ours. It was brutal, it was bloody, and it was awesome.
From there, things get complicated pretty quickly, and it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what was all a lie from the beginning – which, again, isn’t a bad thing, per se. I just found it hard to follow sometimes, and therefore I wasn’t always engaged with the lead character nor the story.
But here are some of the things I DID love. First of all, the fight scenes between Adkins and – well, everyone – were absolutely amazing. I think they’re maybe some of the best put to screen, but I am not sure I am qualified to make that claim outright, so I will say they were the best I’ve ever seen. There is one major battle in a sporting goods store between John and this absolute beast of a man, Magnus (Andrei Arlovski) that was so incredible I wanted to rewind and watch it again just so I could take it all in! The crowd got good and rowdy at the same time as I did, and we all cheered our way through the incredible moves that were on display before us. Freaking stunning!
For me, there was not nearly enough time spent with Dolph and JCVD, as Devereaux and Scott spent more of their time overseeing their fellow UniSols than they did engaging in the action themselves. But holy hell – when they did? It really just doesn’t get any better, does it? I mean, here are two legends of the action screen, together again, inhabiting their characters years later in much heavier movie fare than they’d been engaged in before – and they slip into those characters’ skins just as easily and completely as if they were tucking into a favourite pair of slippers, instead. Blood-splattered muscled slippers, but still…the metaphor sort of works! I loved watching both men do what they still do best, and even though they weren’t around quite enough for my liking, every moment they were on-screen was action movie magic.
Also, our heroine, Sarah (Mariah Bonner) was a different sort of gal than we’re used to seeing. Her loyalty to John was suspect at best, and for the most part, she’s not really along for the ride because she wants to be. But she does come in handy a couple of times, and she puts up with LOT, so you know her survivor instinct kicked in long before John ever showed up at her – um – work. Her eyes are haunting and haunted all at once, and I found myself torn between thinking she could take care of herself, and thinking she was broken and needed to be taken care OF, and even by the end of the film, I still never made up my mind as to which side of the fence she fell on. And that’s another thing I really liked about Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning … the main characters weren’t stereotypes of things we’ve seen in a million other action films. There were no clear good guys, no clear bad guys…no clear reality.
But there was a lot of blood. A lot of action. And a lot of the best fight scenes I have other seen!
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