4 StarsUniversal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is unofficially the 6th feature entry in the series, the fourth for Van Damme and the third for Lundgren. While this is extremely far removed from the sci-fi action fantasy that kicked things off in 1992, Day of Reckoning is by far the best of the bunch. The brutally staged five minute long POV sequence opens the film quickly establishing a dark tone for this brilliant and unique entry into the 20 year old franchise.
A special potion frees the UniSols from enslavement to the government and enables them to go after their oppressors. Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) has formed a group of separatist former universal soldiers, now being mentally groomed by crazed Lt. Andrew Scott (Lundgren). The obvious point of reference here to film buffs is Apocalypse Now, with Lundgren in the Dennis Hopper role and the chrome-domed Van Damme, looking like a drunken Yul Brynner, in the role of Kurtz. Emerging star Scott Adkins and former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski are the films’ main characters. I’m not sure Arlovski speaks a word in the entire film but still manages to come across as a tragic figure.
John Hyams is without question the strongest talent working in the Direct-to-DVD market and arguably the best director either Van Damme or Lundgren have ever performed for. I thought Hyams brought a fresh look to things with his handling of the last film, Regeneration. The acting and character depth was foreign to long-time fans of the series, but much appreciated. The characters of Deveraux and Scott were more vivid and relatable than in the cartoonish earlier sequels. Yet, Day of Reckoning blows them all away nearly changing the genre completely and setting the bar high for future installments.
One of the film’s greatest strengths’ is in the top-notch technical departments. The editing, cinematography, fight choreography and sound design is way above the norm for this level of production. Be warned Hyams employs a strobing effect to the point of near caesurae, a small blemish on an otherwise outstanding film.
If you’ve ever listened to an action star in a press junket talk endless about stretching and taking on great roles in movies like the classics, this is the right application for that sort of endeavor. By using the structure of pre-existing backstory and an established brand, Hyams and his collaborators have deftly swept in the hallmarks of a cinematic and literary classic. If action/horror movies had been this ballsy in the last 15 years the genre and former heavyweight box-office stars never would have fallen from grace.
Director: John Hyams
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Dolph Lundgren