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Fantastic Fest Review: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

The unrated cut is 'a bold new direction for the Universal Soldier universe.'

 

I was really nervous when I saw the opening scene of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning at ActionFest. A morbid serial killer movie with Van Damme as the bad guy? I’m all for trying new things, but I don’t want it to be so different that it’s not Universal Soldier anymore. I needn’t have fretted because Unisol 4 is a bold new direction for the Universal Soldier universe, and still every bit a Universal Soldier movie.

John (Scott Adkins) wakes up in the hospital with a memory of Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) murdering his family. As he investigates who this Luc Devereaux is and what he’s doing now, he uncovers the current state of the Universal Soldier, and also fights a lot of dudes.

For all the talk that this is not an action movie, there’s more action than in most so-called action movies, and it’s all good action. The fights are amazing, shootouts dramatic and there’s a stunning car chase on what looks like real freeway overpasses. The trappings are definitely other genres, but there’s no sacrifice of action. Scott Adkins fights Andrei Arlovski in a sporting goods store, dude.

It should also be noted that we saw the unrated cut at Fantastic Fest, which may be the only time the unrated version will ever be shown in 3D in a movie theater. The action is so graphic and bloody that cuts will lessen the impact, just artistically, let alone viscerally. So if you see an R-rated version and don’t know what I’m talking about, just wait for the DVD and Blu-ray.

There are a lot of unpleasant settings and scenes but Unisol 4 is such a high class version of them. A sex club is a sweaty, rough place for a fight. A ransacked shack is a production designed masterpiece. The climax takes place in a cave but it’s a really awesome cave that’s like a Bond villain’s lair. And they all look like U.S. locations. They didn’t have to go to Eastern Europe or stick to warehouses. This Universal Soldier exists in our world. I mean, highways and sporting good stores, that’s interacting with the real world.

The mystery aspect isn’t necessarily surprising, because we’ll probably see some of the twists coming as avid moviegoers. We do know what Universal Soldiers are and we expect that John is one, but the new idea and the technology involved has philosophical depth. I mean, come on. Do you think John is innocent and that he’s not involved? Really?

Deveraux’s new agenda seems clear immediately after Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren)’s awesome introduction, but it is a natural progression of what a tired old re-animated supersoldier would do with his life. There’s a lot of beautiful ambiguity left up to the audience. I believe Luc frankly.

There’s enough Van Damme and Lundgren to keep them in the franchise and make you feel you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s high Van Dammage and premium Lundgrenergy (™Fred Topel) but also it’s not their movie. Adkins performs some amazing feats, many in an extended single take tracking sequence. You can see where they hide the cuts, but they’re still takes of several minutes straight. That’s really hard to do. Thank you, Scott.

3D as a first person point of view makes sense. Many of the scenes are from John’s eyes literally, and the 3D remains at that level for the whole movie. It’s not really vast depth and certainly very little comes out of the screen, but it’s supposed to be real vision, so I was okay with watching it in 3D. Even a strobe light doesn’t hurt in 3D, so that’s some quality stereography there.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is intense, brutal and beautiful all at once. One thing they no longer address is that Unisols no longer have to keep cold, but I assume the technology for keeping dead soldiers alive has improved in the last 20 years.