Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Universal Soldier: Regeneration


Directed by: John Hyams
Written by: Victor Ostrovsky
Starring: Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren & Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski

“I’m just gonna do something here…

It’s been some years since the original Universal Soldier paired up action stars Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundrgen. A rollicking slice of sci-fi action it was one of their biggest hits and after one duff (though admittedly rather entertaining) sequel with Van Damme but sans Lundgren and two spin off films (that featured neither star but bizarrely, Burt Reynolds!) the former titans of the action world are back front and centre for an official third go around. Well, not front and centre as they are more co-stars in this entry but this matters not as its simply great to see them in the roles again, kicking the crap out of one another and on its own terms, Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a corking action film.

Not much has changed this time around, except the budget is considerably reduced and the events of the new film seem to pretty much ignore the Van Damme starring sequel The Return altogether. A rogue scientist has pinched a Unisol (the genetically engineered super soldiers that the title refers to) and is using it for his own nefarious and money hungry needs. Teamed up with a small militia, said scientist is letting the bonkers leader of said militia use the new super improved Unisol (Andrei Arlovski) to help overthrow the Eastern European country they are shacked up in. A team of Universal Soldiers are sent into retrieve the stolen Unisol and stop the scientist and his small army but are quickly dispatched. This means the mission falls to Luc Devereux (Van Damme) one of the original Unisols, who is currently attempting, and pretty much failing at, adapting to civilian life. He eventually agrees and not only goes up against this new breed of Universal Soldier but must also go head to head with an old and regenerated adversary (Lundgren).

Ok, the bad news out of the way first: Van Damme and especially Lundgren aren’t in this enough. It doesn’t spoil the film in anyway and in Lundgren’s case actually makes his character more of a third act threat but it would have been great to see the two in the film for longer and duke it out much more. The two first made the original Universal Soldier way back in 1992 so in this installment they are non-surprisingly looking a little longer in the tooth and quite tired. Again, not that this detracts from the film in anyway, as the film acknowledges and plays to their age but fans of the two stars may be a little disappointed they aren‘t featured more heavily. Having said all that the two, despite their age, still throw themselves into the excitingly staged action with Van Damme in particular ripping through a series of audacious action scenes come the final act. He is on good form here, all quiet and melancholic, the fighting and killing he took part in taking its toll on his character. Likewise, Lundgren is awesome as a regenerated version of his character from the original and it’s great to see him sinking his teeth into such a great bad guy role. His scenes may be few but they are certainly memorable with some killer lines and a wicked smack-down between him and Van Damme.

They are joined by UFC fighter Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski, making his action movie debut, as the Unisol gone bad, who obliterates his way through a series of action scenes that get better and better as the film goes on. Rarely uttering a word, Arlovski is an unstoppable machine and gets to cut loose in just about every action scene. The set pieces, despite being filmed in abandoned warehouses/power plants/steel mills (the whole film seems to be set in one or the other) are, for the lack of a better word, awesome. Crisp, brutal, shot and cut with flair and featuring a good dose of firepower and MMA flavored fighting, the filmmakers and stunt team have maximized on the novel premise of super soldiers being able to keep kicking the crap out of one another and delivered high impact, sustained and momentum pulsing action scenes. From the standout opening car chase, to Arlovski taking out the team of Unisols, to Van Damme vs. Lundgren and Van Damme vs. Arlovski the action is exciting, violent, bloody and pretty much non-stop. There is even a nice helping of military styled action as Van Damme takes on a platoon of bad guys single handily and an amazing one take shot of Van Damme clearing out a building with an automatic weapon. There is also an extremely brutal set piece of Van Damme taking out more bad guys with just a knife. As already stated, Van Damme certainly throws himself into the action. Yes, he and Lundgren are doubled on occasion, just as they were back in the original. Even action stars use stunt doubles, as has been the case for decades, it happens and will continue to do so but it doesn't spoil the action scenes at all.

It must also be noted how well shot the action is (by 80s and 90s Hollywood director and cinematographer Peter Hyams) and how effective the subtle music score is in creating tension and momentum. In fact, the music, photography and overall style make Universal Soldier: Regeneration a dark and violent sci-fi actioner. Much more so than its predecessors and its all to the film’s benefit. It may be a little light plot wise but this matters not with the cool cold edged tone, two action stars back on the screen together and some of the best action scenes to be seen in a low budget threequel. Much better than expected with brilliant action scenes, Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a top notch sequel that will keep action fans happy for days

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