AKA: Universal Solider 3: A New Beginning
Director: John Hyams
Writer: Victor Ostrovsky
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Zahary Baharov, Garry Cooper, Mike Pyle, Corey Johnson, Emily Joyce, Aki Avni, Kerry Shale, Kristopher Van Varenberg, Violeta Markovska, Yonko Dimitrov, Jon Foo
Running Time: 97 min.
By Mighty Peking Man
A group of terrorists kidnap the Russian prime minister’s children, demanding the release of their comrades. In addition, they have taken over a nuclear power plant and threaten to detonate it if their demands are not met. Thanks to a rogue scientist – and co-founder of the UniSol experiment – the terrorists possess another secret weapon: a Next-Generation UniSol (Andrei Arlovski), that is programmed to protect the plant and kill anything that comes near it.
After a number of failed attempts to seize the plant and rescue the children, U.S. forces finally call Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) into action, an older UniSol model. However, another surprise lives within the plant… a cloned version of Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), Luc’s former enemy.
I haven’t seen the original Universal Soldier since it came out in 1992, but I remember it being decent (mind you, as a kid living in the 90’s, every action movie was decent). I saw its sequel, Universal Soldier: The Return (1999), which was shit. As far as those other wacky made-for-TV sequels, Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms (1998) and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business (1998), never seen them, never will; any film starring any combination of Jeff Wincott, Burt Reynolds and Gary Busey is definitely on my no-priority list.
This brings us to John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which – and I’m proud to say – is actually top notch. I’m one of those guys who is still keeping my fingers crossed for a full blown Van Damme comeback (a la Mickey Rourke). I doubt it’ll ever happen in a big way, but the positive reception he received for his flawless performance in JCVD (2008) was close enough. Since then, his career has been on cruise control.
Much respect to director John Hyams (son of distinguished filmmaker, Peter Hyams, see below). There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s on his way to do even bigger and better projects in the future. His skill is a HUGE improvement over what we expect from your typical Van Damme popcorn action flick.
So why is this Universal Soldier: Regeneration so good?
The Action: Some of this stuff is close to what you’d expect to see in a Hollywood Blockbuster (come ot think of it, this was planned for a theatrical release, but went straight-to-DVD, last minute). There’s that certain cinematic something about the way the action is filmed — I guess it makes sense, since the cinematographer is Peter Hyams, who is best known for directing 1984’s 2010 (the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), as well as directing Van Damme in Time Cop (1994) and Sudden Death (1995). Martial arts fans rejoice; the fight scenes are long, well-staged, clear and crisp. If you’re a fan of long shots, there’s a hallway bit you’ll get a kick out of.
The Violence: Possibly the most brutal and bloody film Van Damme has ever appeared in. The blood is all over the place. On the camera. Splashed against walls. Spraying on peoples’ faces. We also have pipes being chugged through chests. Heads exploding. A lot of slicing and dicing. It’s very nice and VERY fulfilling.
The Tone: There’s a very moody feel to it. In fact, there’s barely any contrast or color, which gives it personality. Also, Van Damme’s character isn’t exactly your typical hero. He’s a troubled soul who has mental problems (I mean, he was brought back from the dead, ya know?) and he uncontrollably attacks innocent, random people.
The Casting: It’s good to see Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren working side by side. And the addition of former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski, is an excellent touch. Unlike professional wrestler Bill Goldberg’s performance in Universal Soldier: The Return, Andrei has some depth and charisma to offer. Awesome job.
The Story: Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Oscar worthy shit, but it is interesting enough to give it some credit. The problem with most sequels is they just throw together scenario around our returning characters without any real thinking. You can tell that the writer carefully mapped this one out. I LOVE the final scene before the credits roll.
Keep in mind that Van Damme doesn’t appear until later in the film. Same goes for Dolph Lundgren, who has a small, but meaningful role. Their lack of screen time works with the flow of the movie’s structure. If you’re still worried, mark my word, this IS a Van Damme movie.
Seriously, check this one out.
Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 8/10