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UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING Fantastic Fest 2012 Review

Action films can be fun. Action films that convey humanistic themes can be even better. But attempting to create an action film with deep meaning can be tricky, lest the film become overloaded with ponderousness and weirdness. It is here that Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning stumbles a bit, to the eventual detriment of the film.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning focuses on a man named John (played by Scott Adkins). The film opens as John is attacked in his home and his wife and daughter murdered by Luc Deveraux (Universal Soldier mainstay Jean-Claude Van Damme). Recovering from his injuries, John sets out to avenge his family’s murder, but must navigate through his own muddled memories and a strange pursuer now trying to kill him.

Acting as backdrop to these events is the Universal Soldier program. Grown in size since the previous Universal Soldier film, these superhuman warriors are now a real threat to displace normal humans entirely in the governmental armed forces.  Set against them are renegade Soldiers, a contingent of whom are living underground. Using a “your thoughts are not your own” mantra and a version of telepathy, former Universal Soldier Luc has stripped them of their built-in mind control devices and set them “free”. Assisted by the commander of the guerrilla fighters, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), Luc soon plans to overthrow the United States government with his freed superhuman killing machines. All the while, John is obsessed with killing Luc for the murder of his family and soon finds out that his real life is very much different from what he remembers.

It may surprise you to know that description was a fairly difficult one to create, as Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning involves fairly complex twists and turns for what would be assumed is a straightforward action film. Furthermore, Scott Adkins is fairly adept in his role as brooding anti-hero and both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are fun to watch in their albeit brief roles. So why the low rating of two out of five stars?

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

The problem with Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning in its near total inability to play for an audience beyond diehard fans of the franchise. I saw the first Universal Soldier film many years ago and have missed the space in between. Because of this, long stretches of the film were nigh incomprehensible to me. Not to say that every franchise’s sequel must be immediately available to new fans, but Day of Reckoning makes no effort whatsoever to ingratiate itself to those who haven’t seen its predecessors. As a stand-alone film, it is almost impossible to follow.

Speaking of “impossible to follow,” the 3D leaves much to be desired, falling into the contemporary trap of opaqueness. Many of Day of Reckoning’s fight scenes, while quite good, are so dark as to be unwatchable. Care was certainly taken to create a myriad of entertaining action sequences, but I gave up on a few of them when it became impossible to truly follow said action. The incredible endurance and strength of the soldiers eventually begins to work against the movie. After all, how many times can you watch somebody slice someone else with a machete or pound the crap out of his opponent to almost no effect before you finally begin to tire of the experience?

Further, the screenplay gives the impression of a good number of rewrites, often leaping over plot crevasses either too easily or illogically. Finally, a new romantic interest for John, a mysterious woman named Sarah (Maria Bonner) felt shoehorned in and was minimized in the film’s latter half to focus on the impending climax.

In short, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning mostly succeeds in its most basic sense, but the film is a mostly dour and “deep meaning” laden affair. When the action picks up, it improves, but even then suffers from clunky 3D, an overly-dark palette, and overuse of generic action beats. Perhaps a viewing of the preceding film would have completed the puzzle for me thematically, but a film is a film is a film. And this one will probably not be considered one of my festival favorites.

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The Author

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel is a genre film lover, giddy in the presence of beauty and awesomeness, cranky in the presence of artless junk. His first movie memory is watching Khan die in STAR TREK II as a 4-year-old (true story). Gabriel started his online writing 'career' a few years back on a WP blog before graduating to writing for a few bonafide movie sites, including serving as an editor for two. The Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam, and David Fincher are among his favorite directors. He co-hosted the Telluride Horror Show in 2011, 2012, and will host again in 2013. In the midst of writing a book on THE TWILIGHT ZONE for Applause Books. Film trivia whiz. Facial hair artiste.