UNIVERSAL SOLDIER REGENERATION, 2010
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Mike Pyle, Garry Cooper
When terrorists threaten nuclear catastrophe, the world's only hope is to reactivate decommissioned Universal Soldier Luc Deveraux. Rearmed and reprogrammed, Deveraux must take on his nemesis from the original Universal Soldier and a next-generation "UniSol"g.
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In 1992, the world was given Universal Soldier. Starring together was an up and coming Jean Claude Van Damme, and a somewhat stagnating, Dolph Lundgren. Things went well for Van Damme from this point, while Lundgren quickly slipped into straight to video world…a world which of late, has slightly less of a stigma attached, given the amount of one-time A listers, occasionally, or even mostly, dipping their toes into the icy, direct to DVD waters. Mentioning no names (Val Kilmer…sorry). Van Damme eventually followed Lundgren into video world. However, with the DVD boom of the mid 00’s, the old guard of action stars, from the 80’s, have seen something of a resurgence in pop culture. Their DVD’s seem more popular now as people seek more alternatives to big screen adventure, and as action alternatives to the big budget, and often watered down carnage that find their way to the multi-plexes. In video world, producers, money men, don’t worry about the R-rating, and it’s effect on box-office grosses. Van Damme and Lundgren’s films are made for adult males. Good films? Often no, but mostly, if in the right frame of mind, and reference, enjoyable.
The plot is simple, very simple. Okay, there’s not much at all, but this is after all a Universal Soldier movie. Terrorist leader Commander Topoff, hires the services of doctor Colin, former US government, and a state of the art, Universal soldier. The best of the best, played by Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski. Andrei you might assume is a Ballet dancer, or a poet, with his nickname, but you’d be wrong! He is in fact, a UFC fighter. They kidnap the Russian premieres children and hold them at a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, and threaten to kill them and unleash a radioactive cloud, if not handsomely played. When the governments best Unisol’s fail to redress the situation, after getting severely deaded by Arlovski’s superior model, the US government call on the services of Luc Devreaux (Van Damme). However the mad scientist working for the Commander Topoff, has himself a clone of Devreaux’s former nemesis, Andrew Scott (Lundgren). Things of course come to a head.
What Regeneration lacks in plotting, it makes up for in delivery. Director John Hyams (son of director Peter Hyams, who is the cinematographer here) makes his feature debut. He does a great job. The film looks great, and there’s a lot of detail in the production design too. The settings come to life vividly. Hyams takes inspiration from the Bourne films, as well as Ridley Scott and Alfonso Cuaron, to craft an action movie that packs punch. Scenes have a good build up, while the action is expertly cut and fantastically choreographed. The opening car chase is very Bourne-esque, while the fight scenes are very much designed with mixed martial arts in mind. Most impressively is how grounded the action is, and how Hyams manages to ground the battles between the super-human Unisols. Smashing through walls, leaping from great heights, and generally destroying all around them as they battle. Despite the films low budget, the action is big in scale. There’s some well thought out action here, and it’s all physical, live, unlike so many modern, CGI heavy action films.
The big moment of the film is the throw-down between Van Damme and Lundgren. The fight here, makes the first films fight look like a brisk game of pat-o-cake. It’s fantastic! Possibly one of the best mano-a-mano’s, either man has delivered on film. Aside from their fighting, both perform well. Van Damme proved himself a capable actor in his part bio film JCVD. It was a great film and a great leading performance by Jean Claude, promising more range from him. While he reverts to action film simplicity here, he still adds something to his role. However, it is Lundgren in his cameo appearance, who steels the show, in part helped by the more interesting role. Lundgren’s better here than he has been for years. Arlovski does okay, though his role requires little more than looking badass. In that respect he delivers. Elsewhere there’s fine support from Mike Pyle, and Emily Joyce (who UK fans will remember as Janet from TV show, My Hero).
I also particularly like the very retro, 80’s style synth score by Kris Hill and Michael Krassner. It’s part John Carpenter, part Tangerine Dream, with a dash of Vangelis, and a sprinkling of Fiedel.
All in all though, Universal Soldier does what it says on the tin, and delivers an enjoyable action film. Van Damme and Lundgren get to show young pretenders, how things are done, and John Hyams has a promising directing career ahead, certainly, more so than Peter Hyams ever had. It has its problems, but delivers where it counts, and opens up a sparkling can of whoop-ass, and forces you to drink it.