Under their own command.
Entire story in fewer words than are in this sentence
Limey awakes from coma, beats up his beefy mentors.
Apart from the odd unavoidable shot of some fit and muscled man naked from the waist up, there’s nothing too overt here. The old undercurrent of women getting punished, either for being women or to provide an excuse for retribution, is consistently and thoroughly exploited, except less as a statement than as the regurgitation of a tried and true genre staple. Still… Scott Adkins’ wife and daughter only exist, as it turns out quite literally, to be brutally murdered within the first minutes of the film and fuel his vengeful quest for the remainder. In a sequence rivaling any wet fantasy envisioned by Paul Schrader, Andrei ‘The Pit Bull’ Arlovski enters a brothel and shots down every hooker and UniSol he encounters until being stopped by Dolph Lundgren. Tellingly, Dolph is the only one on the premises not either in possession of a vagina or making use of one. And of course he is Dolph Lundgren, the man with the biggest dick the late Brandon Lee ever saw. Worthy of mention is the almost offhanded way in which the prostitutes are butchered, one shot each, compared with the effort and ammunition Arlovski has to spend for every one of the UniSols. Conversely, there’s the stripper who seems to know Adkins from his previous life and teams up with him: she’s spared from a violent demise, but only because she and Adkins don’t even get to think about holding hands, let alone fucking. And because she has small tits. Finally, one of the UniSols gunned down in the brothel had a hooker nailing his hand to a wood table, as in, with nails and a hammer. That’s not really gay but it was a story that had to be told.
26 confirmed kills, which is a low number if you don’t take into account that most of them are UniSols. Before a bullet or a knife through the head does the trick (or, in Arlovski’s case, a blow perfectly delivered with a baseball bat), each of the UniSols’ torsos is subjected to beatings, stabbings and shootings barbarous enough to dispatch three or four puny humans. Add five or six deaths to the tally if you decide to count all the soldier clones dubiously put down without cranial injuries.
How bad is it really
On a purely technical level, Universal soldier: Day of reckoning is a masterpiece within the action genre, and a pretty good effort as a regular movie. Director John Hyams’ already impressive skills have significantly improved since the last installment, and in terms of framing, lightning, editing and all that crap this one unquestionably surpasses most of the higher budgeted products currently churned out by Hollywood. That’s before we factor in the really important stuff like choreographing bodies getting kicked around, furniture being smashed and blood packs being punctured.
It could be argued that this excellence is matched by the plot and acting, but even if that were completely true, it would not necessarily be a plus. For a very long stretch the film is a mood piece with a self-consciously somber tone, punctuated here and there with some vicious ass-kicking courtesy of Arlovski playing The Terminator, and a seemingly drunken Lundgren giving fiery speeches to his minions. It is all very well done, there is very little stupid crap, Scott Adkins makes for a believable lead, and Van Damme looks suitably tormented and wearied by age, but, really, can a serious science fiction plot coexist in a movie promising bone crunchings galore and Lundgrenades of ridiculousness? Is this what we were truly looking for?
You have to consider that most of the charm of the 80s action classics came with the blunt conviction with which they expressed their laughable ideals. Even a solid film like RoboCop had to be covertly intellectual to succeed, and while Hyams is a smart cookie he is no Verhoeven, not by a long shot. As you will suspect ten minutes into the film, turns out that Jean-Claude Van Damme executing Adkins’ loved ones was a fake memory created by the feds to get Adkins to kill Van Damme, and so Hyams starts to ask the predictable questions that have tormented us since the dawn of man: what makes us human? What is real? Is it preferable to hold onto the pain of false recollections that have shaped our perceived identity, or to embrace the emptiness and freedom of a life with no past?
Well, who the fuck cares in a movie starring Van Damme, Adkins, Arlovski and Dolph Fucking Lundgren? Not me and not you, that’s for sure. Also, the film borrows far too much and too openly from Apocalypse now and Blade runner, among many others, which leads to the paradox that if this were a regular picture I would have no compunctions in calling the filmmakers out, but being an Universal Soldier movie I am frankly impressed with them showing a very basic understanding of the classics. The urge to patronize their unremarkable erudition is too strong to resist, like when you see a retard add without using his fingers.
Fortunately, all is forgiven in the last third of the film, as Adkins gets to the UniSol compound hidden “up river” and lets loose with a glorious and bloody rampage. Before we get there, Hyams signals this turn with the stripper driving away without a word and never coming back, giving a hint to the female audience to get to the kitchen and prepare some sandwiches. After Adkins finishes dozens of his lesser brothers, he fights Lundgren to death in an armory room and, as if that wasn’t enough, he goes from there to confront Van Damme in some kind of church. Both of them hold their ground to the full satisfaction of the viewer, until Van Damme as Deveraux figures that the confrontation is useless because the UniSols will get cloned ad infinitum or at least until the franchise ceases to be profitable, and thus he allows Adkins to impale him with a machete already bathed in Lundgren’s sacred blood. As was the case with Seagal’s demise in, huh, Machete, it is an honorable way for JCVD to die without being defeated, but it can also be read as his way of passing the action icon torch to Adkins. Based solely on the evidence here, he has definitely earned it, and if he looks far too serious and, well, straight to have made it in the 80s, he may well be the best our pitiful times deserve.
I’m not sure which version of the film I downlo-… I legally purchased with my money, because I’ve read elsewhere that in the unrated DVD Arlovski loses the top of his head to Adkins’ home run swing, but the one I saw inexplicably dispenses with this highlight in a very, very brief shot from afar. I’m afraid I’ll have to go with Lundgren’s neck welcoming a machete and the top of his skull giving it a tender farewell. It is good, as it couldn’t help but be, but extremely disappointing, because at one point during the fight Lundgren looks like he is about to grab a rocket launcher, and as the scene goes on the weapon figures teasingly in the background but ends up unused. So much unnecessary film school stuff, and the one chance to make a legitimate hommage to Death Wish 3 is squandered. Shameful.
Nothing of note here, as Adkins and Arlovski are more into efficiently offing their adversaries than in sending them to the afterlife with a bon-mot to ponder during their journey. The closest I could find comes at the beginning. After Adkins is confronted by the soon-to-be murderers of his family, he pitifully yells to their leader: “You fucking… FUCK!” However, the mood of the scene is far too disturbing to enjoy it.
Stupid political content
Luc Deveraux is the leader of a group of rogue UniSols, and the only thing they want is to free the souls of their mind-controlled brethren and introduce them to a purposeless life of drinking, whoring and bar fighting. The federals have used the UniSols in the past as unthinking killing machines, but now they are implanting fake memories in their brains because they’ve discovered that emotional motivations make for more passionate and resilient assassins. Understandably, they are not happy with Deveraux derailing their program, and are not above sacrificing a bunch of innocent hookers as collateral damage in the struggle to destroy his army (also because they must have a parallel Universal Escort project in development, or so I wish). Again, this is used not to take a jab at the Obama administration or even to remind us of the FBI’s handling of Waco during the Clinton years, but to move the plot along and provide a context for the stupid philosophical content. Boo.
What you learned
I wouldn’t have guessed it, but all my life I’ve wanted to watch Van Damme as Coronel Kurtz and Lundgren as Tyler Durden. In the same movie.