Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Sci-Fi Universal Soldier: Regeneration

Universal Soldier: Regeneration

Ten years after “Universal Soldier: The Return” flopped at the box office, and some say killed the franchise, the series returns with “Universal Soldier: Regeneration”. Featuring a better story, even harder hitting action sequences, and both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren reprising their roles from the original, will this newest installment wash away the bad memories left behind by its predecessor?

“Universal Soldier: Regeneration” begins when terrorists take control of one of Chernobyl’s leftover nuclear reactors, threatening to unleash massive devastation unless their demands are met. Not wishing to negotiate with terrorists, the government sends in a military strike force; however, the terrorists have a nasty surprise up their sleeve… the next generation of UniSol (UFC Fighter Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski). As their strike force is torn apart, the only alternative the government has left is to reactivate one of the original UniSol’s, Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

If you’re like me, when you saw that another entry into this franchise was being released you probably had these thoughts or something similar, “What? Someone’s made another Universal Soldier movie? The last one was horrible. Why would someone go back for more?” Well, that someone happens to be up-and-coming director John Hyams (son of famed director Peter Hyams), and the end result is actually much better than expected.

Written by first-time screenwriter Victor Ostrovsky, this newest installment opts to completely ignore the events of “Universal Soldier: The Return”, along with the two Made-for-TV movies, and serve as a direct sequel to the original film. The story is very tight, fast-paced, and filled with high-energy action sequences to thrill fans of the original. The previous film made the unwise decision to squeeze in as many comedic moments and cheesy one-liners (none of which were humorous) to break up the non-stop violence, while inadvertently causing the audience to wince in pain at the cinematic abomination on display. In contrast, this film chooses to inject a simple, yet decently crafted dramatic story; which works very well for this type of film, I might add.

One part of the story is focused on the terrorists (although this portion is generic and by-the-book), while the second part centers on Luc Deveraux’s attempt at returning to a normal life, despite his still prevalent killer instinct. It is in these moments regarding Luc’s “de-programming” that the movie really begins to rise above being just another stock action title. Of course these quieter, more dramatic scenes within the movie were only made possible by the surprising performance delivered by fading action star Jean-Claude Van Damme.

In the original film, Van Damme showed some slight emotional range; however, all of his acting range was all but omitted from the sequel and most of his other action movies as well. For this film, Jean-Claude once again finds the emotional core of the character, offering a more contemplative hero who desperately wants to take control of what’s left of his life. His performance here is proof that with the proper material and direction, Van Damme could still be an effective action star despite his age. For those of you that may scoff at this observation, I give you Sylvester Stallone (“Rambo”) or Bruce Willis (“Live Free or Die Hard”) as examples of how aging action stars can still make their most recognizable characters relevant in the modern day.

Alongside Jean-Claude is former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski as the next generation of UniSol or NGU as he is referred to in the movie. Andrei isn’t the most eloquent of speakers with the English language, but thankfully, the script doesn’t call on him to give much more than one or two word statements. Of course, his acting chops (what little he may possess) weren’t the reason for his casting in the role. Obviously, with his background in the UFC, it’s not difficult to determine why Andrei got the role of the primary villain in the film. His fighting prowess, not to mention the director has done a couple of documentaries surrounding the world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting, made him an ideal candidate to inject new blood into the dying franchise.

On a related note, the fight scenes are extremely hard-hitting and brutal, thanks in no small part to Andrei Arlovski’s UFC roots. The more up close and personal style of fighting is a departure from the flashier style with lots of cool moves, kicks and flips that most of Van Damme’s movies typically employ. The downside is that initially the fights appear to run together because Arlovski’s character of NGU seemed to dispatch his opponents the exact same way. Luckily, after the opening fight sequences the remainder became much more varied and exciting; otherwise, boredom would have set in as quickly as it had done for its predecessor.

Rounding out the headliners for the movie is actor Dolph Lundgren, who reprises his role as Andrew Scott from the original film. Sadly, Dolph’s appearance in this movie is all too brief, and occurs very late in the story. I presumed with his character being shown on the cover that Dolph would play a major part in the film. In truth, his role is nothing more than an overly long cameo appearance to assist in tying this film directly to the first one. While his character of Andrew Scott was more unhinged and homicidal in the original film, this iteration is a much more subdued individual. Although, there is a hint that the maniac still lurks beneath the surface, just waiting for a chance to be unleashed. Thus, providing some added tension to his time onscreen opposite Jean-Claude, making those scenes even more entertaining.

The rest of the cast of characters are fairly forgettable, and amount to nothing more than typical action movie fare. The terrorists for the most part are bland and generic, as is the military forces brought in to stop them. Of course, even if this weren’t a Direct-to-DVD sequel, one wouldn’t expect much more from a theatrically released action film either. After all, the main reason you watch these movies is to see the UniSol’s in action, typically fighting each other, and anything else is irrelevant.

Overall, “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” is a satisfying sequel that blows its theatrical predecessor out of the water (a rare feat for a Direct-to-DVD follow-up). While not quite as good as the original film, the movie does stand up well on its own though. The story moves along at a brisk pace, without getting tangled up in plot holes or inconsistencies. The action is much more visceral than any of the previous entries, and of course, it’s fun to have the two stars of the original film back to reprise their roles at least one more time.

“Universal Soldier: Regeneration” is rated R for violence and language.

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