Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Directed by John Hyams
Written by John Hyams, Doug Magnuson, and Jon Greenhalgh
In a landscape of tired genre exercises and lame action reboots, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning feels like a tidal wave of renewal. In the hands of director John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Regeneration), the franchise not only gets a stylistic facelift, but expands its mark to seriously deranged and disturbing places. While Regeneration was populated by battered and faded faces, each highlighted by the melancholic irony of such a reboot, Hyams’ latest goes further in embracing the monsters these films have bred since 1992.
While Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Lundgren) were mainstays in past entries, they’re merely whittled down to minor roles this time around. Scott Adkins is the primary star and our surrogate into Hyams’ dreary and foreboding landscape of slain bodies and jilted psyches. Adkins plays John, awoken at the start of the film by his young daughter who thinks someone has broken into their home. “They’re monsters, I heard them,” she eerily states. What ensues is a brutal home invasion that takes the lives of John’s wife and daughter. The scene recalls Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void in how it employs a precise POV of our protagonist. After being assaulted, but kept alive, John eventually awakens from a nine month coma, seeking vengeance while trying to properly piece his reality back together. What follows echoes the journey of Willard in Apocalypse Now, as John slowly begins his own brief journey “up river” to face his own personal Kurtz. What awaits is a litany of disenfranchised Uni.Sol’s and Deveraux – whose face is covered in face paint (another odd decision that feels right at home within this film).
As the narrative settles into its own appropriately languid pace, it becomes increasingly clear that Hyams has little interest in depicting the proceedings featured in Day of Reckoning as a young man’s game. John and new Uni.Sol Magnus (Andrei Arlovski) may beat each other within an inch of their lives time and again, but they’re predominant struggle is with those who control them. Aside from the brilliantly choreographed set pieces, a thick air of doom looms large over most of the film. Day of Reckoning often celebrates how insane it is, as the old and young Uni. Sol’s duke it out in a multitude of unlikely locales: a neon-lit brothel, a sporting goods store, and an underground hideaway.
What should one make of Day of Reckoning’s stoic and assured take on gratuitous violence blended with an unnerving sense that our protagonist has lost control – perhaps a stand-in for an entire culture? This entry scoffs at the notion that it’s tired or familiar – what lingers is the sturdy formal craftsmanship on display; Day of Reckoning is both satisfying and gonzo. In the final act, John is clothed in a white tank-top that we all but know will be drenched in blood by the time the film ends. We’re left with a sense of pleasure and unease as this vicious cycle of testosterone and simulation seems to live on. It may be trash, but it’s trash with an inspired voice and purpose.