Movie Review: “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” – Neglects the Core

Written by Travis Pulchinski December 13, 2012

universal soldier one-sheet

If “The Expendables” Had a Side Band

As movies like ‘Ong Bak’ and ‘The Raid: Redemption’ have taught us, sometimes taking a chance on watching an under-the-radar, smalltime action movie can result in the discovery of a hidden gem, a little underdog that packs a big walloping bite and knocks us on our skeptical keisters.  More often however when one takes a chance on an under-the-radar, smalltime action movie, one finds oneself immediately regretting ones decision as it becomes apparent that the film in question is more than deserving of its under-the-radar status.

“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”, the fifth film in the Universal Soldier series, and the first since the original to be considered worthy of an actual (albeit small) theatrical run.  Having never actually seen any of its predecessors, this was my first taste of the series, which pits government controlled super soldiers against one another in ultra-violent shootouts, car chases and kickboxing.  For the first time in the series, the hero is not Jean-Claude Van Damme, but is instead martial-artist-turned-actor Scott Adkins who plays a man named John.  John is introduced as having no recollection of anything beyond the opening sequence of the film, so much like myself he is uncovering the world of the story as it unfolds.  John is out to avenge the death of his wife and daughter at the hands of Van Damme’s character Luc Deveraux who has all of two lines and doesn’t so much as raise a toe above waist level until the end of the movie. His evil plan is to amass an army of liberated Universal Soldiers into a pseudo-religious coalition led by Dolph Lundgren, who has far too many lines.

Universal Soldier Dolph Lundgren

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Transcending the medium

The story (and even sometimes the cinematography) plays out like a two-hour video game.  John wanders into a new locale and waits for someone to attack him.  After beating up all the lackeys he will take on a ‘boss’, who, once defeated, will allow him to uncover a clue that will lead him to the next area.  The sci-fi twist that ties the whole plot with the Universal Solider storyline almost seems like an afterthought and is downright confusing for anyone not familiar with the past movies.  From brainwashing to cloning to memory implants, the movie seems bogged down by addressing the concepts introduced in prior movies rather than just keeping the story simple and focused.  It’s even hard to tell at times whether John himself has any clue what’s going on, as the muscle-bound Adkins portrays the protagonist in a one-note performance of perpetual perplexity.

Universal Solider Day of Reckoning Scott Adkins

Adkins apparently attended the Keanu Reeves school of acting

“That’s the spirit soldier!”

But hey, why am I prattling on about all these pretentious things that don’t matter in a movie about punching people?  In that regard, the movie is serviceable.  There are roughly three major fight scenes, each spanning an impressive fifteen to twenty minutes, and featuring all the gun shooting, face punching, blood-bursting, high-kicking action that one would expect from such a film.  And the nice thing about movies that essentially feature stuntmen instead of high-profile actors is that these guys don’t have to fake it, so there’s no need for the fast cutting and shaky-cam used so liberally in many of today’s action movies.   But although the excessively speed-ramped choreography is guiltily fun to watch, the action feels superficial and shallow due to the disregard for the story elements.  It’s action for the sake of action and not much more.  If you’re a massive fan of the Universal Soldier series then you have probably already seen this movie and will enjoy it. If on the other hand if you’re one of those highbrow artsy types who need a compelling story and a smidgen of visual style to enjoy your non-discriminatory slaughter, then you’re best off to let this movie, and probably this entire series, fade into oblivion.  That is, until they reboot it five years from now.

My Rating: 4.5/10

Universal Soldier Day of Reckoning Poster

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