Usually when an action franchise loses one or more of its stars it’s almost a certainty that the series will take a turn for the worst. Most direct to DVD sequels suffer for a variety of reasons whether its the budget, script, or acting. After several unofficial sequels – a couple were released straight to video and one theatrical – John Hyams stepped into the director’s chair for the 2009 “official sequel” to Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier film: Universal Soldier: Regeneration. Fans appreciated this entry for the hard-hitting MMA style fighting but also because action veteran Dolph Lundgren returned to the fold. So it should come as no surprise that Hyams was asked back to direct Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning 3D Van Damme and Lundgren in another action packed sequel.
Scott Adkins stars as John; a man who is on the hunt for the group responsible for murdering his wife and kid. His memory of his former life gets more and more blurry as he is drawn further down the rabbit hole in the search for vengeance. A government agent is in contact with John as they are both on the hunt for the criminal mastermind behind it: Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). All the while, it seems like an implant in the back of John’s neck is forcing him to have hallucinations and drawing him towards the underground Unisol organization.
Like the last entry in the series, Day of Reckoning goes for a more serious tone which kicks off with a shocking, first-person shot sequence from the perspective of our new hero Scott Adkins. He barely says more than a few words in any given sentence but still conveys the sense of loss and confusion that many former soldiers experience. It’s an understatement that he handles the physical performance with ease and finesse as well. Many of his battles with Andrie Arlovski are extremely believable and hit with a genuine sense of ferocity and pain. An emphasis is placed on setting the messy battles in creatives wresting arenas like a small hotel room and a sporting goods store. The later of course, lets the actors use the multitude of equipment surrounding them (baseball bats, free weights) with almost comical results. All of the fights are extremely well shot, coherent, and enjoyable to watch, but I did feel that the constant throwing of one’s enemies into walls – to show the audience the degree of the character’s strength – becomes repetitious.
This may sound absurd given that it’s mainly an action movie, but I don’t think I fully comprehended the whole “grand” scheme of everything by the time the final reveal had passed. However, this isn’t as annoying as the general sense of distance I felt with the film. Never did I feel engaged with the film or that the filmmakers were even trying to actively communicate with the audience. This may sound like a bizarre statement, but I felt that it came across as a little too cold and uninviting. Some of this could be attributed to the actual characterizations – everyone in the cast really don’t have a lot to do other than to exist as toy action figures for the director to play with – but a lot of it has to do with what little info the script actually gives the viewer to think about.
Fans of the series will appreciate Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning 3D based solely on seeing Van Damme and Lundgren both return and kick some ass in a pair of fights in the last fourth of the film. What should come as more of a surprise to fans is that the franchise seems to be in great hands if they continue on with Scott Adkins. Even though I found that the film might have some of the best action scenes of the year, the structure of the story seemed a little too close to the Bourne franchise for more liking and the scenes between the action didn’t knock me through the roof.