Given the way properties are rehashed in Hollywood, it’s not a stretch to have expected the Universal Soldier franchise to last this long, but no one could have guessed that it would have such a resurgence 20 years after the first film’s release. The credit, no doubt, should go to director John Hyams (son of director/cinematographer Peter Hyams), who created one of the best direct-to-DVD action flicks of recent years with 2009’s Universal Soldier: Regeneration. The helmer returns for Day of Reckoning, and while it’s a step down from its predecessor, the film still features some knockout fights delivered with bravura in front of and behind the camera.
Scott Adkins stars as John, a confused everyman who seeks vengeance after witnessing his family killed in cold blood by mysterious soldier Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). As he strives to find this maniac, John is hunted by Magnus (played by MMA fighter-turned-actor Andrei Arlovski), who, in classic Terminator style, shows up to wreak havoc wherever the hero goes. The two battle in hotel rooms, on the highway, and most notably, in a sporting-goods store (delivering what is arguably the best moment in the movie). Eventually, John’s eyes are opened to the secret military experiment that he’s been unknowingly involved with, which in turn leads him directly to Deveraux.
Although the film sees the return of both Van Damme and his original co-star Dolph Lundgren, the fight scenes should really get top billing. With extra care put towards punctuating moves through deft editing, Hyams, who served as the co-editor, establishes rhythm in a way that the stereotypical “shaky cam” doesn’t come close to achieving. Sure, you might be confused by the plot -- why does JCVD have a two-toned painted head? The film might not have the skillful one-take shots that the previous movie did, but at least one viewing is still totally worth it for action fans. When Hyams will be given a real budget is anyone’s guess -- in the meantime, it’s fun to watch him hone his game through this franchise. leave a comment --Jeremy Wheeler