Saturday, May 1, 2010

Universal Soldier: A New Beginning

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: blockbuster level action despite low budget, better than all previous universal Soldier sequels, competent directing

The Bad: little character development, no human drama, less than interesting story, shallow themes in plot

Current Availability Status: on DVD in singapore at discounted price

DVD features:
- no extras

DVD Value for money Grade: C-
What happens when you are an aging Hollywood action star with a waning film career? You take an old film that made you famous out of the freezer and star in a "long awaited sequel" to that film. This is becoming a trend in Hollywood. Sylvester Stallone did it with Rocky 5 and Rambo 4, Bruce Willis did it with "Live Free, Die Hard". Now its Jean Claude Van Damme's turn, starring in this "long awaited sequel" to 1992's Universal Soldier. But really no matter how you say it, this show is just to ensure ol JCVD's retirement pension. On the bright side, at least he did not pick a sequel to Street Fighter to star in.

From its explosive start to bloody finish, Universal Soldier: A New Beginning(or "Regeneration" as it is called in USA) never seeks to be more than what its predecessor was; an action heavy, "direct to video" B movie. The story starts off with a frantic car chase down the frozen streets of Russia that culminates in the kidnapping of the Prime minister's children. They are held ransom by a General Boris who's troops have taken over the Chernobyl nuclear plant. He demands that the Russian government releases their comrades from prison within 72 hours or the nuclear reactor would be set to detonate. US forces are quick to respond to this threat by sending in their "UniSols", reanimated soldiers with enhanced combat abilities. However their extraction mission is foiled by a powerful "New Generation Universal Soldier"(NGU) under the command of rogue scientist Dr Colin.

Faster, Stronger and more durable than anything they have every encountered, the NGU manages to decimate the US forces' UniSol team leaving them no choice but to turn to their remaining UniSol who is now only learning to be re-assimilated into society, Luc Deveraux. But all is not well in the terrorist camp as well and after some internal power scuffle, Dr Colins reveals a second UniSol: the reanimated Andrew Scott, Luc's nemesis.

Despite budget limitations, Universal Soldier: A New Beginning manages to look just as good as any Hollywood blockbuster thanks to the masterful directing of John Hyams and the cinematography of his father, Peter Hyams. The action is gritty,realistic and down-to-earth with few gimmicks and almost no kung fu wire stunts; a real breath of fresh air in a market dominated by action movies chock full of high flying areal acrobatics. Impressive gun fights, mêlée scuffles and intense action all set against the frigid Russian backdrop.

Sadly, thats not the only thing thats cold. The characters in this film are practical ice cubes that are never fully developed. As a result, no one really cares for Luc or any of the other characters. Even Dolph Lundgren's return as Andrew Scott lends absolutely nothing to the movie other than as a shout out to fans of the original film. A small flashback or so would have made Luc and Andrew's rivalry a lot more believable but other than a small exposition narration that details what a universal soldier is, anyone who has never watched the original movie would only see Dolph Lundgren's character as just another powerful foe for Jean Claude Van Damme to bust out his moves on Universal Soldier had potential to delve in to deeper issues but never even tries to tap into that. The warmth of Human drama is at a minimum as the production favors pushing the action to the next adrenaline pumping gun fight over exploring more thought provoking themes about the human condition or the purpose of a soldier without a war to fight.

The franchise of Universal Soldier has been in a runt following disappointing direct-to-video sequels and a terrible "official" feature film sequel. "A New Beginning" discards all those and manages to be just as like the original film by Roland Emmerich only with better fight scenes. It is light on drama, even lighter on well developed characters, but heavy on the action.

Fans of the original Universal Soldier movie would appreciate this a lot more than the causal movie watcher. A competently made direct-to-video tribute to a fledgling film franchise that, though good for a direct to video production, falls short when compared to more mainstream action movies.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you loved the original Universal Soldier movie and would like to see its actual sequel
Avoid it: if you expect anything more than intense military action or if you expect to be able to care about the characters

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: D
Characters: C
Replay value: B
"Brains": D

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