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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning (2012) direct-to-video movie


Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: Intriguing mystery plot, intense action, realistic stunts and violence, surreal atmospheric cinematography, ties up loose ends for the Universal Soldier movie series, old school synthesiser soundtrack, Scott Adkins finally acts.

The Bad: Overuse of slow motion, annoying "white flashes" during hallucination scenes, over-the-top performances from antagonists, slow first act.

3D Readiness: Native 3D

******************************Review***************************** 
A change in direction is risky. You may end up alienating your original fan base, you may end up with an unrecognisable sequel that is a sequel in name only, or you may end up creating a better product. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING is that better product. Not just a sequel, but an expansion on a waning science fiction action franchise, DAY OF RECKONING closes many loose ends and answers questions that were left hanging by 2009's franchise revival UNIVERSAL SOLDIER A NEW BEGINNING/Regeneration.


Luc Devereaux, the protagonist from the original 1992 movie, has gone AWOL. Having failed in reintegration into society, Devereaux has accepted his cold hearted killer and merciless soldier persona with a new nihilistic mindset. Used like a weapon then discarded by his handlers, the disillusioned Devereaux slowly recruits other Unisol sleeper agents to join him for an eventual uprising against the government and the black ops programme that robbed them of their humanity. His latest act of terror was the cold blooded murder of a woman and child, the wife and daughter of a family man named John (our protagonist played by Scott Adkins).


Mysteriously left alive, John starts to track down the elusive Devereaux for the sake of revenge, but ends up unveiling mystery after mystery. The greatest mystery however comes from within as John is tormented by hallucinations of Devereaux and manifests combat skills that he had never learned; skills that allow him to best other Unisols in hand to hand combat.


Those skills would be tested as John hunts down the truth of his past, evades the relentless Unisol "Magnus" who has been sent to stop him, and takes a journey into the heart of darkness that is Devereaux's hidden fortress. John's journey is a painful one about losing one's humanity to vengeance. As his obsession grows, his methods become more inhuman and cruel. As he goes further down this dreamlike rabbit hole of a story, John is faced with a risk of becoming the devil to defeat the devil when he finally faces Devereaux.

Scott Adkins portrays that gradual metamorphosis from man to killing machine with a good level of nuance and restraint. Finally given a starring role that goes beyond just fighting and scowling, former stuntman and trained martial artist Adkins shows off his acting chops, taking John across the full range of emotions from despair to a focused drive, to single minded obsession. Sure it's not much, this is not some romance drama after all, but it serves the story while allowing Adkins to go "Rambo" on all his enemies.



Having cast trained martial artists like Adkins, Andrei Arlovski and Jean Claud Van Damme, the action in DAY OF RECKONING is bloody, intense and marvellously shot. It is the sort of hard hitting full on fighting with practical effects that is a rare sight in this day and age of special effects and digital stand-ins. This movie never shies away from bloodshed, showcasing every wound, shot and death with grim realism.


From the onset, the mystery plot is gripping with its fair share of twists and unexpected revelations. It does sag a bit in the first act but once you get past that, the pace picks up. If you have been following the franchise, many questions are answered here. For example, how does Dolph Lundgren's Andrew Scott character return again and again despite meeting gruesome ends in each instalment?


Drawing inspiration from APOCALYPSE NOW (the whole "former soldier gone rogue and amassing an army" as well as the surreal journey into darkness theme), TERMINATOR (the relentless pursuit of John by Unisol Magnus) and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (brainwashed sleeper agents/assassins with false memories), UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING is a gripping tale from start to finish.


As a whole, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING achieves what many of its contemporaries fail to: it is a direct-to-video movie that looks just as good as a hollywood blockbuster. No doubt the result of John Hyam's masterful direction and cinematography. His camerawork achieves an interesting look to the film that slowly mutates from soft and sombre into harsh lighting with clashing colours reflecting John's physical and emotional journey. Accompanied by haunting synthesiser music courtesy of Michael Krassner, the movie draws you in with its surreal atmosphere.  Perhaps the only questionable filming decision was to utilise an epileptic flashing strobe light in scenes where John has his hallucinations.


A dark yet fitting end to the franchise which still leaves some doors open for further sequels.

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

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

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