Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme ("Luc Deveraux"), Dolph Lundgren ("Andrew Scott"), Andrei Arlovski ("NGU"), and Mike Pyle ("Captain Kevin Burke")
REGENERATION is the third film in the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER series (excluding those two made-for-TV movies), but it was the fourth film, DAY OF RECKONING, that served as my first experience with not only the series but with director John Hyams, who really impressed me with what he brough to the table in terms of how he could shoot action scenes. While this movie, ultimately, didn't do much in the way of explaining the weirdness of DAY OF RECKONING, the opening minutes alone made me hungry for more Hyams. The man knows how to film violence. My God, what a fucking opening. It's like being dropped into a warzone.
The teenage children of Ukraine's Prime Minister are kidnapped by masked terrorists in a hale of gunfire. Turns out the terrorists want their people freed from prison, so they use both the Prime Minister's children and the threat of Nuclear warfare is leverage. In other words, there's not much room for negotiation. And this is where the titular Universal Soldiers come into play. The Universal Soldier program that was established in the previous films was apparently suspended years earlier when problems arose, but a bunch of lab geeks and military officials kept the program alive and preserved a small group of Soldiers. The Universal Soldiers here are portrayed in a way that sort of combines the Nazi idea of creating super-soldiers with the hardcore, militant training of Russian soldiers. In other words, there's a hint of ulterior motives and bad intentions.
Working for the terrorists, however, is their very own Universal Soldier - an advanced, rogue model (played by MMA fighter Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski) who is basically the soldier to end all soldiers. The ultimate killing machine. The terrorists hole up at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, and, like a guard dog that has machine guns strapped to it, the "evil" Universal Soldier, NGU, singlehandedly guards the makeshift base and occasionally pops out of the shadows to murder large amounts of people without breaking a sweat. Returning are the original Universal Soldiers, Luc Devaraux and Andrew Scott. Luc is now part of what is basically a rehabilitation program, and Andrew is the Ace up the sleeve of the film's corrupt scientist. Without getting into details, all of their paths eventually cross at some point, leading to tons of choreographed fight scenes and action set-pieces. Violence, violence, violence.
One of the more interesting elements of the film is the character of Luc. He's being rehabilitated and essentially trained to be more of a human, but his killer instincts remain. He's like a dog that can turn on its owner at any moment. There are also some noteworthy parallels between actor Jean-Claude Van Damme and his character. There's an undeniable theme of "out with the old, in with the new" present in not only the content of the film but in the subtext as well, and Luc is representative of the "old" in the same way that Van Damme is considered an Action star of the past. They're both old and basically washed-up, but they still have the skills to pay the bills, and it's only a matter of being able to tap into it.
What director Hyams and the screenwriters of the film did with the whole Universal Soldier... uh, "universe" in REGENERATION is pretty interesting. They brilliantly took an established product and re-packaged it in a way that makes sense and gives it some teeth rather than re-hashing the same old shit. Not only is it clear from the casting of an MMA fighter in an important role, but from the choreography of the fights as well (submission moves galore), that there are fans of combat sports behind the scenes, and REGENERATION undeniably caters to that demographic, but there's a great balance here between the MMA mentality and just straightforward, old-school Action. It's a successful clashing of worlds, and the results are pretty fucking good.
Overall, REGENERATION is an incredibly satisfying Action film. Great character psychology, awesome fight choreography, a ridiculously high body count, an old-school Action movie mentality with modern-day resources, and many great action set-pieces as opposed to only like two or three big ones spread throughout the film. Of course most films need to take a break from the action and the violence in order to tell a story, which is understandable, but REGENERATION tells a story while people are getting their asses beaten or shot. Oh, and there's an amazing headsplosion too.
Make or Break: The opening set-piece.
MVT: John Hyams
Check out my review of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING HERE