Before Roland Emmerich started blowing up buildings, landmarks and destroying the entire world he made an action movie called Universal Soldier starring Jean-Claude van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. At that time two rather big names when it came to action movies. It was a success paved the way for Van Damme and Emmerich to star in even greater movies. While Emmerich is still an A-list director his collaborators on Universal Soldier are wandering around in DTV-limbo for quite some time now. And it saddens me to see them return in the fourth sequel to the original, second if you don’t count the made for TV movies starring some guy named Matt Battaglia as Luc Devereaux.
To be honest, I was interested above average in this movie as not only Van Damme returns but also Dolph Lundgren, that the son of Peter Hyams is directing made it a even more intersting as his father directed Van damme in two of his more successful movies, Sudden Death and Time Cop. And to be honest, this movie was a real let down for a couple of reasons.
The setting is Russia so it’s all shot in a Eastern European location which also immediately means that all outdoor scenes are very grim. Every movie shot in countries like Romania have this grey sky as if the sun can’t break through. All these movies have a very bleak look, some of Seagal’s movies or suffer the same fate. Fortunately they do not try to play it off as if the setting is America, Great Britain or any other Western country. The setting is Russia and mostly around Chernobyl. Which means that most of the movie is set in abandoned factories and such that should pass off as a desolated nuclear power-plant. The only thing I actually liked in the settings were the living rooms in an abandoned apartment complex. That and the hallways actually looked like it hasn’t been lived in since the 80’s.
Another thing is that the star power is rather poorly used, and with that I mean is that Jean-Claude van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are barely in the movie. Jean-Claude has a couple of small scenes here and there but joins the action around 70 minutes into the movie. Before that he’s in therapy, getting abducted, “training” to be a soldier and hanging around in a laboratory. He doesn’t do anything interesting and acts as if he couldn’t care less about this whole film. Lundgren first comes on screen around 55 minutes into the movie and has max 15 minutes screen time. These two characters get an intense fight scene nevertheless but it was such an anticlimax to see two loved characters be so put to waste. I should’ve known something was up when the title credits said: Andrei Arlovski with Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude van Damme. This Andrei Arlovski plays a next generation UniSol which means he gets even less dialogue that Lundgren. Now this whole situation leads up to the fact that there’s no real protagonist nor an antagonist in the movie which brings me to my 3rd point of criticism.
The good side and bad side are easy recognizable: Government vs Rebels, but their representations are very weak. There’s no one we actually live with or care about, and there’s not a real definitive villain in the movie as well. There’s the rebel leader who shares his screen-time the first half of the film with the scientist working as a science-mercenary. These two quarrel alot and the docter actually seems to be having the most fun with the script and his role as he was somewhat of a pleasure to watch. There’s the NGU (Andrei Arlovski) who’s is just a practically mute killer without any charisma. Maybe he should have worn a Hockey Mask, it helps. And in the end there’s Dolph who gets to play with his character more than Andrei gets to do, but it’s too little too late. So there you have it, four bad guys, two of them a potential last man standing, but neither of them truly memorable.
On the other side we have a group of American Soldiers, a group of four UniSols, Captain Kevin Burke who goes in by himself in order to tray and get the hostages and Van Damme who reluctantly joins the action as he is the final option. When ever one group is defeated by the rebels the next one goes in until we’ve reached Van Damme, and while they try to develop his character they sadly fail. There’s not a real hero, nor anti-hero and that is not good.
And the hostages? They only get on scene with some dialogue. Other than that I know as much about them 5 minutes in the movie as I did when the end-credits rolled. I can’t even remember their names and only know that they’re the children of the President.
Universal Soldier Regeneration is not a complete failure. It starts off with a tense chase scene in which these children are kidnapped. Later on when Van Damme goes into a building we get a real long single take fighting scene in which he takes out several rebels. Very cool and shows us once more that he still has it in him even though he’s reaching 50. Despite being a cheap looking B-movie without real elaborate stunt-work the movie does keep your attention, even though it never sucks you in. Fight scenes with the three stars are nicely choreographed and their are some neat moves to be found. The way Van Damme disposes of his arch-nemesis is just plain cool and one of the most awesome scenes in the movie.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration delivers far from expected and has only a handful of the cool stuff. A shame because with a budget of 14 million they made a movie that look like as if had been made for 2 million. Maybe this will finally put the Universal Soldier franchise to rest and make way for the inevitable reboot somewhere in the future.