One of Roland Emmerich’s (2012) only action films, Universal Soldier (an action/sci-fi movie about two soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam, but get brought back to life, along with several other deceased soldiers, as part of a government funded program) touched down back in 1992, and has since gained a huge cult following, and spawned two direct-to-video sequels, and later two official sequels, the latter of which, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, has just been released on DVD (having only received a theatrical release in the Middle East, and Southeast Asia), and reunites the original stars; Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren; in a much anticipated rematch.
The new battle begins after a group of militant terrorists kidnap the son and daughter of the Russian Prime Minister, and demand that over 200 of their comrades be released from custody in exchange for the pair’s lives. In addition, they also demand freedom for their people, and threaten to detonate the disused Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (which they are using as a base, and will apparently blow 100X worse than either of the bombs that were dropped on Japan in WWII) if their demands are not met.
This would all be fairly standard far for a Navy Seals unit (or similar SAS style crack team), if the terrorists hadn’t hired a doctor who formerly worked on the Universal Soldier project and his, now perfected, super-soldier (played by UFC star Andrei ‘The Pitbull’ Arlovski); who can easily dispatch entire squads of highly trained standard men, due to his emotionless reasoning, immense speed and strength, and his ability to ignore pain.
And it is because of the discovery of the super-soldier that former Universal Soldier Luc (Van Damme) is taken from rehabilitation in Switzerland, and once again trained to fight, and ordered to diffuse the situation by himself; a problem hindered by not only the dozens of armed terrorists, perfected next-generation super-soldier, or his rehabilitated state (which will turn him into an uncontrollable loose cannon after being retrained and unleashed in such a short amount of time), but also by the fact that the renegade doctor has reanimated an upgraded version of Andrew Scott (Lundgren), Luc’s mentally unstable former nemesis.
And so the stage is set, and in fact it’s not a terrible idea for an action flick (even though the plot is wafer thin), but what fails this incarnation of the Universal Soldier is a total lack of emotion, or feeling, surrounding any of the characters; the first movie was a hit not only because of its terrific action scenes, but because of the humanity shown by Luc, and the idea that the soul cannot be taken from these soldiers entirely; an idea that has been clearly, and wholly, missed this time around, and ensures that no single viewer will care about any character in the entire film (even viewers who have seen and loved the original).
But it’s not just the human aspect that’s been lost, as the tense and brutal action from the original is also strangely absent; replaced by scenes of predictably flat and droll engagements that fail to capture any sense of dread or instil any feeling of amazement; the action in Regeneration is so dull and clearly low budget that there is almost no point to it, as rather than achieving the stunned “wow” it aims for, it leaves you wondering “was that it?” The problems of the action scenes are also exaggerated by poor direction on the part of John Hyams (son of Timecop’s director Peter Hyams), and a terrible score that sounds so plain, cheap, and nasty that it actually distracts attention away from the action at the few parts where it could have been worth watching.
But it’d be foolish to assume that anyone would watch this film for any reason other than to see the rematch between Van Damme’s Luc, and Dolph Lundgren’s Andrew Scott; and though the pair might not be quite at their peak any more, and look somewhat haggard, it’s clear when watching that they can both still fight, although their battle (which is far less amazing than the epic it was promised to be) is far too short (only lasting one short scene), contains some needlessly sped up shots, and devolves into a mere five minute long pushing contest (however the eventual death of one of the pair is a highlight of the film).
In short Universal Soldier: Regeneration is what everyone assumed it would be (a low budget attempt to cash in on a classic), but worse; the action is not only un-engaging, but utterly boring, the plot is almost non-existent and extremely difficult to care about, the music and direction are both awful, and if it wasn’t for the inclusion of action legends, and original stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, no-one would have even bothered to give this film a first look. The whole film is extremely tedious, and its hour and a half runtime seems to take forever; the rematch is handled very badly, and any fan of the original Universal Soldier would be better off passing this over, and revisiting the classic.
As far as the picture quality goes, average at best would be a fair summary of Regeneration’s video; the depth and level of detail are far from stunning (even ignoring Blu-rays and comparing only to standard DVD’s), and although the fleshtones and colours are well presented with decent contrast, the shadow detail is extremely poor (and, due to the film’s dark nature, could have benefitted from being higher), there are several artifacts and image problems, and the film never stops looking like a terribly low-budget, foreign, B-movie, action flick.
It’s reminiscent of the main movie in that the picture looks very cheap and, while it has its redeeming features (and won’t bother anyone who watches cheap continental action films), it cannot escape from its problems, or hope to compete with other, more adequate, releases.
Likewise the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix given to Regeneration is little more than average, as it doesn’t make nearly enough of the surround channels, has fairly unimpressive directionality and pans, and features some unsuitably limp and weak feeling bass. Dialogue however is well levelled and represented faithfully, never being drowned out by action or ambient noises (of which there is a clear lack for the majority of the film), and the film’s score, as bad as it may be, is also well represented.
All in all it is an average mix that reproduces what sounds it has fairly adequately for the most part, but lacks any hint of flair, and never once immerses the viewer in the experience.
The DVD is also fairly lacking in the special features department; coming bundled with a standard trailer, as well as an audio commentary with director John Hyams and Dolph Lundgren (a commentary that is upped in quality for attaching Lundgren to record, but remains fairly standard and uninteresting throughout), and a short Making Of featurette that contains little aside from the standard behind the scenes fare. It’s a short collection that contains passable inclusions, and fares better than just including a basic trailer, but easily skippable, and likely to be passed over by most of the people that view the film.
The Bottom Line:
Expectations should never have been too high for Universal Soldier: Regeneration (otherwise known as Universal Soldier 5, 2, or 3, depending on how you view the series), but unfortunately this low budget action rehash fails to live up to the glorious heights of its original roots; not only in terms of receiving a picture and audio transfer, and bonus features, that just about scrape into average territory;, but by forgetting to include any of the elements that made the first film such a hit.
It was interesting to see Dolph and Jean-Claude back in action together after all this time, but their potential was clearly squandered here; neither one of them received enough screen time (Dolph’s character barely even makes an appearance), and their rematch was reduced to a disappointing pushing contest that was nowhere near as tense or engaging as the originals farm fight.
The plot was simplistic and un-thought-through (Van Damme was supposed to be uncontrollable by the end, but had none of the uncontrollable psychotic rage seen in movies like Blade, and actually looked like a stern look and finger point would have made him wince), the action was boring, the direction and musical score were terrible, and the entire film was basically a failure, awarded with an average disc, and only made passable thanks to the inclusion of Van Damme and Lundgren.
If you’re thinking of buying the film, or even watching it, don’t. For modern action films starring Van Damme or Ludgren, watch Second in Command, or wait for The Expendables, or better yet just buy the original Universal Soldier, and at least that way you’ll see an action film worth watching, and find out just what a wasted opportunity this latest movie really was.