the much anticipated release of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3 is just around the corner, hitting and kicking the shelves February 2nd…
JCVD on set with Violetta Markovska 2009
The screener had been sitting around my apartment for about a month. I was excited that Dolph Lundgren was in it, but didn’t expect much. When I finally got around to putting it in it seemed like the wrong disc. The trailers were for classy foreign films, and the opening was a quiet scene in an art museum. But then ski masked commandos nab a young man and woman and take them on a kill crazy high speed chase through security, police, a road block and away in a helicopter.
On the surface you have your usual DTV qualities: masked gunmen from some vaguely defined radical faction, dreary European locations, car crashes, and no sign of the stars on the cover yet. But the weird thing is this is a — great — action sequence. Cameras attached to the cars, putting you right inside the mayhem, you feel like you’re getting knocked around and dragged away but (get this) you can tell exactly what’s going on. It’s fast, brutal and unfashionably comprehensible. It had my heart beating. You don’t expect that in the opening of a DTV action movie or, let’s be honest, any modern American action movie.
Unlike most DTV this gets straight to business. The fights are raw and brutal – people punched 8-10 times in the face, thrown through walls, covered in blood, expertly knifed or surgically machine gunned. Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski is a legitimately scary Terminator, the fights are perfectly staged and the movie cuts effectively between the breathing and grunting of the fights in quiet Chernobyl and the panicked war room where the military brass shout at each other while watching everything go to hell through the POV of the UniSol eyepieces.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is still Luc Devereaux. Van Damme is in “I actually get to act in this one” mode, a quiet, sad performance more like UNTIL DEATH and JCVD than UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, more quick and brutally effective than we’ve seen him in a while. Dolph looks like – and basically is – Frankenstein’s monster. I won’t give away his interaction with Van Damme, but what he says to him is haunting, somehow almost poetic. In a UNIVERSAL SOLDIER movie.
Part of the genius of the movie is that it doesn’t try to humanize them more as it goes along. It doesn’t try to explain their history or even mention which war it was they fought in. All that matters is that they’re leftover weapons, unable to be useful in peace time. In fact, the human villains who instigate this conflict die early, and their demands are already met. But the Universal Soldiers continue the war. They don’t know how to shut off. They’re like perpetual war in human shape.
The characters are just right – they’re not real developed, but they don’t have to be. They’re mostly people of action, not words. They’re pieces in a game moved around just right for you to worry about what happens to them. For example there’s a great scene where a badass special ops type guy (another MMA fighter, Mike Pyle) is sent in to do recon but accidentally engages The Pitbull. By this point it’s been established that this guy is merely super at being a soldier, not a super soldier. We have seen the work of both him and his opponent, and it’s clear to everyone what must go down. This guy will die, but first he’ll put up way more of a fight than any other regular non zombie soldier would put up. He’s not supernatural, he’s just highly trained, but you can’t turn him off either.
The look, feel and whole mentality of this one are completely different from any of the previous five UNIVERSAL SOLDIER pictures. To me it seems more influenced by ALIEN, THE TERMINATOR and CHILDREN OF MEN than its own series. The story is perfectly streamlined, just setting the characters in motion and crashing them into each other, the type of elegant simplicity so many of these convoluted DTVs need as a role model in their lives. The tone is deadly serious, quiet, tense. The score is a nice John Carpenter/Brad Fiedel type keyboard droner. The sound design is really good too, lots of weird buzzes and distorted voices over radios creating atmosphere.
What I’m telling you is that this is a real fucking good movie, made with care and skill. I can’t believe how much I liked it. It joins UNDISPUTED II as the rare DTV sequel better than its theatrical originator. It’s also probly the first ever part 5 that’s better than its part 1. Unless you count porn. This is that you-would-think-mythical-but-it-turns-out-it’s-a-real-thing movie I’ve been naively waiting for all these years watching crappy DTV sequels. Sure, it’s unlikely that somebody would pour everything they got into something like a UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequel. They probly wouldn’t do that. But they could. And for once, they did!
“UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3: REGENERATION” 2009 directed by John Hyams