After the official synopsis and trailers were released for Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, it didn't look very promising. There have already been multiple sequels and this series has never been deemed to be great. However, this feature takes a completely different approach than its predecessors did. Writers John Hyams and Doug Magnuson have given this film a much darker tone that proves to be what was needed. This flick isn't for everyone, but those looking for something dark, brutal, and entertaining will like this, while those who are squeamish or have sensitivity to flashing strobe lights might want to pass on this one.
John (Scott Adkins) awakens from a coma to discover that his wife and daughter were murdered during a horrifying home invasion. In absolute disbelief, John plans to kill the man responsible, Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). However, Deveraux is involved with an army of genetically enhanced warriors, making John's journey difficult. As John continues to search for Deveraux, he discovers there's a lot more going on than what meets the eye, as he begins to question everything he believed to be true.
During the first few minutes of the picture, we witness the terrifying home invasion that starts it all. We don't only see this home invasion from John's perspective, but experience it. The brutal acts committed by the intruders are expected, but the lack of any hesitation is what makes them so menacing. After John wakes up in the hospital, the film takes its time to allow us to become more familiar with the main character. It doesn't take very long for him to get a phone call, which leads him to the dead body of somebody he used to know. This is the turning point where his life continues to change right before his eyes. From here on out, viewers begin to get more answers about Luc Deveraux, but the story gets sillier as it continues. The writers had a need to take the time to explain too much and doesn't allow its viewers to figure it out on their own. This moment in the film just might be what splits audiences, but those who understand what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish will still have a good time with it.
This screenplay is experimenting with a lot of new stylistic choices that the franchise has not previously explored. However, it comes across as being uneven and messy. While it tries to be aggressive and horrifying in some scenes, the story will return to a revenge story that feels far too safe, as it tries too hard to make us sympathize with John. We want him to succeed on his mission, but the film doesn't make this character very emotionally appealing to us. Once we reach the final act, audiences are treated to an explosively entertaining killing spree of these super soldiers. It could have easily become repetitive chao, but it keeps your attention with its continuous brutality. As soon as the final fighting sequence comes to a close, there's a pathetic attempt to finish the story. B-movie fans may appreciate it, but this is a a completely unsatisfying ending. As the credits started to roll, I wish I walked out a few minutes earlier. I would have been perfectly content with it closing with the final showdown instead of trying to further explain the story. A lot more could have been done with the story to bring this series to life, but at least this is a step in the right direction.
Action fanatics will recognize and appreciate the cast. Scott Adkins has been properly cast as John. He looks the part and has experience working on well-known genre flicks, such as The Bourne Ultimatum and The Expendables 2. Every fan of the genre will be glad to know that Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Luc Deveraux. He's a great villain who poses an actual threat to our protagonist and makes us feel that he's genuinely struggling and in danger. Dolph Lundgren is a well-known action star who makes an appearance as Andrew Scott. These are performances you would expect from this type of movie, but all of the actors deliver what is suitable for the feature's tone.
When the film opens with the home invasion, viewers witness the events through the point-of-view of John. This filming style is utilized well and manages to be very effective in this point in the feature. There are multiple scenes that are quite disorienting, which require me to warn those who are sensitive to flashing strobe lights to be aware. The story quickly becomes a string that holds the action scenes together. This is an incredibly violent movie that isn't afraid to shed blood. These fight scenes are more than hand-to-hand combat. There are machetes, axes, and other weapons involved that quickly increase the body count. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning has its memorable sequences that take place in settings such as a motel room and a sporting goods store. The environment is utilized each time, which makes it even more exciting. The stunt work and the camera shots are fantastic through all of the chaos. The battle scenes are shot from a distance with longer takes that allow audiences to see every punch, kick, and swing.
For a franchise that isn't known to offer good movies, this new motion picture is a big step in the right direction. Writers John Hyam and Doug Magnuson deliver a darker and more aggressive tone, but it still experiments with a lot of different elements, and not all of them work. They're attempting to find a way to open this franchise to appeal to a larger target audience. It stays true to the B-movie roots that will have fans of the action genre entertained from start to finish. It's disappointing each time there's a transition between the fights and the plot, as the story of John's revenge and his past feel far too safe. If you're searching for a well-made action adventure, keep looking. However, it's fight sequences are excellent and entirely satisfying. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is problematic, but it's worth seeing in the comfort of your own home with a group of friends.