Toronto After Dark Film Fest: Universal Solider 4

Director: John Hyams
Starring: Jean Claude van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and Scott Adkins

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is the fourth in the series and a complete left turn from what has been done before. Director and writer John Hyams has completely reinvented the series to the point where this film really has nothing to do with the films that came before. Not that anyone ever saw the first two sequels to the 1992 original film so maybe no one will really notice. This installment has the smallest budget of the four and you can tell. In fact it looks, in a bad way, as if it were done on an even smaller budget. Unlike production dollars fake blood flows freely as the violence in this film is extreme and this is what the film hangs its hat on.

Also this is in no way a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie: He is in the film for only a couple of minutes, and the same goes for Dolph Lundgren. It looks like the filmmakers had these two guys for a weekend so they needed another leading man.

Scott Adkins (he can also be seen right now in The Expendables 2) steps into that role. Adkins is one of the most exciting martial artists and action stars working right now but this is not the best introduction to his talents. I recommend you go check out Undisputed 2 and 3 which are two of the best action films made in past few years.

Plotwise it might be best not to get too deeply into it–the holes are big enough for Van Damme’s sizable ego to fit through–but I will do my best. John (Scott Adkins) is a family man whose young daughter wakes him one night with complaints of monsters. When he goes to check it out he is quickly assaulted by masked men who beat him and then drag his wife and child before his eyes and execute them. One of the men peels off his mask and is revealed to be the original Universal Soldier himself Luc Deveraux (Van Damme), SHOCK!

Of course, John comes out of a long coma and is hell bent on revenge, but his mind is scrambled and things aren’t always as they appear. He comes to learn that the life he remembers is not the full story or perhaps even real. Unravelling this mystery that is himself, reveals a convoluted story about Deveraux brainwashing people and forming an army of super soldiers for an end that is never clear. Also did John ever have a family? Is he actually human? Are their multiple versions of him? All of these questions and more are somewhat answered–or not, because, you know, why bother tying up all the loose ends in the film?

Let’s be honest: This is a film that’s all about the action and there are some unbelievable fight scenes, including a bat fight with both wooden and aluminum bats. The fights and action are super violent and extremely well orchestrated and filmed, the only part of the film that are. That wouldn’t be so horrible if this was a nonstop action adventure ride, but the action is widely spaced between trying to work through the nonsensical plot. This could have been a great way to breathe new life into the series and give rise to Scott Adkins who deserves to have a great career; however this film should and hopefully will kill the series and if there is any justice in Hollywood it will not be held against Adkins who really does do his best in the film.

Universal Solider 4 at Toronto After Dark 

Written by Jason Poynton

Jason works on his feet all day, so when he gets some downtime his greatest joy is to settle in at a movie theatre and see a couple movies back-to-back, or in the the case of film festival season race around the city and see four or five in a day. Of course after the movies it’s time to eat and drink and talk it out with some friends.

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