Universal Soldier: Regeneration-Hybridizing Van Damme and Modern Warfare
As a general rule, I will like any film that has the word “regeneration” as a subtitle. Be it a zombie movie, a political thriller, or, as is the case with Universal Soldier: Regeneration, an action film as heavily influenced by Modern Warfare 2 as it is by Eastern Europe paranoia, I’ll probably get my jollies. Add an over-the-hill Jean-Claude Van Damme and an over-the-hill-and-into-the-chasm Dolph Lundgren, revisiting an action “franchise” they roundhouse-kick started back in the early nineties, and the appeal only grows. Throw in a dash of some of the most visually-striking cinematography ever included in a straight-to-video action film, courtesy of the accomplished Peter Hyams, and superior fight choreography, and I’ll start exaggerating the movie’s importance to my friends.
Don’t get me wrong: Universal Soldier: Regeneration is not a good film, or, rather, Universal Soldier: Regeneration is not a good film for people who have cinematic “taste,” whatever that means. The movie is fueled by a nonsense narrative concerning terrorists who threaten to blow up the radioactive remnants of Chernobyl, spreading a cloud of toxic gas larger than any atomic blast through the heart of the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Van Damme, reprising his role as Luc Deveraux, sits in therapy in the snowy mountain peaks of god-knows-where, looking unhappy and beating the hell out of indigenous people when his hardwired Universal Soldier military training gets the better of him. Eventually, Deveraux is called in to take out the terrorists, or so I would assume – I’ve seen the film twice now and can’t for the life of me remember any of the finer plot points. I do know that Dolph Lundgren eventually shows up to kick ass on the side of the post-Soviet villians, and kill his creator in a scene that all-too-blatantly steals from Blade Runner. If you’re a fan of the original Universal Soldier film, you’ll probably be asking yourself if the narratives of the two films are actually connected. Is Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux the same character as the Luc Deveraux that appears in the 1992 film? Is Lundgren’s Andrew Scott still tormented by the traumatic memories of Vietnam that transformed him into a half-dead sadist? If so, why is no reference made to these characters’ antagonistic relationship in the earlier film? Who cares? Grab another beer and stop asking stupid questions.
Honestly, Regeneration works far better if you pay no attention to the narrative at all. Van Damme and Lundgren are dreadful when they aren’t fighting, the former still reeling from the acting lessons he took for JCVD, the latter so muscled that his mouth can barely move to form words. Fine. The only reason they exist in the film is to populate an intense scene of fisticuffs that abruptly ends the movie with recognizable faces, a scene as expertly shot and choreographed as anything else on display. Stunning images of abandoned power plants and incredibly hyperkinetic militarist action scenes that aspire to Modern Warfare’s brand of intensity compensate for Regeneration’s lagging story. Lone soldiers, decked out in blue-and-white camouflage, are photographed from an over-the-shoulder perspective, and when villains pop out from behind pillars or the gutted carcasses of engine turbines, meeting a face-full of gunfire, you’ll wonder why you don’t have an Xbox controller in your hands. Rent Regeneration so as to be astounded by both the intensity of the videogame-inspired action sequences and the high definition capabilities of your Blu Ray player. And if you have a soft spot in your personal cinema canon for beefcake action movies that went out of style as Clinton came into office, you’ll probably feel at least slightly regenerated.