Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins
Directed by John Hyams
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival is definitely known for the weird and scary movies that their lineup is often full of, but let’s not forget that they are not strangers to playing hard hitting action movies. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning looked to be the most action-packed movie of the lineup, but it also sounded like direct to DVD release with little appeal for the film festival crowd. What gives guys, why did you choose this movie to fill one of your 20 feature film slots? After walking out of Universal Soldier the answer was clear: this was one of the weirdest and most atonal movies of the entire festival, and in a good way – a very good way.
Viewers don’t need to be particularly well-versed with the Universal Soldier franchise in order to enjoy Day of Reckoning. Simply an understanding that universal soldiers are men who have been engineered to deal out and absorb inhuman amounts of combat damage should be plenty of background information for this installment. Day of Reckoning sees John (Adkins) lose his family after a very disturbing home invasion sequence. Left for dead, John miraculously wakes up in a hospital and slowly begins to regain his cognitive functioning, mobility, and strength. It’s essential that he gets healthy in a hurry as he has one thing on his mind – revenge. Despite some hazy memories, one of them is very clear: the face of the man who killed his family, Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). The rest of the movie follows John as he tries to exact his bloody revenge on anyone who tries to get in his way.
The initial marketing (trailer) for Day of Reckoning did not do the movie justice. The initial trailer made the movie look very entertaining as it was jam-packed full of action, but it also looked to be a little empty in terms of storytelling. However, this is not even close to the the truth. While Day of Reckoning may not have the strongest story, it is a wonderfully intriguing experiment in the absence of exposition, but not in a negligent way. The director, Hyams, dares us to experience life as John (Adkins) does waking up from his coma. We are told next to nothing, except for some pedantic explanations at the end of the film, instead we are John’s companions as he enters the waking nightmare that is his new life. This leads to a stifling atmosphere of confusion, mystery and fear, but oddly enough the movie is never frustrating. Instead it almost feels like our duty to accompany John on his seemingly suicidal quest for revenge – and man is it ever bloody.
Aside from the unique overall feel to Day of Reckoning the biggest highlights are the action and the violence. The fight choreography is absolutely magnificent and if two particular scenes, one in a sporting goods store and the other in a set of tunnels, doesn’t leave you breathless then I’m afraid nothing will. The violence is also so incredibly unforgiving and brutal that the only movie of recent memory that comes even close to matching it is The Raid. Finally, while Van Damme and Lundgren have limited screen time, Adkins does a good job of carrying the movie. While he didn’t do all of his own stunts, he was certainly heavily involved in the action sequences and performed like a pro. It was shocking to hear that he filmed the entire movie with a torn ACL in his leg, an injury that will make sport fans cringe.
Shocking, brutal, and a mind altering drug of it’s own, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning may have been my biggest surprise at Toronto After Dark. A first rate action movie with more to offer than pretty explosions and a hail of bullets.