After a decade-long hiatus since the abysmal "The Return", this third outing in the "Universal Soldier" cult franchise sees original stars Van Damme and Lundgren, returning to arguably their most memorable roles. Joining them are fighters Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski and Mike Pyle.
Now obviously the "Universal Soldier" series inevitably became dead as soon as "The Return" was released. That film was so cheesy it was unbearably bad, and it put Van Damme's career straight to the direct-to- video business (at least until "JCVD" two years ago). So should you have hopes for this movie? It was released in the United States of America, direct-to-video. That's a sign for a bad movie, no? But I live in Malaysia, and this movie (renamed "Universal Soldier: A New Beginning") was released theatrically here, giving me the chance to see one of the action heroes I grew up with, on the big screen. This is my first JCVD movie in the cinema, so I walked in expecting a cheese-fest.
Did I really just see that movie? Was that really "Universal Soldier 3"? The film blew me and my expectations away. I mean, sure it's not gonna win any Oscars, but still, hot damn! The action is lean, mean and balls- to-the-wall brutal, prompting some faint-hearted people to look away at many points. The fight scenes were VERY well handled with actors doing 90% of their own fights/stunts. The mood of the film is very dark, brooding and moody (a complete 180 departure from the previous two); the same can be said of its John Carpenter-esquire electronic music score, which is PERFECT throughout the movie. From the moment the movie starts, the action never lets up until the very end.
The story is brief: The Russian Prime Minister's children get kidnapped by terrorists looking to extradite prisoners in exchange, to make things serious they plan to detonate a nuclear plant in Chernobyl. Their ace up their sleeve? an NGU (Next-Generation Unisol). The allies forcibly bring Luc Devereaux back into action to help thwart this threat when all hope is seemingly lost. (It helps to understand that this movie ignores all other Universal Soldier sequels, it directly follows the first one.)
Simple, no? Just like any B-movie would. But nowadays there are D-movies starring Steven Seagal, but this is a definite B-movie. Short, straight to the point, and extremely entertaining from start to finish. THIS is how you make action movies.
Van Damme looks old. And he's moody. And doesn't say a lot. The same can be said for Lundgren. However both of them improved A LOT in their acting range, which is above-average. However, Van Damme appears nearly halfway through the movie and Lundgren's overall appearance is no less than 20 minutes. But when both of them are on screen they dominate it. Before smashing through it, of course. The main villain, the NGU played by The Pitbull, is a lumbering tank on autopilot, not unlike The Terminator. That's a good thing. Pyle plays an American soldier who secretly goes to complete the rescue mission while Van Damme, Lundgren and Arlovski are punching about. He's perhaps the most likable character in the movie.
What I like about this film is its meat-and-bones approach. The actors don't say much, the story is simplistic, but the action is fast and comes at you like a speeding bullet. The main actors don't appear much, because it focuses more on the story and the action. This is good, it shows that you don't really need stars in EVERY action scene. This isn't action in the vein of Jerry Bruckheimer or Die Hard where the characters kill people with glorious music in the background and comic relief. You will find no music and no comic relief throughout the film (although there is a funny scene near the end of the movie). The used of CGI is absent in this movie (thank God for that refreshing trait). There is little shaky-cam in the movie, allowing you to see the mano-e-mano action in all its glory. All the stunts you see in the movie are REAL with a capital R. And who do we have to thank for this? Director John Hyams. He knows what he wants and boy does he delivers. His direction is taut, solid and focused throughout. And the way he directs a low-budget B-movie, imagine if he gets a bigger-budgeted project. His father is Peter Hyams, who worked with Van Damme on "Timecop" and "Sudden Death". Dad Peter works as cinematographer for this one, and he captures the bleakness of the film beautifully. It's much better than that "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt".
In short, I'm really surprised at how well-directed the film is, and I'm also surprised that I ended up really liking the movie. It's sad for it not to be released theatrically in the U.S., because it deserves that. JCVD and Lundgren still got it, but I'll be keeping an eye out for John Hyams. He looks like a very promising director.
Entertainment value: 10/10