Sony // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 8th, 2010
Reanimated. Rearmed. The ultimate rematch.
An outdated action franchise that peaked with its first film in the early '90s. Two stars on the north side of middle-aged. A couple of MMA fighters in supporting roles. Surely, a recipe for an excruciating viewing experience.
So, so wrong.
A splinter group of Eastern European terrorists captures Chernobyl and threatens to blow up the reactor and unleash a killer cloud of atomic gas over Russia unless their demands are met. Worse, they've gotten heir hands on the newest brand of Universal Soldier, a fearsome, invulnerable brute known only as the NGU (Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski).
Desperate to defuse the bombs before the 72-hour deadline expires, a combination of American and Russian military cobble together an infiltration squad and add some first-generation Unisols to the mix. But when it's clear the NGU is just too much of a bastard, they throw the Hail Mary and prep antique Unisol Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD) for battle. Little does anyone know, there's a surprise waiting: a vicious clone of Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren, Direct Contact), and he's got a grudge.
I am simply stunned at the awesomeness of this movie. Had you told me 2010 would kick off with one of the highest-quality action movies I'd seen in a long time, and that movie would be another entry in the Universal Soldier series -- a franchise renowned for its garbage sequels -- and this particular sequel would be even better than the original, I would have demanded you leave the room and never return.
Believe it kids, Regeneration is legit, taking a goofy, roid-raging, sci-fi actioner from the days of yore and miraculously reinventing it into something respectable. Strike that. This is more than respectable; this Universal Soldier is an atmospheric, hard-R fight-fest, smartly scripted, well-acted, expertly choreographed, and relentlessly bad-ass.
Again, not joking. Director John Hyams makes exactly the right choice with the intellectual property. Instead of trying to replicate the big budget bombast of the original or the unholy awfulness of the follow-ups, he crafts a drastically different look and feel. Regeneration is dark, gritty, realistic (as realistic as any movie about dead soldiers come back to life can be), hugely violent, largely humorless...and it's the better for it.
Gone is the flash and slickness, replaced by a gun-metal color scheme and close-ups of stab wounds. The story is simple -- your standard-issue save the hostages and stop the bombs before they blow up the world -- but works perfectly for the real mayhem Hyams and his fearless band of Bulgarian stuntmen have in store: lots of bad guys to wipe out, lots of old rundown buildings to demolish, and lots and lots of brutal hand-to-hand combat sequences.
No doubt working off a fraction of the original's budget, the guys behind the action of Regeneration need to be rewarded with some kind of plaque. The stuff they stage works extraordinarily well on a variety of levels. You get a big kidnapping/chase/shoot-out in the beginning, a full-scale siege, a stealth incursion, an epic single-shot one-man assault, an even more epic building-destroying bout between Van Damme and Lundgren, and a series of punishing encounters with Arlovski.
Speaking of whom, this guy is a real find. He's huge, imposing, and physically dominates every scene he's in. And since the guy is a professional fighter by trade, he knows how to handle himself in combat. The biggest surprise is Van Damme who looks all of his 49 years, but still has some impressive skills. The last 20 minutes of Regeneration is straight action, and Van Damme is involved in most of it. Lundgren doesn't appear to have lost much of a step either.
Sony's Blu-ray does this great flick justice, outfitting it with a sharp 2.35:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer; strong in its detail and resolution, despite the conscious drabness of the color scheme. Even better is the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track; an aggressive, enveloping mix that kicks in with a bodacious aural attack for the end glory.
Only two extras, but they're good: an engaging commentary track with Lundgren and Hyams, and an 18-minute making-of documentary (in HD).
Forget everything you know about Universal Soldier and track this down. Regeneration rules.
You're discharged again, Sarge. Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD Verdict Interview with Dolph Lundgren