I have a confession to make – I have never seen a Universal Soldier film, not in its entirety anyway, nor even the original way back in 1992 when it starred Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as these programmed super soldiers who are impervious to pain, and a small troupe can take out battalions of a conventional army. For those like me who are not well versed in the mythos, fret not as this film's subtitle – a new beginning – made it a point to do a quick recap of the secret super soldier programme to bring us all up to speed to where the film now takes place.
There were some in the audience who found it rather startling that the film opened in abrupt manner, chiefly because this is meant for the straight to video market overseas. So the distributor's logo doesn't kick in to pre-empt you that this is not a trailer, but the start of the film proper. And boy does it start with a bang, with an ambitious, noisy car chase cum massacre where a small group of freedom fighters kidnap the children of the Russian Prime Minister, and demands the release of their countrymen in lockup, in which failure meant the killing of the kidnapped children, plus the detonation of another reactor in Chernobyl where they are dug in, which has enough radioactive material to cause another fallout.
This of course mobilizes a NATO-Russian alliance of sorts to fight back with 2 mission objectives under 72 hours, with the only snag in the mission being the use of an NGU (Next Generation Uni-Sol) by the opposition, played to mean perfection by Andrei Arlovski as the ultimate killing machine who feels no pain and dishes out his fair share of punishment to maim and kill without remorse. The response of course is for the coalition to send in their own Uni-Sols, which are painfully outdated and obsolete when faced with the NGJ, so all hopes rest on one man, Jean Claude Van Damme, erm, his Luc Deveraux that is.
Director John Hyams keeps it tight and relevant here by creating a film that doesn't try too much fanciful stuff. It's good ol' military and B-action all the way, which at times resembled a violent video game especially in JCVD's first mission outing when unleashed into enemy territory, adopting a third person, behind the character view as he charges and cuts through enemy ranks. Then there's some nifty camera-work as well, the highlight being a continuous take where it's a Counter-strike game-type with JCVD going from primary rifle, to secondary firearm, to default knife, and the fists as he rips through scores of faceless soldiers. I thought that was one of the best action sequences in the film, since the much touted plummeting with Dolph Lundgren, who also returned for this film, was nothing not already seen before, save for the expectation of a rematch here.
For action junkies, there is a bit of a nostalgia in seeing how our old school action heroes still have it in them to carry a movie and give the new wannabes a run for their money. Visibly aged, this film follows the trend of late with our 80s action icons coming out and banding together for one last hurrah. While this may be for the video market in the US, it certainly didn't scrimp on its limited production values to turn in something professional looking, with some impressive gory action compensating for a standard, average plot with room to grow the franchise further. Now bring on The Expendables, and boy, will we action fans just rejoice with that reunion!