Just the basic story: Scott Adkins awakes in hospital after he dreams about JCVD and some guys in black uniforms kill his wife and daughter. He is then approached by some sort of government agent and starts to search for the killer of his family but it is more difficult than it seems.
To be completely honest: I don’t think I got the story completely. It includes clones, implanted memories and some twists you wouldn’t really expect from a movie like this. This isn’t really like the first Universal Soldier (funny), this is actually pretty grim and dry and compared to “Regeneration” it has a way more complex story and clear lead actor this time: Scott Adkins. The first scene is actually a first-person one take, like in an ego shooter. It’s a gimmick and I’m not really a fan of this, but it isn’t bad at all. It’s also raw and brutal as Scott gets beat up by a crowbar and then his wife is killed by a head shot with lots of blood splattering around (The death of his daughter isn’t shown). The “Eastern block industrial” feeling is gone, this is rural America – and it’s for the better. Of course there aren’t any big sets like in The Expendables. This time there’s also nudity. A brothel for the Universal Soldiers (where Andrei Arlovski is wrecking some havoc) and a strip club. All this is told with various “experimental” techniques. Strange sounds, flashbacks in which, for example, his daughter appears or his mirror image turns into Van Damme and so on. It’s a little bit TOO ambitious for a movie like this. It wants to be deep, David Lynch-like, and, while I appreciate the intention of going away from the simple story of Regeneration the “arthouse approach” doesn’t really fit. Scott Adkins also simply isn’t a good actor to pull that off. And he still lacks the presence of the old action heroes.
Well, yes, the actors. They are horrible. With the exception of Van Damme whose performance as the leader of the rogue Universal Soldier is pretty good and is mysterious presence is definitely something. Dolph finally channels the Andrew Scott from the first movie again, at least, a little bit, and he actually has the only funny line in the movie – “That’s the spirit, soldier”. What he says when he gets a machete into his arm. You could pretty much picture that in the first movie. Yes, in the movie is serious. No funny one-liners. The only funny thing are the splatter scenes. The movie has lots of it. Adkins loses his fingers, Arlovski half of his foot. Lots of head shots, even an old grandmother gets one, the brothel whores are mercilessly slaughtered.
And now to the good things. I mean the really good things. The action scenes. While, I admit it, the first part of the movie is a little bit slow and tries to tell the story as mysterious as possible, it is from time to time pushed by some little action scenes. These are really well-shot, without fast cuts, quite the opposite, slow-mo is used. For what they are (small scale scenes in a movie with a low budget) they are really top-notch. They don’t have large set pieces but that is compensates by the violence. Then there is a car chase which is the only action scene that I found a little bit average. It’s really nothing special, the one in Regeneration was much better. But of course, the whole scene leads right into a nice battle between Adkins and Arlovski where the beat each other with baseball bats, dumbbells and whatever.
Still, all this doesn’t make up for the lengths in the beginning. To be honest, if the movie would have went on like that I would have been a little bit disappointed. But then it comes. The showdown is better than anything seen in THE EXPENDABLES I or II and whatever. Really. I cannot think of many action movies that have such an awesome final act where everything just gets bigger and bigger and culminates into two “boss battles”. The whole things begins with a minute-long one take where Adkins wrecks havoc and kills UniSols left and there without the movie having a cut.
After the disappointing “Dragon Eyes” John Hyams redeems himself and showed that the great action from Regeneration wasn’t just a lucky punch. He can also write, although perhaps next time he should get some help. I hope that in the near future he can at least rise enough to take charge of a movie with Jason Statham and his typical production values.
I’ve decided to give this movie a 8/10 because of the great climax.