Directed by: John Hyams
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Andrei "The Pitbull" Orlovsky, and Dolph Lundgren
When a terrorist group takes over part of Chernobyl and threatens radioactive death if their demands are not met (and they kidnapped the son and daughter of a prominent politician to boot), Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) is called back into active duty. Now in a kind of rehab/therapy where he's learning to live again, he must retrain for combat. He faces his toughest challenge yet, as the terrorists used stolen technology to create the ultimate emotionless, unstoppable killing machine, dubbed "The Freak" by U.S. forces (Orlovsky). But they also open Pandora's box and resurrect Deveraux's old nemesis Andrew Scott (Dolph). Deveraux has his work cut out for him this time around...
It's actually pretty shocking how good Universal Soldier: Regeneration truly is. It doesn't even really HAVE to be this good. Far from your average "dumb" action movie, this seems to be a rejection of that notion, striking an excellent, precise balance between melancholy intelligence and frighteningly brutal violence.
Regeneration appears to be a reaction to The Return. Almost as if the filmmakers were embarrassed by the badness and silliness of that unfortunate outing, the swung the pendulum back the other direction (almost too much), creating a dark, adult, nihilistically violent creation, but it's not without some emotion and humanity as well. Just a great job done all around.
Everything from the production values, to the acting, to the action, and everything else in between is light years beyond The Return, making it truly a travesty that that turkey was released theatrically in the U.S., while this wasn't. Regeneration is well-shot and well-directed by John Hyams, son of director Peter. Hyams treats the material seriously and with respect, and everything that happens plotwise makes perfect sense. It's all idea-based (even retaining the best ideas from the first Universal Soldier film), not throwaway action. In the hands of another director, this could have been half-heartedly slagged off as "just another Universal Soldier movie". But the fact that Hyams does not do that, or even come close, is totally refreshing and comes as a great relief for true action fans.
Hyams hits all the right notes - from utilizing the bleak Bulgarian locations to their fullest potential, to bringing the Universal Soldier franchise into the present day. Using the Navy Seal-like soldiers strongly reminiscent of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the uncompromising nature of war, as a background to amplify the audience's fears about our own mortality. After all, even our best soldiers are no match for their SuperSoldiers. We'll definitely be watching to see what Hyams does in the future, as he seems to have a strong grasp of how to do muscular action.
Undoubtedly, many consumers probably thought that this IS just another Universal Soldier installment - it's almost a shame that this movie doesn't have another title. Having been burned on The Return, consumers might not know what they're truly getting here - something much, much different and worthwhile.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty