Tuesday 31 July 2012
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION
(John Hyams, 2009) John Hyams can really shoot action. Universal Soldier: Regeneration is filled with scenes highlighting this talent, indeed it seems at times designed as a showcase for Hyams' ability to make a familiar fight scene a visceral, almost elegantly flowing sequence. As such, it's a superior example of the truest brand of modern B-movie, the direct to DVD (DTV) action flick. It stars two DTV giants in Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, reprising their parts from Roland Emmerich's more mainstream 1999 action sci-fi blockbuster. Van Damme is Luc Devereaux and Lundgren Andrew Scott, both reanimated, augmented and near-superhuman "Universal Soldiers" who are reactivated when an Eastern European terrorist group kidnap their Presidents children and threaten to blow up what remains of Chernobyl's old reactors. The terrorist group are in cahoots with Dr Colin (Kerry Shale) who has created a new, even more powerful brand of super-soldier embodied here by MMA fighter Andrei Arlovski as a brutal, relentless, Terminator-esque presence capable of ceaseless, spectacular violence. The story exists mainly to move these characters (and the American soldier played by another MMA fighter, Mike Pyle) into position for a series of one-on-one confrontations and face-offs, but it commendably does this with virtually no flab, few poorly-written dialogue scenes, and some terrific use of the amazing Bulgarian location (an enormous, unused iron factory, convincingly standing in for Chernobyl). It also makes good use of it's principle actors; Van Damme has always had a sad-eyed melancholy to his presence, and here he spends the first hour of the film in a fog of sorrowful confusion before busting out the ultra-violence in the last act. Lundgren, on the other hand, is a more intimidating, if mischievous presence, and his character here is given an eccentric twist in his brief appearance which suits the performer. What suits him (and Van Damme) more is action, and they share an extended fight scene like somethingfrom a Godzilla film, destroying rooms and walls as they go. Arlovski has even more action, and he is a convincingly destructive physical performer, all of his hammering blows and crunching smashes captured precisely by Hyams' camera. Hyams films much of the action - including a couple of the fight exchanges and a commando attack upon the terrorists - in long, sinuously mobile camera moves, but is not above a more fashionable adherence to rapidly-cut chaos. He retains the ability to keep his material coherent, however, a prized gift in an action director. His fight scenes are often a mix of impact cuts and mid-shot one-take captures, highlighting both the athleticism of his actors and his understanding of what works best in this sort of film. His understanding of space and movement, allied to the lovely timing of his editing - there are few jarring cuts in the whole film - is what makes these scenes feel so fluid and watchable. His father - solid, occasionally inspired genre craftsman Peter Hyams - acts as his cinematographer here, and the film has a consistent, defined aesthetic throughout which is rare in the DTV field. Hyams career is definitely worth watching - on the right script, with a bigger budget, he could potentially make a great action film.