Director: John Hyams
Cast: Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski,
Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Zahary Baharov, Mike
Pyle, Garry Cooper, Corey Johnson
RunTime: 1 hr 38 mins
Released By: GV & Scorpio East Pictures
Opening Day: 28 January 2010
With stolen top-secret technology, terrorists have created
a next-generation Universal Soldier - an elite fighter genetically
altered into a programmable killing machine. With this "UniSol"
(Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei "The Pit Bull"
Arlovski) leading the way, they seize the crippled Chernobyl
nuclear reactor, threatening to unleash a lethal radioactive
cloud. The only one who can stop them is Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude
Van Damme), a UniSol who's been decommissioned for years.
Reactivated and retrained, Deveraux must make a full-out assault
on the heavily armed fortress. But inside, he'll discover
not one but two of these virtually indestructible warriors.
Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), Deveraux's vicious UniSol enemy
from the original Universal Soldier, has been secretly reanimated
and upgraded. Now, these elite fighters are locked, loaded
and programmed to kill; and the fate of millions hinges on
this high-action showdown.
The ’80s and ‘90s saw a flurry of movies not unlike “Universal Soldier”- basically pure-bred action movies where the plot was simple and the action was anything but. That era was also the heyday of action stars the likes of Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Into this era emerged the original “Universal Soldier”, a glorified action extravaganza best enjoyed as an excuse to see Van Damme take on Lundgren mano-a-mano.
This “New Beginning” comes ten years after the last sequel (starring only Van Damme) in 1999 and like its predecessor, disregards the other two forgettable direct-to-video UniSol flicks that didn’t have Van Damme in the lead. But unlike the original and the sequel, Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux isn’t the focus of this latest instalment. Indeed, the new beginning really refers to the second-gen UniSol played by Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) star Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski.
Conceived as an even deadlier killing machine devoid of emotions or physical pain, this second-gen UniSol is the latest weapon of a group of Russian terrorists who seize control of the Chernobyl reactor to force the Russian President to release a group of political prisoners- whatever. Like the original “Universal Soldier”, the story is merely a device to resurrect Luc Devereaux and Lundgren’s Andrew Scott and let them go at each other once more.
Yes, the highlight of the movie is undeniably a 10-min extended fight sequence between Deveraux and Scott, with Van Damme showing he still has what it takes to deliver his signature high kicks. One must give credit to both Van Damme and Lundgren- they were 32 and 35 respectively when they first starred in the original, now they are 49 and 52. Nevertheless, though age has no doubt caught up with them, they give their all to make their reunion alone worth the price of admission.
Not that new entrant Andrei Arlovski doesn’t give his best- he does, and thanks to his background, his MMA-choreographed fight scenes have a certain ferocity and intensity about them. But Arlovski just doesn’t scream action-star like Van Damme does, so despite his best efforts, he fails to eclipse the latter’s return in this movie. In fact, while watching the brutal fight between Arvloski and the 20-years older Van Damme, you’d be marvelling instead at how Van Damme still has a lot of fight left inside him after all these years.
Director John Hyams (son of Hollywood director Peter Hyams, who directed Van Damme vehicles such as Sudden Death and Timecop) brings an economical feel to the preoceedings- he knows his audience is looking for a hardcore action film and so he rightly makes sure that the various punch-ups do not disappoint. In between, Hyams and first-time screenwriter Victor Ostrovsky (yes, he’s Russian) keeps the film lean, leaving out any unnecessary exposition for this slam-bang action flick.
It’s worthy to note that Singapore is one of the few territories in the world to receive a theatrical release of this movie (compared to going straight to video in the United States). But “Universal Soldier: A New Beginning” is easily one of the best films of late from Van Damme and is definitely deserving of a better treatment than what it is getting in other places. Had this been released a decade earlier, this would quite possibly have enjoyed the same kind of success the original did- as it is now, it’s still a lean, mean balls-out action movie that should find its rightful appreciative audience.
(This is one lean, mean followup to the original- with the reunion of Van Damme and Lundgren alone worth the price of admission)
Review by Gabriel Chong