Universal Soldier: Regeneration is an action film that knows exactly what it is: an action film. It has a story, a military, minimalist one, that beckons the re-activation of soldiers that feel no pain, fear, are easily repairable, and that resolutely follow orders to the letter – the first generation Universal Soldiers (UniSols). The film’s tight plot leaves few margins for error while a larger one might have sprung holes a plenty if not for the watchful eye of screenwriter Victor Ostrovsky and editors’ Jason Gallagher and John Hyams.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration is not perfect but it gets the action right and right out of the gate. The first action sequence in the film is tense and far better than the viewer will expect. There is great stunt work in the Universal Soldier: Regeneration with numerous well-choreographed fight scenes, thanks to the presence of real-world professional fighters. No CGI opponents or insipid wirework are present in this film. Its back to basics, thank god.
Many of the character in Universal Soldier: Regeneration could have been handled as parodies but they were all played straight, no hackneyed comic relief like in the third Terminator film. The rebel leader, Commander Topoff (Zahari Baharov), is indignant, Dr. Colin (Kerry Shale) is arrogant and narcissistic, the Russian and American military leaders want to get the job done, the politicians look at the big picture outside the situation, and former Vietnam Marine Private Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a UniSol trying to regain his stripped humanity.
Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), a clone and former Marine Sergeant in Vietnam, has the best dialog in the film. Out of the three scenes he is involved in, two contain a cease-fire of action and its just Andrew speaking. The first time is an eerie and effective mimicking of his resurrector’s mental conditioning questions. The second is a herald of the pivotal scene in the first Universal Soldier film from 1992, that eventual lead to Luc and Andrew’s mutual introduction into Project Black Tower aka The Universal Soldier program.
Both of them can not remember their past lives clearly yet the inertia of the past hangs in the back of their consciences like a begging vapor. They both stand in their same positions from their pivotal scene in Universal Soldier (before the situation destabilized and they killed each other), don’t know or realize why and almost re-play those familiar parts in that drama again: “You can feel it. I know you can. It’s on the tip of my tongue.” Who would have thought a well-written and thought-out moment like this would show up? What follows it is what the viewer expects and unfortunately the scene ends rather anti-climatically.
Big surprise is what a presence Andrei Arlovski brings to the proceedings in Universal Soldier: Regeneration. He plays a surreptitiously obtained NGU, a Next Generation Universal Soldier, and is treated for all intents and purpose like a child or an obedient dog by Dr. Colin: “You were very good today.” The NGU rarely speaks, only answering questions but he carries a significant amount of the action payload in the film.
Two hiccups with the proceedings was the soldiers’ body armor. During many of the confrontations, the regular soldiers have no body armor on and get shot through the chest or back. This made no sense. How do soldiers in 2009 go into the field without full tact. armor on? Also, the UniSols armor is worthless. Why clad your invincible soldiers in body armor that can not even stop a knife from passing through it, let alone a bullet. Where is Batman’s Nomex Survival Suit for Advance Infantry when you need it? The second hiccup was when (spoiler ahead) the NGU gets stabbed through the throat with a steel rod and doesn’t die. How does he keep breathing with a destroyed air passageway? How does his brain get oxygen? Why isn’t his throat and mouth continuously churning out copious amounts of blood? These issues made parts of Universal Soldier: Regeneration completely illogical but since it is only an action movie (brain optional), they can be over looked. After all, the first Universal Soldier was no logic trap door by any means.
John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Regeneration is an example of a third film in a franchise that is not detrimentally to the series like Spiderman 3 was. Could Universal Soldier: Regeneration have been better, of course. Exposition on Luc’s part during the final meeting between he and Andrew would have been welcome but it was not needed (besides its explained to some extent why Luc speaks rarely when he is “turned back on”). Hearing, Andrew, once free from the Dr. Colin’s hold, expound on what “life” meant to him, a undead soldier and clone, would have very interesting to hear as well. At least the viewer knows the question is there in his mind though.