2012, like many years over the past decade-plus, has been home to a cavalcade of franchise-based and franchise-backed feature films. From the final entrant into Chris Nolan’s Bat-trilogy The Dark Knight Rises to Marvel’s blockbusting team-up game changer The Avengers, we’ve seen new films in the Bourne franchise, the historic James Bond series and even yet another dreadful entry into the gradually less engaging Madagascar animated series. However, there is one franchise that is in need of one hell of a revival. And thankfully, that shock to the system may have finally come.
The final weekend of November sees the release of the fourth feature film in the Universal Soldier series, and entitled Day Of Reckoning, the film may very well the best in the franchise.
Back are Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux and Dolph Lundgren’s Andrew Scott, but these men aren’t the killers we follow. We first meet John (Scott Adkins), as he is attempting to help his daughter go to sleep one evening. Fearing there are monsters in the house, John attempts to ease her spirits by going through he and his family’s home, only to find his home broken into, his daughter and wife captured, and subsequently his family taken from him in an act of violence. The man behind the murder, Luc Deveraux, becomes the focus of John’s hunt for revenge, and what follows is a thrilling, yet shockingly meditative, revenge thriller that is as fantastic an action film as we’ve seen in years.
Directed by John Hyams, the film is as strong a bit of cinematic experimentation. Embedding within it a sense of brood that would have director Nicolas Winding Refn give a standing ovation, the film is a body blow to the senses. Grimy and gritty enough to where you can taste the dirt and smell the perspiration, the photography from cinematographer Yaron Levy adds such a distinct and visceral sense of realism to a picture that thrives on this truth. The fight choreography is fantastic, with each punch, kick, gunshot and stab getting with it this sense of realism that truly isn’t found in today’s shaky-cam world. You see each blow, with enough room to take in exactly what is truly happening on screen, and in that you are able to be thrust into this world head first.
Performance wise, the film is fine. Adkins is the right about of physical brute and stone faced assassin that this role needs, and gives the film a certain pathos that most action films don’t have. He isn’t asked to do much acting wise, but his fight sequences are thrilling and you feel the drive behind his actions right in your gut. Lundgren is fine as well, but the real star here is Van Damme. He isn’t in the film much, but his performance is truly haunting, and the way in which he is used by Hyams is absolutely breathtaking. Toss in Andrei Arlovsky as another of the film’s bad guys, and you have a shockingly effective action film that may not be an actor’s showcase, but is a brilliantly crafted existential action picture without a real rival this year.
Overall, while Day Of Reckoning doesn’t entirely work as a bit of drama (the film’s emotional core feels manipulative and the revenge tale is quite ho-hum), as an action film, it may be 2012’s greatest achievement. A meditation on violence and the human relationship to it, Hyams’ film is a thrilling and pitch black action film that has as much to say intellectually as it has punches to throw. A return to form for a franchise that should have petered out years ago, the beautifully crafted fourth film in this now once again vital franchise has all the makings of a straight to video sequel that becomes a cliché-ridden but absolutely breathtaking action film with both the brains and the brawn to become one of 2012’s greatest surprises.