There is a crisis in this Eastern European nation that starts in an art gallery where the President's two teenage children have been attending, but suddenly their bodyguards are killed, and they are dragged from the building into a waiting car. The bullets fly as the vehicle takes off along the street, and the kidnappers seem almost superhuman in their determination, gunning down anyone who stands in their way and sending pursuing cars with security in them tumbling. Arriving at a waiting helicopter, the kids are spirited away, and the head terrorist makes his demands known: free political prisoners, or a huge bomb will set off a chain of nuclear explosions...
After Universal Soldier: The Return, nobody had enormous faith in the franchise which in 2009 had lain dormant for a decade, justifiably so for many who had caught that fairly embarrassing attempt to cash in on one of its stars' biggest hits. But by that year, their careers had changed, and in the major markets of North America and most of Europe their movies went straight to disc, with selected markets screening it in cinemas where the appetite for no nonsense action flicks was still able to sustain such distribution. Universal Soldier: Regeneration was offered that treatment, but among those fans who shelled out for it, it won a high degree of praise.
They really regarded it as one of the best of its type, and it certainly appeared to tap into a post-Millennium mood in a way that the blockbuster action movies were not quite grasping at that time. Directed by the son of Peter Hyams, who served as cinematographer rather than director, the world it depicted was a murky and dangerous one of international terrorism on one hand, shady authorities clamping down on the lawbreakers with dodgy dealings themselves on the other, and us caught in the middle. The premise, of a group of reanimated corpses of soldiers pressed into service as a new fighting force, was present and correct, as was the fear that they would be impossible to control, and now there were two rival projects manufacturing them for battle.
What of Luc Deveraux? Played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, he was a broken man from the last time we saw him, encouraging the star to do actual acting as he is coached to live life in normality by a scientist (Emily Joyce) even as we can tell he will never be able to fit into society as she hopes - the Frankenstein's Monster element was still contained in the plotting. Then again, there was another star in the original Universal Soldier, and he was the villain played by Dolph Lundgren, was he back too? In a far reduced capacity, yes, as it was plain to see that the production only had access to their leading men for a limited amount of time, therefore had to make the best of what they were offered and fill out the rest of the time with, well, less famous names, chief among them Andrei Arlovski, a professional fighter making the move to film.
If Regeneration was planned to have Arlovski take off as a next generation exponent of the lower budget end of the action scale, it's debatable how far it succeeded, as the likes of Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White remained more celebrated in that field. But as far as this went, as a self-contained plot many found themselves responding to a tone and physicality that was so grave and self-serious that there was barely a spot of humour in the whole thing, Lundgren's slightly eccentric presence aside. This somehow made the peril more pressing, as while we were never in any doubt that Van Damme was going to win the day after a fashion, that sober mood lent a grit and tension that the visuals, mostly of abandoned factories and grimy, equally abandoned offices, bolstered with their lack of light, actual or moral. The theme that using violence to get your way will only come back and bite you was tangible, and if it was grey and predictable, that was par for the course. Music by Kris Hill and Michael Krassner.