No one was expecting this. No one could have. In 2009 Regeneration was the best action movie to come out in probably about ten years. It was simple, executed perfectly, done on a level of quality rarely seen with low budget action, pretty damn smart and just what the doctor ordered. We all thought John Hyams was gonna make essentially the same film again with the next sequel. It was what we all wanted, the same awesome shit with minimal changes. But that’s not what John had in mind. This was his baby now. He was gonna build a UniSol from the ground up instead of shooting someone else’s script. The results are very interesting. We’ve got a different animal on our hands here than Regeneration.
For starters we have a new star, Scott Adkins. I’ve known about him for a while now but have only seen him do bit parts in The Expendables 2 and Zero Dark Thirty (I’ll get around to Undisputed 2 and 3 one of these days). So it was a pleasure to finally make his formal acquaintance. And he’s great. He can pull off some tremendous moves during the fights and tug at your heart strings during the drama.
Adkins plays John, who we learn is a family man that has ski mask wearing intruders waiting for him in the kitchen. Those are the worst kind too. They end up beating him and killing his family. See, I told you. The catch is one of these thugs takes his mask off and holy shit it’s Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). The rest of the movie is John trying to figure out what the fuck is going on.
Ok, I know you all want to know how the action is so why wait? It’s very good with one caveat that I’ll talk about in a sec. All of the sequences were choreographed well, shot well and are balls-to-the-wall. I love the varied use of weapons like guns, machetes, a hammer, fists, feet, knives, baseball bats and there’s even a car battle too. That’s definitely a more accurate description than car chase. Sure they’re driving along a road but these cars are smashing into each other constantly making the whole thing less about pursuing and more about destruction. That sequence leads into probably my favorite fight of the movie. John and UniSol Andrei Arlovski (Universal Soldier: Regeneration, MMA shit) battle it out in a sporting goods store. They use the equipment and tear the place and each other up nicely. One of the most impressive sequences though takes place in this underground cave. John fights off all these UniSols in what is made to look like one long shot but in reality is clearly not. It impresses because Adkins is flying around and shootin’ dudes mercilessly and beating them to death and it’s just fucking brutal.
All of that shit is fantastic. It’s all shot in a clear yet exciting manner so there’s no problem following it. The thing that irritates me though is that some of it, not the majority but a small portion, has that Matrix-y slow down speed up treatment done to it. I don’t fucking understand this. They shot these beautiful action sequences that are many cuts above what anyone else is doing right now (besides maybe Nicolas Winding Refn) and they put a layer of shit on them in post by messing with the playback. This doesn’t look good. It totally ruins the flow of the movements, takes me out of the movie and is very gimmicky. I’m really pretty sure this shit wasn’t in Regeneration because I would’ve remembered that. Hyams, I love you man but this Matrix-y bullshit is inexcusable.
Speaking of gimmicks this piece was shot in 3D. I couldn’t care less about 3D but I just thought I’d mention it because I was surprised that they would bother to spend some of their small budget on it.
One thing I definitely should mention is there are a couple of seriously seizure inducing strobe scenes. The screen will pulse white for a long while and test your limit. I personally had to look away after a few seconds. I feel like Hyams is testing my manhood with something like that and I’m pretty sure I failed. Shit.
Moving on, while the overall plot is simple (find the dude who murdered your family), the details of the story are confusing for a long time. In fact I didn’t fully understand what was going on until literally the last scene. And I can’t think of another action movie that’s like that. But don’t think of it as a bad thing. Go with the mystery and stay engrossed. Embrace the unknown and it’ll all make sense in probably a cooler way than you were expecting. You may not realize it immediately but just mull it over for a day.
I hope this whole thing didn’t give the impression that I didn’t like this one. I very much did. Admittedly at first I thought it was just ok but the more I thought about it and reflected back on all the really cool shit that was in here the more I appreciated the overhauled storyline and dug the gritty feel. From what I can remember this is nastier than Regeneration in just about every way. Some of the squibs and head shots are fucking ghastly. Hyams says on the making-of extra that he’s not pandering to any demographic. He wanted to make a balls-out badass “low to mid budget” action film. Well, we certainly got that.
I can’t wait to see what his next movie will be. Hyams is one of only a handful of directors these days that I feel that way about. He brings the goods and isn’t afraid to try new shit. He gives me faith in the future of action.
Getting back to Day of Reckoning, it’s understandable why this didn’t get a favorable reception. It’s not a remake of Regeneration. It’s different and that’s hard to accept. But give it a chance. Open your mind and you’ll be rewarded with Van Damme’s head painted completely white on the top half and completely black on the bottom half. Well, that and an axe fight where some body parts…get the axe. I bet you didn’t expect this review to end on a really bad pun, did you?