Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, director John Hyams’ follow up to his successful 2009 film, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, is available tomorrow, Tuesday January 22nd, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. If you haven’t had an opportunity to check it out yet, you’ve done yourself a massive disservice because the movie is fantastic. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, and burgeoning action star Scott Adkins, Day of Reckoning is a movie that isn’t easy to define; it’s an ultraviolent mood piece that skillfully blends multiple genre influences into something familiar yet wholly its own. The movie consistently zags when you expect it to zig and it was easily one of my Top Ten movies of 2012.
Last week we had an opportunity to sit down with star Dolph Lundgren (check out the video here) and director John Hyams to discuss the ever evolving Universal Soldier series.
When Hyams set out to make Day of Reckoning, he knew he didn’t want to simply rehash Regeneration. “The first thing you say is “well, I just don’t want to repeat what I did before,” not even just for myself, but for the audience. What’s the point?” said Hyams. “There’s no reason to just do the same movie again, and there’s really no way to succeed that way. It’s kind of like junk food, you can give them exactly what they want, but in the end it’s gonna go right through you and you’re really not going to appreciate it in the long run. So, the first thought was, “Look, we have to do something different here. Not just for the sake of being different, but also for the sake of honoring the direction that this story is going.” Regeneration ended with essentially posing a couple of questions. And one of the questions was, “What has become of the character of Luc Deveraux (Van Damme’s character)?” He’s taken off, he’s decided to not go back to the government, probably because he knows their intentions aren’t good, they’ll destroy him, enslave him, put him on ice, who knows what they’re gonna do? So, he’s taken off.”
“First question is, “Where is he? We need to find him.” Well, the next movie should be about going and finding him. That, by that very notion, means that he really shouldn’t be the protagonist, you know? This movie should be about someone’s journey to find this guy. So, what is gonna inform that journey? Well, we also know that that movie posed the idea that now this is all moving in the direction of genetic engineering, it’s no longer about reanimating the dead soldiers; now it’s about cloning. Once you go down that direction you can’t really go back to reanimating dead soldiers, there’s no point. So, now we’re in this place where the government can kind of create their own weapons from scratch.”
Check out an exclusive clip from the movie after the jump.
“The whole question that always hangs over the Universal Soldier series, and it’s one of the ideas that I always liked, is the degree of self-awareness of the monsters. Some of them are not self-aware, some of them are kind of seemingly mindless drones, and then there’s the Luc Deveraux character who is kind of haunted by memories. Then there’s the Andrew Scott character, Dolph’s character, who is kind of the one who is the mouthpiece to all these guys, he’s the guy who gives voice to their existential plight. So, that being said, I thought, “Let’s tell a story from the perspective of the monsters.” Let’s tell the story from the perspective of one of these guys, and the movie will be a journey of self-discovery and it will be a revenge tale, and it will be something that doesn’t feel just like the structure of a typical action movie where a typical action movie poses a problem; someone’s been kidnapped, something happened, the bomb is strapped to somebody, now we got to solve that problem. This movie I thought, “Let’s look at movies where it’s a mystery”, it’s more like something along the lines of Angel Heart or Jacob’s Ladder or Memento, where it is a story where our protagonist is on a journey to discover himself and once he’s able to figure out who he is, then he’s gonna be able to solve the riddle of, in this case, who committed this crime to this guy’s family. So, all of those ideas lead us in the direction of something that wasn’t a straight action movie, it was a more mysterious noir-ish kind of thriller, and that appealed to me to go in that direction.”
That unique direction wasn’t necessarily an easy sell for the film’s financers. “Yeah, I mean, it is a hard sell” Hyams said. “If this was a hundred million dollar movie we probably wouldn’t be able to go this direction. But you almost have a degree of freedom with these kinds of movies. Certainly after the success of the last one I think I’d built a little bit of trust with the actors, with the studio, with the rights holders, which isn’t to say that they were all completely 100 percent getting where we were going with this, but I think they had trust in the quality of it. They also had trust that you know from a fiscal perspective if they have Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren at this low-budget that we have, that they feel, “Okay, it’s probably going to be commercially successful, unless it’s just a complete catastrophe.” So that bought us a little bit of freedom. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of discussion about script. I mean, the original script I’d written for this had to actually be completely shelved and I had to write a second one. The first one went a little further off the reservation, if you can believe that. It kind of picked up this idea of the story a little further down the line and they were like, “You got to rein this back in, it’s not Universal Soldier-y enough.” I get it, and they were right about that. This one was still was a big leap for them, so I’m grateful that they let us do this and go that way.”
Personally, I was more than willing to take that leap with Hyams (he’d earned it with Regeneration), but some reviewers weren’t as eager. “I appreciate the dynamic reception. You don’t make a movie like this without inviting criticism,” said Hyams. “I went into this knowing that some people who are fans of the last one were gonna feel duped and pissed off about this one. However, I think in the long-run most people who liked that movie, liked this movie. There’s people who saw Regeneration who probably thought, “Hey, Day of Reckoning isn’t like the first one, I don’t like it.” So, people who liked Day of Reckoning, liked it because it brought something a little different to the table. And people who really appreciate something different, I’m making good on that promise. I’m gonna give you something different here. It challenged me and it’s gonna challenge you, and in the end I think it will have more life because of it.”
“I think it will endure a little more as an idea and something to talk about. You kind of want this, not to be a dick, but because you want the discussion. I want people to say, “What the hell is he doing? We wanted an action movie, this isn’t it.” Because some people might read that and say, “Wow, I’m interested.” If it was just like Regeneration, people would watch it and say it was either better than, worse than, and move on. But I think this gives it more of a purpose for existing, really. It’s just something that is gonna take you in a different direction and if I was asked to do another one of these, I would try and take that in a different direction as well.”
“I like movies that give me the unexpected. I think Drive is a great example. I’m a big fan of Nicolas Winding Refn. I’m a big fan of the Pusher series and Bronson and Valhalla Rising and all those things. I know that he’s giving me something different every movie and everyone has been brilliant. When I saw Drive, I’m like, “Okay, it’s about a guy who’s a wheelman, maybe this is a big action movie, who knows what?” But when the movie started and I’m hearing this ‘80s music, synth music, and I’m seeing the pink font, I’m like, “I love this. I don’t know what it is, but I love it.” It was totally unexpected. He lures you into this feeling and then he stomps a guy’s head. You know? He’s really playing with the audience’s expectations and timing.”
"I think Day of Reckoning was unique in that we have a character (Scott Adkins) who doesn’t know what he’s capable of. You don’t want to reveal what he’s capable of from a story perspective until fairly late in the movie. So that’s kind of like a delayed gratification principle, “We’re gonna bottle it up, we’re gonna make the audience beg for some catharsis, but when we give it to you, it’s gonna then be like an eruption of violence.” This guy is all bottled up and he’s not getting to kick anyone’s ass. In fact, we play him as the victim early on, so we design these things so he can’t really show his stuff yet. If you’re a Scott Atkins fan, you’re watching the movie saying, “When is Scott Atkins gonna do something?” and if you are a moviegoer who’s not familiar with him, even better. You’re like, “Who’s this guy? He’s kind of, you know, a generally handsome looking guy,” and we don’t really know what he’s doing. He’s trying to evade these people who are trying to kill him, but then when he starts breaking out some moves, you go, “Wow, he can do a couple things.” Larnell Stovall, the Stunt Coordinator and Fight Choreographer, and myself, we really tried to let the progression of when he’s gonna bust out really build, so that he’s learning more with each fight. And by the end, now he’s doing crazy Lucha Libre moves (laughs).”
As the action progresses, the story becomes deeper and darker and it’s easy to see shades Apocalypse Now in Day of Reckoning. “It’s this character’s journey into essentially his own heart of darkness, his journey into the underbelly of society and then into the bowels of literally the earth. It became this sort of an unavoidable thing that we were wearing the influence on our sleeve. But it’s like, “Okay, we’re shaving Van Damme’s head. He is playing this kind of militia leader, okay? He is a Kurtz-like figure, there’s no denying that.” But that is where this story lead us. And we’re in Louisiana, there’s swamps. Okay, now he’s moving up the swamp. So, at a certain point I realized, “Look, this is going in that direction and we’re just gonna kind of embrace it, and not fight it.” He’s gonna end up in this very primal place. By the end of the movie, it all becomes primal. The final action sequence starts with heavy artillery, then moves down to handguns, and then machetes. It’s like it gets more and more primitive by the end.”
“Apocalypse Now is probably my favorite movie that’s ever been made, you know? If I had to pick one, that would be it. And I think it’s the kind of thing now where it’s as much of a cultural and literary influence as a cinematic influence. It is just part of our lexicon of life. That story of going deep, down the river to meet your own dark soul; Apocalypse Now owns that. We are just going to tip our hat to this great movie and say, “Look, we’re telling a story where these guys are going to this place.” I don’t think stylistically it’s very much like Apocalypse Now. I think stylistically it has more in common with a lot of other movies, but I think thematically it certainly it has a lot to do with that.”
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is available tomorrow, Tuesday January 22nd, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD.