Goddamn, this is one bleak action movie!
For a straight-to-video action movie, this one actually looks pretty good. I was scrolling through Google and I learned that the cinematographer was Peter Hyams who directed Running Scared, which is one of the best buddy cop films ever made! The best thing about the cinematography is how unflinching it is in capturing the action. Granted, some of the cuts and edits are a bit much for me, but for the most part, the action is shot in gorgeous wide shots that confidently flaunts the choreography and the actors performing them. When it’s not showing buff dudes beating each other up, it’s showing buff dudes emoting and we get a lot of JCVD looking remorseful and tortured. In fact, it’s not just JCVD who looks morose, but the entire film looks bleak and hopeless with its use of damp lighting and muted colors.
You’d think that an action film starring JCVD and Dolph Lundgren would be light and cheesy but Regeneration is anything but! Instead of the bright and lively colors found in most action films of the 80’s and 90’s, the cinematography opts for something that’s much bleaker and colorless and it falls in line with films like Taken which also had a damp color palette. The cinematography also doesn’t shy away from the brutal carnage that it’s characters leave behind. All of the UniSols are nothing more than collateral damage and the cinematography effectively captures that by unceremoniously showing us their deaths. As someone who isn’t particularly fond of droll colors in cinematography, it legitimately works in setting the tone for Regeneration because it’s not about the hero coming out victorious, it’s about the cost of a person’s humanity in the pursuit of violence.
Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren aren’t particularly great actors, but that’s totally fine because their actions speak louder than their words The best thing director John Hyams does with both actors is letting their faces do the acting rather than giving them dialogue. You can see the weariness in JCVD’s face and it manages to say more than any line of dialogue ever could. The first hour has JCVD’s Luc Deveraux learning to acclimate to normal life and you can see the caged animal inside aching to come out. Once the third act starts, Deveraux’s finally let out of his cage, but instead of feeling like a moment of triumph, it actually feels much more tragic. Violence is the only thing Deveraux knows and no matter how much he tries to suppress it, it’s in his programming to kill and he knows deep down that he’d rather be shooting goons than living a quiet, peaceful life.
Jean-Claude’s quiet and subtle performance is put to the challenge when once Dolph Lundgren shows up as the physically intimidating and mentally unstable Andrew Scott. I’ve loved Dolph Lundgren since Rocky IV so perhaps there’s a bit of a bias here, but I think he’s the best performance in Regeneration. Don’t get me wrong guys, I love JCVD’s performance, but the way Dolph Lundgren makes this mentally unhinged character somewhat sympathetic is pretty impressive. Unlike the other UniSols, including Luc Deveraux to some extent, Andrew Scott seems to have some sort of sentience outside of his basic programming and he questions his existence as just another mindless soldier built solely for combat. Where Luc Devereaux resigns to his violent nature, Andrew Scott looks to break free from his mental shackles and looks for something beyond his programming, even if he does it through violent means. You know exactly how his story ends, but in a way, you can’t help but feel something for the character and in my opinion, he’s the heart and soul of Regeneration.
This movie is eye candy for action freaks like myself! It’s well shot, it’s hyper violent, and the stunts are performed by actual MMA fighters! I’ve never heard about this Andrei Arlovski fella, but as the big bad of the film, his lack of dialogue and commanding screen presence made him an intimidating adversary. Even as an older fellow, JCVD still proves that he can throw down with the younger guys and his fights with Dolph and Andrei are thrilling sequences with bloody resolutions. The action sequences feel a bit like Brawl in Cell Block 99 where the violence looks genuinely unpleasant but you can’t keep yourself from fully turning away. It’s common for an action film to glorify the violence but Regeneration subtly confronts the viewer by taking the violence and having us look at it in a different perspective.
At the start of the film, the U.S. army sends in a batch of UniSols to retrieve the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s kidnapped children from Andrei Arlovski. As we’re shown at the start of the film, The UniSols are essentially Terminators and are tough to kill, but Arlovski mauls them all down with relative ease. The fights between Arlovski and the UniSols are brutal and raw and we’re shown all the carnage with little in the way of sympathy. Before Dolph comes into the movie, most of the deaths bear little in terms of consequence or emotional resonance, but once we begin to question whether these UniSols have some sort of conscience or sentience, the audience is challenged in whether we should be glorifying the violence or be horrified by it.
KICK-ASS OR ASS KICKED?
This one is without a doubt a “Kick-Ass” action film! I know most of the action flicks I’ve reviewed recently have been slow-burns with only a handful of action sequences, but Regeneration has an endless supply of action sequences all throughout its hour-and-a-half runtime. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are giving moody performances as aged and tortured soldiers simply looking for inner peace and despite their constant search for it, Regeneration gives us a dour resolution to both of their stories. Some would view this straight-to-video action flick as a dismissible piece of film trash, but beneath all the head bashing and throat cutting, it’s a sobering look into violence, the damage it does, and if there even is a purpose for a man bred solely for war.