Category Archives: Dolphorama

Battle of the Damned

Well… I can’t really come up with anything witty here. It’s Dolph Lundgren fighting zombies with a bunch of robots at his back. What do you want me to say?

Ah yes, Dolph Lundgren. If you’re unaware of my admiration for this Swedish actor, let me put it in simple terms: when I grew up I wanted to be Dolph Lundgren. I abandoned that dream when I realized I was a decent actor- oh, there I go again, being snarky! But seriously, when everyone else saw Dolph Lundgren and laughed, I couldn’t help but to think: “Oh yeah? So what did you do with your life that was so f—ing amazing?” That may not be entirely fair, we all go through life wanting different things but you can’t say Dolph Lundgren didn’t make something of himself. Regardless of what you call it, say the name Dolph Lundgren and people know who he is.

Some may say he doesn’t deserve all that fame but then there’s tons of actors I say the same thing about. If anything, Dolph Lundgren deserves it more than most since he held on through rough and tumble, through ridicule and mockery. While it could’ve been easy for him to just go away from Rocky 4 as a one-hit wonder, he instead chose this life and held on. I think that’s admirable.

And in recent years, he’s done somewhat of a comeback. Perhaps not so much in cinema with the exception of The Expendables and its sequel but on DVD. Not all of his work is great but if you want immediate examples worth checking out, in my humble opinion, take a gander at The Mechanik, Command Performance or Missionary Man. Or, you can just check out some of his most recent work: Battle of the Damned.

The year… is now. The place… is somewhere in Asia. The problem? Max Gatling is an idiot. Tasked with finding a rich man’s daughter from a quarantine zone, retired Major Max Gatling and his team waltz straight into what can only be described as hell on Earth. Told there was nothing but their target left alive in the zone, the team walk straight into a wall of zombies. When none but himself are left standing, he’s forced to undertake the mission on his own. But he soon finds that all is not as it seems in the abandoned city. Caught between a despot and flesh eating zombies (technically they’re not zombies), Max would need an army to get out of the city alive. But where can he find one that won’t become slim pickings for a horde of ravenous zombies?

What many don’t know about Battle of the Damned is that it’s actually a sequel to the director’s previous film Robotropolis. Okay, sequel is tenuous at best, it might be more accurate to say that they take place in the same world. Is there a term for that? “Related” seems a bit vague. It’s mostly the robots themselves that are a dead give away to this, sporting not only the same design but also mentioning the events in Robotropolis as do some of the characters. But from what little research I’ve done, none of the characters from the first movie return though that will have to wait until I’ve actually seen Robotropolis.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I haven’t seen Robotropolis. Get over it! I’ll watch it as soon as I can! In the meantime, here’s Dolph Lundgren walking away from a bunch of zombies (technically they’re not zombies).

Might I just say that I think Dolph Lundgren looks especially badass in this movie? ‘Cause he totally does. If you don’t agree, that would be because you’re lying to yourself.

So if there was ever one actor I never thought I’d see in a zombie movie (not counting Expendables) it was Dolph Lundgren. But honestly, I think he not just does a very good job but also fits in rather worryingly well, like this was what he was born to do. He plays Max Gatling, in case that wasn’t obvious and may I say that’s a fine name, and is one of two leading roles in the movie.
I like the fact that they’ve for once incorporated the fact that Dolph Lundgren is old and no longer in his prime. He’s retired and to accentuate the fact that he’s getting on in the years, he even has to use reading glasses, making him look oh so adorable… no, seriously, he looks like someone’s kind uncle or even grandpa, it’s amazing what a difference it makes.
Max Gatling never really reveals much about himself except that he’s in it for the money. We’re lead to believe he has a family or at least had at some point but nothing much is ever said about him. Instead we’re allowed to make up our own minds about him based on what he does. In my opinion he’s neither a bad guy nor a good a guy. Like he himself says at one point in the movie, he has no regrets about taking the mission except that he should’ve asked for more money.

Also something worth noting is the beginning of the movie where they show the band of highly trained mercenaries tearing through the city looking for Jude, their target. It’s not so much the scenes themselves but the ease with which they dispatch the zombies (technically they’re not zombies). I’ve always felt it strange that the military has never been very effective when it comes to zombies. From a purely logical standpoint, they shouldn’t be of any concern and the only reason the mercenaries suffer a major defeat is because they themselves trip up and eventually run out of ammo, leaving them to tangle with the zombies (technically they’re not zombies) in close combat which, for obvious reasons, is a bad idea.
All throughout this movie is a sense of realism with a few glaring exceptions. For one, as you might have noticed I keep hinting in a very subtle manner that they’re not zombies. And that’s because they’re not, coming closer to 28 Days Later than Return of the Living Dead. They’re not dead and are as human as you or I except for their insatiable hunger. And like you and I they’re dispatched just as easily. So there will be no Fulci-like rising from the grave here and if you die, you stay dead.

It was a surprisingly realistic twist on what I expected to be a very formulaic movie.

So all of you saying they’re not very good zombies or their make-up doesn’t make them look very zombish, there might actually be a point to that. Personally I really liked the look but I can understand why people would be disappointed.

On the other end of the spectrum from Max Gatling stands Jude, the young woman Max has been sent to find. She’s young but easily stands as Max’ equal and has a lot of spunk which I like. And I can’t deny that Melanie Zanetti, the actress portraying Jude, looks good but what really lends itself to the movie is her difference in height compared to Lundgren, adding a more dynamic and interesting feel to their relationship. Seeing her stand up to the giant that is Lundgren and actually make him back off is fantastic. A lot of this is of course owed to the fact that Zanetti simply gives it her all, acting as hard and well as she can and really pulls off what otherwise could’ve been a generic role.

Rounding out the rest of the cast is a merry band of survivors that Jude has attached herself to. The two with most importance is Duke, the self-appointed leader of the survivors, and Reese, Jude’s boyfriend. They’re both played well by David Field and Matt Doran respectively but only Field is given something really juicy to work with, Lord of the Flies style. The rest of the gang is made up of varying personalities and purposes but overall I think the gang comes together well.
What really surprised me was how human many of the characters were. Not all of them get anything resembling characterizations but the ones that do are done very well. At the end of the movie you came away with some idea of who these people were and whether or not you liked them. Most of them come with both negative and positive traits like any old humanbeing would. And unlike many zombie movies, the cast is not entirely made up of assholes that you want to see die. Instead some actual weight is given to their fates and I can honestly say that I got a bit invested in the cast as we got along.

The action is well choreographed though there is some obnoxious shaky cam and fast cuts used to hide the fact that the effects for the robots aren’t as good as one might want. And perhaps to hide that Lundgren isn’t as spry as once but again, it fits with the character so it bugged me that they tried to hide the fact that the retired Major pushing sixty was a retired Major pushing sixty. But even admitting to the fact that the effects weren’t as good as they could be, they weren’t as awful as I was readily expecting either.

And talking about the robots… well, it is a bit of an unfair description to say that this movie features full on zombies vs robots. The robots do make an appearance early on but only become active players towards the end of the movie, after Gatling gets his hands on them. And the trailer might make it look like he had some hand in making them but even the writers knew that would be stretching any sort of credibility they may have.

But in my honest opinion, the robots don’t disappoint. Once they start brawling with the zombies and fuck them up, you can’t help but to get a bit upbeat. There’s a very tense scene where Gatling and Reese first come across the white robots where I wasn’t entirely sure where they were going with it which I thought was expertly done. And yeah, if I were a better person I’d point out how the white robots can really be seen as white knights or something but hey, I’m a simple dude. They’re white robots. Get over it.
I really dig the overall design, there’s something deliciously retro and practical about them, how they can alternate between bipedalism and quadrupedalism (that means walking on four legs, I’m smart) and the fact that even a lug like Gatling can make modifications to them.

So ultimately, is the movie worth checking out? Well, if you love B-movies and only want to be entertained for an hour and a half then this just might be worth your time. It actually surprised me with its quality as I had gotten so used to stuff like The Asylum’s stable. But the use of “zombies” was very effective and the robots, despite not really being the headliners the trailer might promise, didn’t end up disappointing. But the hat comes off in honor of the actors who made something out of this fairly standard zombie romp with robots. While Lundgren won’t be winning any awards any time soon, when he does get a role he fits in he shines. And where he doesn’t quite measure up, Melanie Zanetti and her merry band of actors more than make up for it.

The easiest way to figure out whether you’d like this movie or not is whether you still think of the eighties as a treasure trove of action and horror movies because that is exactly what this movie harkens back to. If it isn’t your thing then by all means, stay away, but if it does sound appealing… have at it. And we’ll be bros.

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Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Whenever I tell someone I’m a big fan of Dolph Lundgren they have a tendency to slowly walk away while looking worriedly at people around them, their eyes going: “Oh God, someone please help me!” But alas, there’s no help to come for the rest know it’s better to just let me feed because then I’ll leave the rest alone for a while.

So, how far does my Lundgren mania go? Well, let’s just say that I own some of his movies on DVD for the sole purpose of owning movies he’s in on DVD. I don’t have a poster of him yet. Nor his autograph or his soiled underwear but I’m working on at least two of these things. I’ll let you speculate on which ones.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

If you were alive and reasonably old during the early nineties, like say ten or above, chances are pretty good you heard about Universal Soldier. Mostly because it starred two foreigners who could barely speak English mangling a Shakespearian plot about identity and sanctity of life. Also, there was a great deal of kicking… a great deal. And a combine harvester… I think you see where this is going.

Jean Claude van Damme plays Luc Deveraux, a farmboy who goes off for glory and duty to his country and serves as a soldier during the Vietnam war. But near the end of his tour, his good friend and comrade in arms, Andrew Scott goes what is in professional circles known as batshit bonkers and kills Vietnamese civilians indiscriminately but even more unforgiving, he slays all of his fellow soliders as well. Finding this to be unacceptable, Deveraux tries to stop him, ending with the two killing each other in the process.

While that is a movie in and of its own, that’s just the beginning of Universal Soldier. Both Deveraux and Scott’s lifeless corpses are put on ice and used in the “Universal Soldier” program, an initiative by the US government to create the ultimate soldier. But once they’re deployed twenty three years later it becomes pretty apparent pretty quick that there are some flaws with the idea, such as Andrew Scott going into a homicidal rage and killing indiscriminately and Luc Deveraux going AWOL with a reporter he saved from Scott.

God damned fucking icon, right there

Since then the franchise has been in a bit of a holding pattern. Day of Reckoning is the sixth movie in the franchise but really only one of three that can be considered somewhat canon. There were two direct-to-TV movies starring Matt Battaglia as Deveraux and then in 1999 they released “Universal Soldier: The Return” in which van Damme reprises the role as a Deveraux now cured of the UniSol stuff building additional UniSols for the government. In other word, he’s now officially alive again but despite his experiences in the past he’s willing to condemn other soldiers to the life he nearly had.
In other words, he’s a douchebag Jesus.

Needless to say, both TV-movies and The Return were retconned so hard they practically phased out of existence. “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” was a new start for the franchise where Deveraux is called back into action after having been put in stasis following the original outing when the Ukraine prime minister’s (TOPICAL!) children are kidnapped by a NGU, a new typ of Universal Soldier, and held for ransom.
The conflict was resolved by killing a bunch of dudes but at the end of the movie, Deveraux ran off to parts unknown, presumably never to be seen again. Oh, and Andrew Scott came back temporarily to get killed again despite having become so much mulch in the first movie. Cloning, people, it’s a lot easier than you think.

So now it’s time for the sort of sequel to Regeneration: Day of Reckoning. And if you’re a fan of Lundgren and van Damme then I’ve got some good news for you: they’re both back. The bad news is, of course, that they hardly feature in the movie at all. Instead it focuses on a new character named John played Scott Adkins, a relative newcomer to the mainstream action venue and his most notable roll right now is probably in Expendables 2 as van Damme’s henchman.
At the start of the movie he sees his wife and daughter brutally murdered by Deveraux himself before falls into a coma for nine months. Upon waking up with no other memories than his wife and child’s murder, he finds himself drawn into a mysterious past where not everything is as it seems. Pursued by a relentless UniSol assassin he begins to seek out Deveraux and his merry men to claim vengeance.

Would you piss this guy off?

Day of Reckoning is a breath of fresh air in the UniSol franchise. Rather than mostly action like previous installments, Day of Reckoning instead tries to have some actual drama and intrigue. Although pretty predictable it’s more of a thriller, following John around as he starts to unravel his supposedly own past and the dark deeds he might have done and how much of his memory is actually true. Like I said, it’s pretty predictable and few of the twists will come as any big surprises but the fact that they even tried to go in this direction says good things about it to me.
The plot is slowly unraveled over the course of the runtime and it doesn’t really fall back in old and comfortable patterns until the end and it’s done with more or less an audible clunk with how blatant it really is. It goes from a pretty interesting thriller about identity to a pretty generic action movie with the subtlety of a drill in the brain. Up until then it also goes more for brutality in its action than quantity which underscored the difference in tone.

The decision to focus on a new character is also definitely welcome. Nothing ill towards van Damme or Lundgren but their characters have played out their parts. Bringing them back again and again and having them do the same things over and over again sets a limit as to where the movies can go from here. Scott Adkins is still a relatively new and young talent and could definitely use a franchise to make his own outside of “Ninja”. He has the chops for it, he just needs the opportunity.

But there’s also the problem with van Damme and Lundgren being past their prime. Again, not saying they can’t still put up a fight but the UniSols are supposed to be fast, efficient and nearly unstoppable but at this time in their lives, neither van Damme or Lundgren can put up a reasonable fight against someone as young and spry as Adkins. And no amount of stunt doubles will cover this realistically. Adkins wipes the floor with them and this makes the conflict pretty… dull. The only one who can put up a reasonable fight is Andrei Arlovski, an MMAer with a pretty impressive record who also happens to be about the same age as Adkins. He also starred in Regeneration as the antagonist UniSol.

I’m not trying to say that age is the ultimate factor, Lundgren despite his age is still pretty fit and well trained. But it is a factor and ignoring it won’t help anyone.

And the odd man out here is definitely van Damme who doesn’t really have much of anything to do in the movie. He’s now the leader of a band of rogue UniSols out to take down the government for what they did to them and are continuing to do on an almost daily basis. Which means he mostly sits around in a dark, dank bunker in the swamps twiddling his thumbs and killing off anyone he deems too weak, I guess. Gone is the sympathetic Deveraux from original and Regeneration and instead we have face-painted warmongerer who apparently has little sympathy for the little guy, condoning cutting a swath of destruction across a city of innocents.
Andrew Scott’s characterization has always been one of murderous rage whereas Deveraux was a protector of innocent. The explanation offered by the first movie is that the soldiers remember their final moments more clearly so that is what defines them. Andrew Scott may have been a nice guy but in his final moment he was child murdering, cut-off-ears-wearing, gun toting maniac so that’s what defined him as a UniSol. Alternatively, Deveraux’ last moments were spent trying to save a child and additional innocents so that’s what defined him as a UniSol.

The only point I thought the movie handled either character really well was in the beginning when the Plumber (Arlovski) assaults a brothel where Scott and a few fellow UniSols are partying like animals. Lundgren does really well here and the setting is used to great effect, giving Scott a really manic nature and character, sitting around with his hair slicked back and sporting a kickass white shirt, beer in one hand and whore in the other. It goes back to his psychotic portrayal in the first but it loses much of it the next time we see him, preaching to the UniSols.

Scott makes for a far better villain than Deveraux is what I’m trying to say. It doesn’t help that Deveraux spends the final fight painted like a clown.

Go ahead, try and take the final fight seriously. Especially when Adkins is clearly the better fighter now.

I hope they use any possible sequel to expand on the world they’ve now built. There’s conflict, there’s drama, there’s conspiracies and most importantly there’s two clearly defined sides. Up until this point it’s always been a bit of a struggle to find a villain for Deveraux. In the TV-movies they invented a brother to up the ante. In “The Return” it was a rogue AI. In Regeneration it was insurgents with hints at a much larger conspiracy. And now finally we have a huge conspiracy just waiting to be picked apart with judo kicks and bullets. And perhaps more importantly, the franchise has the opportunity to move away from Deveraux and Scott. The rogue UniSols have a clearly defined enemy in the government and the government has the option of cloning indefinitely.

Scott Adkins could definitely do something worthwhile here as he’s every bit the fighter van Damme and Lundgren were in the eigthies and nineties and at the very least their equal in acting. Bringing in more MMAers along the lines of Arlovski and Mike Pyle (played Capt. Burke in Regeneration) could make for a brilliant, action filled franchise with martial arts and stunts as their focus. A tighter, less star studded vehicle for martial artists looking to take a bite out of the B grade action movies of Hollywood.

The kind where you don’t fake bruises and blood with makeup.

But if they do make another I hope they go back to the same aesthetics and design as the first one. Say what you want about the movie’s quality and whatever it might have been ripping off but it sported a very cool, unique look for its UniSols, a look they’ve slowly been phasing out for some reason.

Unstoppable killing machine.

Maniacs in a boring bunker doing boring things.

See the difference?