Bubbawheat, over at Flights, Tights and Movie Nights is running a little something called “The Comic Strip Double Dip Blogathon“. The idea is to get all us writey types to focus our creative energies on one specific topic. In this case, it’s exploring the performances of actors who have taken on more than one Comic Book inspired movie role. He put together a big list, making it easy to pick out a topic, and right around the middle of it, staring back at me was the perfect excuse to re-watch two movies I’ve been dying to revisit for years.
That’s right… Dolph Lundgren: Frank Castle/He-Man. Dolph plays Frank Castle in 1989’s The Punisher, and he plays He-Man in 1987’s Masters of the Universe. I’ve got a few thoughts about these movies in general before we delve deep into Dolph dichotomy discussion.
Both of these films are widely viewed as completely awful movies that don’t do any justice to their source material. Oddly, in both cases, I remember thinking that they were, in fact, widely underrated. On a more personal note, since I’m not a big Rocky fan (I like Rocky III, and acknowledge Rocky is something special), these two roles, for me, are Dolph’s defining roles. I mean, I can name at least two other non-Expendables titles he’s been in, but these two movies I remember as Dolph Lundgren movies.
So, without further ado… let us determine the answer to the age old question that no one has ever bothered to ask… “Who does Dolph Lundgren play better, He-man or Frank Castle?”
The Punisher: Dolph plays Frank Castle, an ex-cop who’s family was collateral damage in a mob hit meant for him. Presumed dead, he’s taken on a quest for revenge, killing over 125 mobsters in the five years since the accident. But when the Yakuza sense weakness in the local mafia, and make a move to take control, they cross the line, and Frank is forced to help save the children of the mobsters he has sworn to punish.
Masters of the Universe: Dolph plays He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. The evil Skeletor has seized control of Castle Grayskull, with the help of a Cosmic Key that creates portals in space and time using music. Finding a second Cosmic Key, He-Man and his friends escape their home planet of Eternia, and end up here, on Earth. In order to return home and face Skeletor, they must find their lost Cosmic Key, evade Skeletor’s pursuing henchmen, and protect the citizens of Earth.
The Verdict: Both these stories are unbelievable, and horrible to the point of hilarity. Frank Castle has evaded the police for 5 years, by living in abandoned sewers like a goddamn Ninja Turtle. He’s able to take cover behind exploding objects, and come out unscathed. He even stands in the doorway of a burning mansion, which promplty explodes… but he shows no sign of having been anywhere near an explosion.
But every single thing that happens in Masters of the Universe is ludicrous. The level of disbelief-suspension to actually get immersed in Masters of the Universe would require mounting your disbeliefs to the Golden Gate Bridge, and painting them. Of course, by the time you reached the end of the movie, you’d have to go back and paint the first disbeliefs you suspended, Next thing you know, you’re stuck in a never ending loop of nonsense. And no one wants that.
The Punisher: In the comics, Frank Castle wears a skin tight kevlar suit, with white boots and gloves, and a Sylized skull painted on his chest. For a comic book character created in the 80s… this is actually pretty subtle. In the movie, Dolph wears black late-80s biker-chic clothes, and some fancy boots that have metal on them. Considering that the actual comic costume could have been in no way taken seriously, the costume is a pretty good compromise. They’ve also dyed Dolph’s hair black, which–even though it’s Frank’s hair colour–oddly off-putting for anyone that’s seen his shining blonde locks in anything else he’s starred in.
Masters of the Universe: Originally, He-Man wore a loin cloth, some strappy chest thing, and had a bob haircut. In Masters of the Universe, Dolph wears pretty much the same, except instead of a loin cloth, it’s more of a leather speedo, and they’ve added a cape and some epaulets, and gave Dolph a mullet, because they wouldn’t want him looking ridiculous.
Verdict: This is actually a really hard toss-up. Normally, I’m all about having the on-screen characters seem true to their on-page counterparts, without looking ridiculous in spandex. But… Dolph looks so much more like He-Man than he does Frank Castle…. They’ve stuck so closely that there’s no way he could ever possibly be taken seriously. But no one was ever going to take a He-Man movie seriously anyway.
This Round’s Winner: Draw
I’m just going to come out and say it… no one is ever going to mistake Dolph Lundgren for Ian McKellan. He is not one of the world’s great actors. Neither of these roles would be considered challenging on an acting level. So how do we judge Dolph’s Depth? With screen shots of Dolph trying really hard to emote, that’s how.
The Punisher: The movie has some pretty good action scenes, with a couple fun hand-to-hand fights. However, when guns are blazing, the bullets seem to hit fewer targets than the A-Team. That being said, people definitely die, as opposed to possibly just being stunned. The best action really comes from Wet-Suit Ninjas, when they kick into action.
Masters of the Universe: The only thing with worse aim than a mob guy shooting at Frank Castle, is a Storm Trooper… and Masters of the Universe has lots of Storm Troopers. There’s, again, a few good melee fights, only this time they all involve Dolph. Dolph gets to dive over a crate, and defend a music store from waves of Storm Troopers. Also, the final villain is defeated in melee combat.
Verdict: Sword fighting is infinitely better than gunfighting. Bad sword fights look cheesier than bad gun fights…. and a climactic sword fight is just about the best way to end any movie. Jurassic Park… Raptors with katanas? Sold. Or just imagine Schindler’s List ended with a climactic sword fight. You’re welcome.
The Punisher: Dolph has a shirtless torture scene. Also, for some reason, Sam Raimi Evil-Vision™ runs through the sewers, to some kind of shrine thing he’s got set up. He sits there, naked, and we’re treated to his ass-crack. This happens, like, 3 times.
Masters of the Universe: Dolph wears much less for the entirety of the movie. He is constantly shirtless, either wearing the small strappy thing and a cape, or no chest-wear at all. There’s no ass-crack, though.
Verdict: Gratuitous Male Nudity is hilarious. That said, I’m not sure how to grade this one. There’s more of Dolph in The Punisher, but there’s more of Dolph in Masters of the Universe. Regardless, over 2 hours worth of Dolph shirtless has made me realize that I need to re-watch Season 1 of Community more often. Dolph has nipples so tiny, Vaughn would feel like he had saucer-tits.
This Round’s Winner: Community? I guess we’ll throw it to The Punisher, because the fact that right after a torture sequence this shot exists…
For the tie-breaker, we go to the toys. This really isn’t fair, because neither toy is based off Dolph. But life’s not fair, is it?
Verdict: I find it very funny that the toy of the character who’s willing to use lethal force comes with a bunch of non-lethal weapons… and the toy of the guy who’ll never kill anyone has a great big head-choppy sword.
Fact of the matter is, one of these guys is a guest toy in another character’s line… the other is the star of one of the defining toy lines of a generation.
With a final score of 4-3 (or 3-2, depending on how your preferred sport awards points in the event of a draw) the victor: