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Above: Dolph Lundgren in Masters of the Universe ; he played the generic "He-Man."

The Punisher / Masters Of The Universe

exerpt from the book Comic Book Heroes of the Screen by William Schoell, Citadel Press Books, 1991

The Punisher first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #129 in 1974, as a villain of sorts. He was duped into believing that Spider-Man was a killer and decided to target the web spinner for assassination. From the beginning, the Punisher was different from other heroes: he, too, fought a war on crime, but rarely took prisoners and didn't take care only to wound instead of kill when fighting adversaries. He was a one-man army against merciless drug lords and the like. The chest of his black uniform was emblazoned with a huge white grinning skull. He had no special powers, aside from an impressive armament of guns and technological weaponry.
The Punisher soon became a recurring character in the Marvel Universe, basically a good guy-but his vigilante, often violent methods brought him up against other heroes such as Captain America and Daredevil (who were real bleeding hearts to begin with but certainly so in comparison to the Punisher). His presence was tolerated, his help gludgingly appreciated, but he never won approval.
Except with the fans. He soon became one of Marvel's most popular supporting characters, and then a star in his own right. First came a five-issue limited series that was heavy on the sex and violence (though within the boundaries of good taste). He was awarded his own unlimited series, a companion book, and a black-and-white magazine shortly thereafter, and continued to battle his own set of villains as well as Marvel Universe mainstays such as Dr. Doom. The more popular he became, the more he interacted with other Marvel heroes, in the same way that Nick Fury did years before. Nick Fury also "interacted" with Frank Castle (The Punisher's real name) although the two did not get along well. In fact, Fury threatened Castle with prosecution.
The Punisher is assisted by a bespectacled buddy named Microchip, who, as his name suggests, is a whiz at computers, a fact that not only comes in handy in their war on crime, but has initiated several story ideas as well. So far the Punisher has outlasted by years a somewhat similar character, The Vigilante, published by DC (and not to be confused with their golden age Vigilante), whose book had a short, but respectable life and ran some excellent, hard-hitting stories. The tone of The Punisher is less cerebral and focuses squarely on action for the most part.
A film adaptation starring Dolph (Rocky IV) Lundgren as The Punisher was made in 1989. When his wife and children are killed by the mafia, Frank Castle takes to the sewers to organize his revenge campaign against all of New York's "godfathers. "
The rest of the story has the Japanese mafia, run by icy Lady Tanaka (Nancy Everhard), coming to Manhattan to try to wrest control from the Punisher -decimated mobsters. When they fight back, a brutal war ensues that tears the city apart. The Punisher sits back and lets these scumbags knock each other off, until he's forced to intervene when some children are kidnapped by Tanaka's underlings.
"Lundgren looks just as if he's stepped out of a comic book, " said Variety. " All that's missing from his actions is the 'pow! ' 'barn! ' or 'wham! ' Thankfully, he breezes through the B-grade plot with tongue firmly placed in cheek, and the script allows him some nice one-liners that indicate no one is really taking this caper seriously. " The paper's critic also noted: "The Punisher has killed 125 people before the film even begins, and the ensuing ninety minutes are crammed with slaughters of every conceivable kind, " while predicting that the "over -the-top" violence would neatly serve to prevent the target audience of teens from ever seeing the film. Made by the now-defunct Australian branch of New World Pictures, The Punisher features shots of a New York that looks suspiciously like North Sydney. No domestic distributor was found and New World considered going direct to video. (Reportedly, the powers-that -be at Marvel wanted to disavow the picture.)
The Punisher was not the first time Lundgren had played a comic book hero. In 1987, armed with a drama coach, a speech coach, a personal trainer, and his own personal hair stylist, Lundgren essayed the role of "He-Man" in Masters of the Universe. These characters had started out as Mattel toys for children and became so popular that they engendered live theater programs (including one at Radio City Music Hall), an animated cartoon series (that was said to be as interesting for adults as for the tots), and two comic book series, one from Marvel and one from DC (not concurrently, however).
Whatever the merit of the cartoon show, the comic book series was strictly for very young children. It was practically a "generic" comic, with one-dimensional characters and exceedingly simple stories of good versus evil. "Good" was personified in the muscular He-Man; "evil" in the wicked Skeletor. They fought for the possession of the power to be found in Castle Greyskull in the far-off land of Eternia. Never had a comic book been quite so juvenile and dull.
The film version was a slight improvement over the comics (but not, reportedly, over the cartoon series). It begins in the middle of the action, with Skeletor's forces taking over Castle Grayskull and the war between opposing sides already in progress. Skeletor is played by Frank Langella in hood, cloak, and pasty skull mask. Meg roster is his associate, Evil-Lyn.
The trouble has started because a lovable dwarf (played winningly by Billy Barty) has invented a key through which one can cross dimensions. He-Man and company inadvertently wind up on Earth with this key in their possession o retrieve it. Skeletor sends Evil-Lyn and her underlings to Earth. A young student (and hopeful musician) and his pretty girlfriend are embroiled in the action and nearly killed by Evil-Lyn's minions, while Skeletor himself arrives on our "primitive and tasteless" planet to get the key himself and leave He-Man and his associates stranded. Barty manages to send them all back to Eternia so they can heal the Earth girl's injury and stop Skeletor once and for all.
While all of this is undeniably silly stuff, it is made palatable by convincing performances, good special effects (mostly light shows), a fast pace and Bill Conti's music. The screenplay was written by David (Supergirl) Odell and the director is Gary Goddard.
Dolph Lundgren makes a visually perfect He-Man, although the actor is given little to say. He-Man exhibits great strength in the climax (when Skeletor transforms himself into an eyebeam-shooting demon) but his powers are otherwise rarely illustrated. There's no reason why Lundgren can't some day have the kind of career that Arnold Schwarzenegger has. The other actors all are to be commended for doing everything reasonably well with straight faces. The movie, however, was not a big box office success.
The direction of a perhaps ill-advised sequel, Masters of the Universe 2, was entrusted to (again) Albert Pyun. He was supposed to shoot it back to back with Spider-Man -The Movie. By the time Masters 2 was completed, it had somehow been transformed into a film called Cyborg (1989) starring kick-boxer Jean Claude Van Damme. Hollywood is sometimes stranger than the funny books.