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Showdown In Little Tokyo

Showdown in Little Tokyo

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Today’s feature is a b-grade buddy cop classic: 1991’s Showdown In Little Tokyo.

The plot of Showdown in Little Tokyo is summarized on Rotten Tomatoes as follows:

Dolph Lundgren stars as police detective Chris Kenner, an American raised in Japan. He is given a new partner, Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, making his Hollywood debut), a Japanese raised in America. The two are made for each other — Chris doesn’t appreciate American culture, while Johnny doesn’t much like Japanese culture. One thing they both enjoy are the martial arts, of which they are experts. The two are assigned to L.A.’s Little Tokyo, trying to nab the notorious Yoshida (Carey-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a drug manufacturer using a local brewery as his distribution center.

Showdown in Little Tokyo was directed and produced by Mark L. Lester, who was also behind movies such as Class of 1999, Class of 1984, Commando, Roller Boogie, and Firestarter.

The two writers for the film only have a handful of other credits between them, most notably a couple of episodes of Dragnet and a television adaptation of The Watsons Go To Birmingham.

The cinematographer for Showdown In Little Tokyo was Mark Irwin, who shot Scream, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Class of 1999, RoboCop 2, New Nightmare, Kingpin, and Steel, among many, many other well-known features.

A total of four editors wound up putting in work on Showdown in Little Tokyo: Michael Eliot (Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence), Robert A. Ferretti (Tango & Cash, Rocky V, Die Hard 2, Gymkata), Steven Kemper (Face/Off, Timecop), and Stuart Baird (Demolition Man, Lethal Weapon).

The musical score for the movie was provided by David Michael Frank, whose other credits include Poison Ivy, Suburban Commando, Out For Justice, Hard To Kill, and Best of the Best II.

The cast for Showdown In Little Tokyo is primarily made up by Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, The Punisher, I Come In Peace, Johnny Mnemonic), the late Brandon Lee (Laser Mission, The Crow), Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World, Kull The Conqueror), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Vampires, The Phantom).

littletokyo3Showdown In Little Tokyo suffered from a significant amount of studio interference, primarily in the form of mandated edits to the final product. Likewise, even before the movie was shot, the screenplay went through a number of different forms. The experience burned director Mark Lester out on working in the studio system, leading him to take on smaller, self-funded projects.

The public reception for Showdown In Little Tokyo was generally negative. It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 29% from critics and 51% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 6.0. Likewise, the movie certainly didn’t set the box office on fire: it brought in well under $3 million in its theatrical release, on a estimated production budget of $8 million.

I was introduced to Showdown in Little Tokyo pretty recently. For whatever reason, it has never been on my b-movie radar, and I have absolutely no idea why. As far as cheap, b-level action movies go, this is about as good as it gets. Not only does this movie showcase a classic buddy-cop formula, but the fights are entertaining, the antagonist is more than sufficiently hammy, and all of the players seem to be having a great time with the material. I’m a huge fan of this particular era of Dolph Lundgren, as he took on some damn entertaining projects, and gave performances that I think easily out-class contemporaries like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, and Showdown is no exception.

littletokyo2There is one aspect of Showdown In Little Tokyo that definitely makes it stand out from the field of similar action flicks: outside of perhaps Tango & Cash, it is the most homoerotic entry into the buddy cop genre.

Showdown in Little Tokyo doesn’t bill itself as a gay action film. And like most action movies, that doesn’t do much to disarm just how amazingly queer it is. I mean, we’re talking about a movie where a muscular blonde guy spends entire scenes clad in nothing but black leather hot pants and men compliment each other on the exquisiteness of their dicks

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That excerpt is no exaggeration, either. In one particularly notable moment in the film, Brandon Lee tells Dolph Lundgren that he has “the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man,” and the script and performances are both laden with slightly more subtle references to the two men having a potential attraction.

Much like with Tango & Cash, it isn’t totally clear if this angle was intentional on the part of the writer/director team (though the penis line seems pretty blatant). Regardless, the chemistry of the subtext adds a lot of entertainment value to what is already an amusing, saturated-with-machismo buddy-cop feature.

I can’t recommend Showdown In Little Tokyo highly enough. Not only is the action good, but the performances are memorable, the plot is over-the-top, and even the costuming got a few chuckles out of me. This is the pinnacle of a specific type of b-movie film-making, and it’ll take you on a time-traveling trip to a bygone era. The comedic performance of Brandon Lee brings up a lot of questions of what might have been if the fates had taken another turn, and Lundgren is still in his top form here. The homoerotic angle of the films adds a whole extra layer of entertainment value, whether it is read as intentional and subversive, or just hilariously oblivious on the part of the creative team. Either way, I think it is hard not to find something to enjoy on a re-watch of Showdown in Little Tokyo.

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Dark Angel / I Come In Peace

Dark Angel / I Come In Peace

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Today’s flick is a cult classic about a heroin-dealing killer from outer space: Dark Angel, aka I Come In Peace.

Dark Angel has two credited writers: David Koepp (Snake Eyes, Carlito’s Way, Jurassic Park, Secret Window), who overhauled the screenplay via rewrites, and Jonathan Tydor (Ice Soldiers), who provided the initial speculative script.

The director for the film was Craig Baxley, who also helmed the action flick Action Jackson, and did extensive stunt work on movies like Predator and The Warriors.

The cinematographer on Dark Angel was Mark Irwin, who shot the films Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, Class of 1999, The Fly, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Steel, Scream, Kingpin, and Vampire In Brooklyn.

The editor for the film was Mark Helfrich, who also shot R.I.P.D., Red Dragon, Showgirls, Action Jackson, Revenge of the Ninja, Rush Hour, and Predator, among others.

The music for Dark Angel was provided by Jan Hammer, who scored the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, the Hulk Hogan flick The Secret Agent Club, Beastmaster III, and, most memorably, the television show Miami Vice.

The team of producers on the flick included Mark Damon (It’s Alive (2008), Mac and Me), Rafael Eisenman (Teen Witch), Ron Fury (Howling II), David Saunders (Baby Geniuses, Hellraiser), Jon Turtle (The Grey, Cyborg 2), and Moshe Diamant (It’s Alive (2008), Simon Sez, Double Team, Timecop).

The makeup effects were provided by a team that included Gabe Bartalos (Dolls, From Beyond, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Evan Brainard (Space Truckers, Mortal Kombat, Brainscan), Tony Gardner (Darkman), Loren Gitthens (Brainscan), Kevin Hudson (DeepStar Six), Rick Lalonde (976-EVIL, Son Of The Mask, The People Under The Stairs), Roger McCoin (Shocker, Garbage Pail Kids Movie), Greg Polutonovich (Baby Geniuses), and A.J. Workman (Shocker, Arena, Communion, Friday the 13th Part VII).

The special effects work for Dark Angel was done by Jay Bartus (Action Jackson, Die Hard), Greg Curtis (Catwoman, North, Jaws 3-D), James McCormick (The Faculty), James Mize (RoboCop 2), Peter Olexiewicz (The Cell, Batman & Robin), Scott Prescott (Friday the 13th Part VII), Jor Van Kline (Demon Island, Waterworld), and Bruno Van Zeebroeck (Double Team, Class of 1999, Xanadu, Jaws 3-D).

The cast of Dark Angel includes Dolph Lundgren (Fat Slags, Masters of the Universe, Rocky IV, Johnny Mnemonic, The Punisher), Brian Benben (Dream On, Private Practice), Betsy Brantley (Deep Impact, Shock Treatment), Matthias Hues (Kickboxer 2), and Jim Haynie (Sleepwalkers).

darkangel5The plot of Dark Angel is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a Houston vice cop who’s forgotten the rule book. His self-appointed mission is to stop the drugs trade and the number one supplier Victor Manning. Whilst involved in an undercover operation to entrap Victor Manning, his partner gets killed, and a sinister newcomer enters the scene… Along with F.B.I. agent Lawrence Smith, the two investigate a spate of mysterious deaths; normal non-junkies dying of massive heroin overdoses and bearing the same horrific puncture marks on the forehead. This, coupled with Caine’s own evidence, indicates an alien force is present on the streets of Houston, killing and gathering stocks of a rare drug found only in the brain… Caine is used to fighting the toughest of criminals, but up to now they’ve all been human…

This movie is primarily known by two different titles: Dark Angel, which was the initial release title internationally, and I Come In Peace, which was used in the United States. However, the original title for the screenplay was Lethal Contact, which stuck with it during the 6 years before it got produced.

Dark Angel bears some interesting similarities to the plot of Predator 2, at least in broad strokes. Basically, they both star a hardened urban cop doing what is essentially standard police work, but with the twist of having to deal with an alien culprit behind it all.

darkangel2Dark Angel was set and shot on location in the unlikely locale of Houston, Texas, meaning that Dolph Lundgren portrays not only an American cop, but a Texas cop.

David Koepp used a pseudonym for his writing credit on Dark Angel, and is listed in the credits as Leonard Maas, Jr..

The budget for the film was somewhere in the ballpark between $5-7 million, and grossed just under $4.4 million in its lifetime theatrical release. This made it a commercial loss, though it has gained some cult acclaim in recent years that has justified a blu-ray release. However, at the time, critics and audiences weren’t particularly thrilled with what many saw as nothing more than a Terminator ripoff. Currently, it holds a 6.0 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 13% from critics and 45% from audiences.

Matthias Hues, who plays the primary antagonist, is either the weakest or the strongest aspect of the movie, depending on how you look at it. He certainly isn’t a good actor, but he is undoubtedly physically intimidating. He mechanically spits out his handful of lines  just like you would imagine a murderous alien would, which is all that was really asked of him. His weapons are also totally over the top, particularly his killer Frisbee/CD, which gets a surprising amount of time on screen given how ridiculous it is.

darkangel3Dolph Lundgren is once again in top form in Dark Angel, which was just after The Punisher and before Showdown in Little Tokyo. Personally, I think Dark Angel is as good as Lundgren ever got as a lead, given he sunk into direct-to-video fodder before the 1990s was over with. He still has some of the comedic flair that came out in The Punisher, and is clearly more comfortable than he was in Masters of the Universe. Luckily, he doesn’t attempt a Texas accent, because there’s no telling how that might have turned out.

The thing that stands out most about Dark Angel is the weird, weird plot. The idea of combining a drug-based gritty cop movie with a science fiction story is really damn bizarre. For what it is worth, it comes off better than I thought it would, and creates an interesting sort of tone that the field of Terminator knockoffs (like Abraxas) totally miss. It is dark and gritty, but still has moments of being humorous in a way that only a b-movie can pull off. The result is a movie that is fun to go back and watch now, even if it didn’t work for people at the time.

Personally, I recommend this flick to any action or sci-fi movie fans as a deep cut from the late 1980s. It deserves more eyes on it, and I think it is starting to get the love it merits now. If you want to hear more about Dark Angel, check out the podcast episodes on it from We Hate Movies and the Bad Movie Fiends.

Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe

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Today’s feature is the much-maligned film adaptation of the Mattel franchise He-Man: Cannon Group’s Masters of the Universe.

Masters of the Universe was written by David Odell, who also penned such films as Supergirl, The Dark Crystal, and numerous episodes of The Muppet Show.

The director on Masters of the Universe was Gary Goddard, which is to date his only feature film directorial credit. However, he has produced and written a number of shorts and 3D/4D shows for theme parks over the years, if that counts for anything.

The cinematographer for Masters of the Universe was Hanania Baer, who has shot such movies as American Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, The Brotherhood of Justice, and Ernest Scared Stupid.

The editor on the film was Anne V. Coates, who has also cut movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey, Congo, Lawrence of Arabia, Striptease, Erin Brockovich, and The Golden Compass over her career.

The two primary producers of Masters of the Universe were Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the infamous duo behind the flurry of Cannon Group b-movies that dominated the 1980s (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, American Ninja). The other producers included Elliot Schick (Total Recall), Edward Pressman (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Judge Dredd, Street Fighter), and Evzen Kolar (Surf Ninjas).

The makeup effects team for Masters of the Universe included Robin Beauchesne (Killer Workout, Iron Man 2, First Daughter, National Treasure), James Kagel (Stargate, Child’s Play, Big Trouble In Little China), Todd McIntosh (April Fool’s Day), Gerald Quist (Drive, Jonah Hex, Breakfast of Champions, Re-Animator), June Westmore (Sphere), and Michael Westmore (Raging Bull, Capricorn One).

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The Masters of the Universe special effects team was composed of Larry Roberts (Volcano, 3 Ninjas Kick Back), Karl G. Miller (Cat People, The Blues Brothers, Battlestar Galactica), Daniel Hutten (Die Hard, Solarbabies), R.J. Hohman (The Perfect Storm, Cyborg, Popeye, The Two Jakes), and Arthur Brewer (The Hitcher, Swamp Thing, Smokey and The Bandit).

The massive team of visual effects artists on Masters of the Universe included common elements with such productions as Ghostbusters, Volcano, Coneheads, Leonard Part 6, Fright Night, Donnie Darko, Battle Beyond The Stars, Mystery Men, Lawnmower Man 2, Ghost, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The music for Masters of the Universe was composed by Bill Conti, who is best known for his work on the Rocky movies, The Karate Kid, and The Right Stuff.

The cast of Masters of the Universe included Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Dark Angel, The Punisher, Red Scorpion), Frank Langella (The Twelve Chairs, Junior, Cutthroat Island, Small Soldiers, The Ninth Gate), Meg Foster (They Live, Leviathan, Blind Fury, The Lords of Salem), Billy Barty (Willow, Legend), Courteney Cox (Friends, Scream, Cougar Town), Chelsea Field (Death Spa, The Last Boy Scout, Flipper), and James Tolkan (Back To The Future).

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The plot of Masters of the Universe follows a group of resistance fighters from a faraway planet who are transported to Earth through the use of a mysterious scientific device. However, their enemies soon follow, in an effort to exterminate them and solidify their sinister rule. He-Man and his allies have to work with a handful of humans from Earth to defeat the evil Skeletor to save both Earth and the faraway planet of Eternia from the long reach of darkness.

In an interview, director Gary Goddard spoke about the stylistic influence of the works of Jack Kirby on Masters of the Universe, saying:

“the storyline was greatly inspired by the classic Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom epics, The New Gods and a bit of Thor thrown in here and there. I intended the film to be a “motion picture comic book,” though it was a tough proposition to sell to the studio at the time. ‘Comics are just for kids,’ they thought. They would not allow me to hire Jack Kirby who I desperately wanted to be the conceptual artist for the picture”

The costuming for the character of Evil-Lyn caused actor Meg Foster significant bruising in particularly inconvenient locations, and reportedly weighed well over 40 pounds in total. Interestingly, the eerie appearance of her eyes in the movie was completely natural, and required no enhancements or contact lenses.

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Frank Langella reportedly loved playing the character of Skeletor, and even wrote some of the more memorable lines in the movie himself. He initially took the role because of how much his son loved the franchise, a situation that echoes the similar casting of Raul Julia in the Street Fighter adaptation some years later.

Interestingly, Masters of the Universe is an adaptation specifically from the original line of toys, and not the immensely popular cartoon, which establishes very different backstories for the characters and the plot. This confused many fans of the franchise when the movie initially released, and almost certainly contributed to the negative reception it received.

The failure of Masters of the Universe, coupled with the disappointment of Superman IV, supposedly foiled plans by the Cannon Group to invest in a high budget film adaptation of Spider-Man in the late 1980s, which was to be funded by the profits of those two films.

A sequel to Masters of the Universe was cast and written, but was ultimately scrapped just as the Cannon Group was going under. Very little is known about the abandoned production, other than that it would have been directed by Albert Pyun (Captain America).

A reboot of Masters of the Universe is currently in the works (and has been for a few years), with the latest information that Thor: The Dark World screenwriter Christopher Yost has been attached to keep it moving along. No directors are currently attached to the project, and no clear timeline has been set for shooting or release.

Anthony De Longis, one of the actors in the film, was initially hired as a sword expert, and provided all of the fight choreography for the film. He even filled in as Skeletor in the fight sequences, and trained Dolph Lundgren on how to use a sword.

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Masters of the Universe proved to be a financial failure, bringing in only 17 million at the box office on a budget of 22 million. Likewise, the reviews of the movie were brutal, clocking in at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and 41% from audiences, along with an IMDb rating of 5.3.

One of my biggest issues with the film’s plot is the fact that no bystanders are ever harmed, or even witness the events that take place on Earth. How do no people see an alien army marching through suburban streets, or small aircraft flying over a mid-sized town? At one point, the police finally do show up, but only after they are drug to the scene by another police officer. It is assumed that at no point over the duration of the plot did anyone report suspicious activity, let along openly panic at witnessing an alien invasion.

The story of Masters of the Universe seems to assume previous knowledge of the characters, their relationships, and the basic premise of the story, which is especially confusing given that the adaptation is taken directly from a series of action figures, which are not historically known for establishing plot. The beginning of the movie could even be seen as a follow-up from a previous film given how little backstory is provided.

One unnecessary addition to the cast of Masters of the Universe that particularly got on my nerves was the annoying troll character, Gwildor. While he is crucial to the plot during a handful of moments, his primary purpose is to provide comic relief, which never fails to fall flat. Also, the makeup on the dwarf-like creature is really odd and unsettling, as if he were left out in the sun for too long.

Dolph Lundgren is surprisingly solid enough in this movie, given that he still didn’t have a solid hold on the English language at this point. That said, this certainly wasn’t a dialogue-heavy role for him, which was certainly for the best.

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The most notable aspect of Masters of the Universe is that it feels like a patchwork of better known movies from the time, like Star Wars and Back to The Future. There is not much original to it when all is said and done, and the screenplay is about as basic and no-frills as it could possibly be.

overall, I can certainly see why this movie didn’t resonate with existing He-Man fans. That said, there is a fair amount of fun to be had with this admirably mindless entry into the filmography of the 1980s. Frank Langella absolutely hams it up as Skeletor, and the creature work is all very over the top. There are more lasers and goofy visual effects than you could possibly dream of, and the plot itself centers around a synthesizer with the ability to open dimensional portals.  What more could you possibly ask for?

The value of this movie definitely comes from a combined sense of nostalgia and how poorly the film has aged on the whole. It isn’t an elite good-bad movie for sure, but I think that it is more than worth checking out at least once for the novelty of it.

The Punisher

The Punisher

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Today’s movie is a lesser-known early Marvel comic book adaptation: 1989’s The Punisher.

The Punisher is a character who was initially created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita, Sr. for Marvel, and he was debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man issue #129 in 1974. 1989’s The Punisher marked his first appearance in a film, though not his last: two other high profile movies were created with the character in 2004 (The Punisher) and 2008 (Punisher: War Zone), and an upcoming television series starring the character is currently in the works as part of the greater Marvel cinematic universe.

The writer for The Punisher was Boaz Yakin, who also penned From Dusk Til Dawn 2, The Rookie, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and also directed movies like Remember The Titans and Uptown Girls.

The Punisher was directed by Mark Goldblatt, who is best known as the proficient editor of such movies as Predator 2, Enter The Ninja, Humanoids From The Deep, Piranha, Super Mario Bros, The Howling, Commando, The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The Punisher is one of only two feature-length directorial efforts by Goldblatt, the other being the buddy cop zombie flick Dead Heat.

The editor for The Punisher was Tim Wellburn, who also cut the Stuart Gordon flick Fortress and the BeastMaster television series. The cinematographer for the film was Ian Baker, who also shot such movies as Queen of the Damned, Evan Almighty, and Roxanne.

The musical score for The Punisher was composed by Dennis Dreith, who has worked as an orchestrator on movies like The Rock, Jurassic Park, and Misery.

The visual effects for The Punisher were done by one Roger Cowland, who has worked on such films as Babe, The Piano, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and The Howling III.

The Punisher special effects and makeup teams included common elements with movies like The Matrix, The Road Warrior, Street Fighter, Fortress, Crocodile Dundee II, Razorback, and Mad Max, among others.

One of the producers for The Punisher was Robert Mark Kamen, an accomplished action movie writer who penned screenplays for such movies as Taken, The Transporter, The Fifth Element, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Karate Kid.

The cast for The Punisher includes Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe, Dark Angel, Rocky IV), Louis Gossett Jr. (Iron Eagle, Jaws 3-D), Jeroen Krabbé (The Fugitive, The Living Daylights), Barry Otto (The Great Gatsby, The Howling III), Nancy Everhard (DeepStar Six), and Kim Miyori (Metro).

THE PUNISHER, Louis Gossett, Jr., Dolph Lundgren 1989.The plot of The Punisher follows Frank Castle, an ex-cop turned vigilante who hunts down and executes members of the mafia and other criminal figures. After 5 years of his activities, the local criminal scene has weakened considerably, but the vacancy also attracts the interest of a foreign criminal power: the Yakuza. After the Yakuza attempts to seize the remaining operations of the mafia by kidnapping the surviving leadership’s children, Castle winds up making strange allies through his efforts to save the children and put the Yakuza down.

punisher4Reportedly, most of the fight choreography for the film was done with full contact, given professional martial artists were hired for the fighting roles instead of stuntmen. Dolph Lundgren did most of his own stunts for his role as well, given his martial arts background.

The Punisher is one of the best known “Ozploitation” action movies: meaning it was filmed in Australia, and done with extreme violence on an exploitation level.

A sequel to the movie was at one point planned, but the production company (New World Pictures) wound up going bankrupt before it could happen.

The Punisher interestingly did not theatrically release in the United States, due to the aforementioned bankruptcy of the production company. However, it managed to distribute to theaters internationally (at least, in places where it wasn’t outright banned), and popped up on home video shortly thereafter.

The beginning of The Punisher features a thinly-veiled version of John Gotti, one of the most well-known gangsters of the modern era. In 1989 (the year of this film’s release), he was still two years off from his ultimate conviction and incarceration, but was very much a public and recognizable figure as a crime boss. While the character isn’t explicitly named John Gotti in the movie, he is referred to as “The Dapper Don,” a well-known nick-name of Gotti’s.

The reception to The Punisher was generally negative: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 28% (critics) and 32% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 5.6. However, it has a dedicated cult following in spite of the bad reviews.

punisher3The Punisher has a great grimy look and feel to it, which is definitely a credit to this being an exploitation-style action movie. Honestly, I think this ambiance fits The Punisher as a character better than the other adaptations, though I don’t hate either of those films as much as some people do. As weird as Lundgren’s casting might seem at first glance, I think he nails the spirit of the character pretty well. Also, it is hard not to appreciate that this movie isn’t an origin story, and that the plot the screenwriter came up with is actually pretty cool, and deals with a realistic consequence of the presence of a Punisher-style vigilante.

punisher2I have never understood why so many people vocally hate this movie. The absence of the iconic skull image is certainly notable, but that actually strikes me as pretty minute on the grand scale of things. This movie is over-the-top violence and action, which is basically what the spirit of The Punisher is all about. Dolph even does a pretty good job with his lines, which is likely the result of him being given permission to rewrite them for his comfort level. I feel like it is a real shame that Goldblatt hasn’t directed any other movies, as both Dead Heat and The Punisher are entertaining flicks that have become cult classics.

I definitely recommend checking this movie out, as it is probably the best of the Marvel movies made before the modern era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony’s Spider-Man flicks, and Fox’s X-men franchise. I think b-movie and action fans in particular will enjoy this adaptation, perhaps more so than die-hard fans of the comics.