Tom Jolliffe selects his Five Essential Dolph Lundgren films…
From duking it out with Sly Stallone, to being Master Of The Universe, to taking on intergalactic drug dealers (yes… really!) or tearing up the desert in a Ferrari, Dolph Lundgren has pretty much done it all in the action world. He’s fired an array of weapons, kick a multitude of assess, and despatched hundreds of disposable henchmen (his movie kill count dwarfs that of Arnold's and Sly's). With that in mind, and with my ridiculously vast knowledge of his CV, I give you the essential Dolph Lundgren!
5. I Come In Peace a.k.a. (and in my opinion much preferred) Dark Angel (1990, dir. Craig R. Baxley)
Dolph takes on a drug dealer from outer space. Said drug dealer is huge, making Lundgren look like Woody Allen. For me as a Lundgren fan, trying to bring others into the Lundgren world, I’ve always found this was an easy in for the non-affiliated. It’s cheesy, it’s ridiculous, but it’s action packed, and it’s funny. Lundgren gets great support by his comic relief partner Brian Benban as a stuffy, by the book FBI agent. The title itself refers to the Alien's only line of dialogue. “I come in peace.” he says, before inevitably killing the recipient of the line, and then ramming a spiking into their head to drain endorphins from the brain. That is until he dares utter the line to Lundgren, who delivers the payoff retort and despatch. See for yourself.
4. The Punisher (1989, dir. Mark Goldblatt)
Initially something of a disaster, the film’s popularity has grown over the years, aided by two poor attempts at re-launching the franchise in recent years. Lundgren remains the toughest Mr P though. The film itself is pure meat and potatoes old school action. There’s plenty of action too, and the body count is high. The fight scenes are well crafted, and grounded in reality. Lundgren’s martial arts prowess is put to good use here. Action aside the film is hit and miss, but there are some dramatic moments which work, and Lundgren is aided by a fine cast, including Jeroen Krabbe as the bad guy and Louis Gossett Jr. as his former partner. Lundgren effectively portrays Frank Castle as a soulless entity, drifting through the sewers just waiting for his moments to emerge and seek bloody revenge. While he’ll never be considered an accomplished actor, this is one of his better performances, and he also manages to raise his game when sharing the screen with the better co-stars.
3. Masters Of The Universe (1987, dir. Gary Goddard)
For many Lundgrenites, this would be the film that started the fandom. This was the case for me. Okay, it gets a lot of it wrong, and it’s clear with the benefit of adult judgement, that the film is set on Earth for no more reason than to save money, but, like a lot of these sort of films from the 80’s, there’s a real charm to it. Despite Cannon cost cutting, everyone involved tried their best to make something of the film. Lundgren makes a convincing cartoon hero with his physique, while Frank Langella is brilliant as Skeletor. He’s playing him almost as if he’s treading the boards, doing a Shakesperean villain. Langella gives an absolute masterclass in chewing scenery. Despite the Star Wars riffing, this is pretty fun even now, but for me carries such fond memories from childhood. As a kid this was my favourite film bar none.
2. Universal Soldier (1992, dir. Roland Emmerich)
Roland Emmerich spent most of the last 15 years destroying the world in a series of awful disaster movies. Lifeless, soulless, characterless. However before that, he did Universal Soldier. The premise simple. “Lets pit two action stars up against each other!” It works. Universal Soldier is great fun. Borrowing from Robocop and The Terminator, it delivers some brilliant set pieces and an underlying sense of humour. Van Damme plays the hero with a gormless and childlike quality which works well, particularly in scenes like the motel, or the diner scene. Lundgren is full blown Tom Berenger in Platoon and then some. He really immerses himself in the role and makes for a very effective villain, comfortably taking stealing the movie. If you’re looking for a simple piece of action entertainment with some imaginative carnage, all filmed in camera, then look no further.
1. Rocky IV (1985, dir. Sylvester Stallone)
Essentially an 85 minute music video, Rocky IV borders on cartoon at time. The concepts at play and the delivery were truly ludicrous, making one wonder just what the hell Stallone was thinking. However, Sly (like Rocky would) overcomes the hurdles to deliver a chest thumping piece of entertainment. The soundtrack is fantastic, as are the countless montages that accompany the songs and fill out the short running time. The fights are brutally brilliant and fantastically edited. I would even go as far as to say the film features the most stupendously pointless and inconceivable robot ever committed to film. It’s ridiculous. But as the larger than life, cartoony centre piece, Lundgren again steals the show, as the seemingly indestructible Ivan Drago, who with ease kills Apollo Creed. Can Rocky defeat the behemoth? Sly though always has you rooting for Rocky. He gets the bloody pumping, and the audience cheering in the Stallion's corner. The film is as good an example of style over substance as you’re likely to find, but it’s brilliant none-the-less and extremely easy to watch.
Tough choices indeed, particularly for the number 5 spot, with Dark Angel pushed mightily close by Showdown In Little Tokyo and Men Of War. Other worthy mentions go to Army Of One (a.k.a. Joshua Tree), Red Scorpion, Universal Soldier: Regeneration and The Mechanik. There is of course The Expendables, but given it’s recentness it’s not quite at the re-visiting stage yet.
Dolph Lundgren is out for Round 2!
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