Tag Archives: Universal Soldier

The Punisher (1989)

I was one of those kids who only had a dozen or so comic books to my name but still read them constantly anyway. We’re talking constantly. Most of them were Batman titles, a few were Spider-Man or Darkhawk, one was an old Justice League issue featuring Eclipso. One was an issue of Weird War Tales with a soldier kneeling at a grave on the front cover and exclaiming to the soldier behind him “Hey! According to this…you DIED three weeks ago!”, and for some reason that shit freaked me out. Outside of the occasional Saturday morning cartoon, these precious issues were my sole window into the superhero world.

My favorite of the batch might have been a 64-page Annual issue of The Punisher, featuring a few different Punisher yarns and Part One of the mini-crossover The System Bytes. I read that thing until the cover and inside pages wore out and started to fall away and I had to cradle it like a fragile science project on the bus ride to school every time I wanted to read it. Punisher wasn’t my favorite superhero — I’d probably have told you he’s not a superhero at all, and that my Punisher issue was more similar to the Weird War Tales issue than to the guys-in-costume stuff. Spidey was the coolest and Batman was for some reason automatically my favorite, but I still went back to that Punisher comic over and over.

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Bloodsport (1988)

After watching the surprisingly affecting JCVD last week, a return to the glory days of action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme seemed in order. A dozen movies and a kamillion roundhouse kicks later, I emerged in a blearyeyed stupor with a stark reminder of the true nature, dark and terrible, of a Van Damme flick. The horror…the horror…

Bloodsport is definitely the one that shot JCVD to fame, and by all accounts it’s a pretty typical outing for the Muscles from Brussels. Most of his films from the early ‘90s are either about a) a young fighter looking to high-kick his way to the top or b) a studly defender of the meek who high-kicks the shit out of the oppressive. There are some decent movies in there, to be sure, namely John Woo’s unapologetically action-oriented Hard Target and Van Damme’s Die Hard attempt Sudden Death. For every one of those there are two stinkers, though, like the Aggro Crag-set Cyborg and the unbearably campy Street Fighter.

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JCVD (2008)

All of the Oscar hubbub surrounding Birdman got me thinking about JCVD, a movie built on a somewhat similar concept. You might superficially call this “a comeback movie”, if you think of Michael Keaton’s Birdman role in the same way most think of Mickey Rourke’s revitalization in The Wrestler. This might be the comeback of Jean-Claude Van Damme, action hero of the ’90s, star of movies with such vague titles that his name is printed in larger font on the posters, one-time king of both the roundhouse kick and the action flick box office.

But JCVD is set up like Birdman in another way, and after a certain point it’s not really a comeback film at all. The Muscles from Brussels stars as himself, or at the very least a tired and nearly washed-up version of himself, broke and embroiled in a custody battle for his young daughter. He’s still acting in the same films he’s always been acting in, but nowadays the passion seems sucked out of the entire process. The first long shot of JCVD follows Van Damme as he does an action sequence from his latest film, directed by a kid who doesn’t give a shit about Van Damme, and that opening shot tells two stories at once. It tells the story of the film-in-the-film, in which Van Damme’s hero saves a hostage from an army of faceless henchmen. But it also tells the actor’s story, Van Damme visibly going through the motions to get the film done instead of actually living through the thrill of the action. Every punch and jab and dive is perfect, exactly where it should be, and because of that it’s the most unexciting action sequence ever filmed.

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