Dissecting Dolph Lundgren’s Dark Hair Era

Throughout my entire life, I have always been an individual with many questions. Was I REALLY the milkman’s kid? Why couldn’t I turn into The Incredible Hulk when I became angry? Did we REALLY need Halloween H20 to exist? So many questions, extending over 40 years of being alive, yet one question has remained longer and with more fervour than any other. A question so profoundly deep to me, that when I try to sleep at night, my mind is filled with Hans Zimmer-like intensity and an endless amount of anxiety even pondering it. Council of Zoomers, let’s jump right into this existential, ever-present conundrum and just ask: What was up with Dolph Lundgren’s short-lived dark hair era?

Now before we get into the technicalities of “Dolph had dark hair in this movie and that movie too!”, let me be completely transparent here and say that I was pretty stoned when I pitched this piece and in my head. All that matters is the one-two punch of 1989’s The Punisher and 1990’s I Come in Peace (or Dark Angel if you’re into that title). Those were the film on my mind, so I’m sticking the landing and focusing on them. 

When Hans “The Dream” Lundgren was born, he was etched from the side of God, placed into our collective eyes with a breakout in 1985’s Rocky IV, a film that not only showed that Stallone could take a punch (or maybe that he couldn’t, Dolph almost killed the man with one of the punches), but that Hans (now called Dolph, to disguise that he was really the son of God) was a force to be reckoned with. There was a ferociousness to Lundgren in Rocky IV, something that yelled, “Here’s your new action star.” And Council of Zoom readers, there he was. 

Over the next few years, we saw Dolph “The Swedish Legend” Lundgren take up the mantle of He-Man in Masters of the Universe (Seeing that as a double feature with The Garbage Pail Kids is still an all-time favourite memory of being a kid for me) as well as starring in the Joe Zito action gem, Red Scorpion. Dolph was making a name for himself as an action star as a favour to humanity. God knows, that with a degree in chemical engineering, multiple black belts in martial arts and a past scholarship to MIT, he didn’t have to bless us with his action film abilities, the dude could have just been a badass scientist, but nooooo….he felt like giving viewers the best roundhouse kick to the face with a switcharoo that made this writer ask, “What happened to Dolph “The Kick” Lundgren and why did you give him hair dye”..in the form of The Punisher and I Come in Peace

Needing to get into the psyche of broken former police officer-turned vigilante Frank Castle in The Punisher, Dolph went method and became Castle by growing a five o’clock shadow, buying the wrong shirt (no skull?!) and getting A24-level dark with jet black hair, meaning that this Frank meant business. Growing up, when I wanted people to know I was brooding, I tried the same, but halfway through 7th grade, the hair dye (having forgotten to wash ALL of it out) began to drip down my head and The Punisher I was not, but my classmates got a good laugh. With easily the best Marvel adaptation of all time, we were given Lundgren’s signature few words, but when he spoke, we knew. We heard it. Fighting mobsters, the Yakuza and avoiding those awkward reunions with former partners trying to show that he was still alive, Castle navigated his way through punishing bad guys with a killer motorcycle, some nifty knives and hell, he even had time to meditate naked in a sewer…the dude knew about proper time management, to say the least. 

While The Punisher didn’t take off on the level of today’s Marvel fare, it became something of a cult classic to cool people like myself and when a few years back, we finally got three versions of the film on one Bluray release, life was finally beginning to make sense. Also bringing a sense of meaning, was Dolph taking the hair dye a tad bit lighter but equally as mysterious with his role as Detective Jack Caine in I Come in Peace, an action/sci-fi/horror hybrid that is to this day, one of the ten best VHS rental experiences of my entire life. In 1990, I was 9 years old and when I saw that I Come in Peace was set to hit video shelves, I ran to my local video store with my allowance, ready to rent five movies to spend my entire weekend watching. After waiting for a solid TWO hours for the clerk to stock and check in the movies into the computers so they could be rented, I had my hands on a copy of the great Mr. Dolph’s masterwork, fighting an alien who shoots cd’s at people, is super into drugs and getting fluids from human beings, while also having a killer machine gun. The experience of waiting a whole couple hours for this gem felt like I had gone to war, I was basically Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, swaying back and forth in my bedroom, with a Dr. Pepper and a Lunchable in my hands instead of whiskey, drunk not on alcohol but the rush of the greatest action hero ever, blessing my action/sci-fi/horror-loving heart with a film that covered all three genres perfectly, fighting the alien while also kicking robbers in the face, making his former flame fall back in love with him and being able to make it through an entire movie without strangling Dream On’s Brian Benben. Just when I thought the film couldn’t be more my shit than it already was, right when Dolph has the upper hand against the alien and we knew that tall ass bad guy was going to meet his maker, Lundgren raises the machine guy. The bad guy locks eyes with him and says, “I…come…in peace…” and readers, Dolph “The Great” Lundgren replies with: “..and you go in pieces, asshole.” And BAM!!! Goodbye baddie. Genius. 

While I Come in Peace would close the cycle of Dolph Lundgren’s short-lived dark hair era, the memories of those two perfect pieces of cinema remain in our hearts and souls, ready to be revisited anytime we need a friend. A tall, face kicking Swedish buddy. 

In all seriousness though, Dolph Lundgren has always been a hero of mine and his story is both inspiring and heartwarming, to say the least. As someone who grew up withstanding a lot of childhood abuse, how Dolph was able to rise up from the same to become not only an inspiration, but an individual whose career has seen such a great resurgence as of late and rightfully so, the man deserves it. Thank you Dolph for always kicking ass. 

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