Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Punisher (1989)

To say that comic book movies were in a rut in the 80's is to make a grand understatement.  With the exception of the first two Superman movies (yeah, the first one was in 1978 but work with me here) and Tim Burton's take on Batman, the slate was anemic at best and downright awful at worst.  It really says something when the best of the batch between 1982 and 1988 was Superman III.  The worst, naturally is Superman IV but we don't need to get into that now.

Falling somewhere in the middle is 1989's The Punisher.  Loosely based on the Marvel Comics anti-hero, it stars Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle, a burnt out shell of man whose life was destroyed by the death of his family.  He now lives as a remorseless vigilante, killing bad guys by the truckload as often as he can.

The thin plot revolves around a mob war between the Mafia (mainly Franco played by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe) and the Yakuza (headed by Lady Tanaka, played by Kim Miyori) that takes a dark turn as Tanaka kidnaps the children of the Mafia heads.

Louis Gossett Jr. is also on hand as Frank's old friend, a cop who was his partner and now is hunting him down.  I'd say that Gossett blew his Oscar win for An Officer and a Gentleman...and I'd be right.  Still, he's good enough here, though the dialogue is rather beneath him.

The film really belongs to Lundgren, however.  While he lacks the comic version's iconic skull t-shirt, he pretty much embodies the character fairly well.  Frank Castle is supposed to be closed off emotionally  so having him played by one of the least expressive (I still love the guy though) action stars of the decade works fine.

The action is pretty damn good with some nice shootouts and some decent moments of gore sprinkled throughout.  Director Mark Goldblatt does an adeq2uate job of staging it all and while it's not a good movie, it's certainly not the fault of the action.

The problems with the movie really stem from the low budget and poor screenplay.  The film has a rather cheap feel to it which is not a surprise given that it's a New World release.  This isn't generally a huge problem but when you try to make Australia look like New York, it's generally a good idea to try as little harder than the film does.

The script is also poorly done.  The villains are cardboard cutouts with little in the way of personality, Frank Castle is a shockingly dull vigilante (even in the comics he at least had a personality which Dolph can pull off when needed) and the subplot with gossett goes nowhere.

The Punisher is an acceptable time waster if you enjoy crappy action movies from the 80's.  It's not the worst thing you;'ll ever see but it does vanish from the old memory bank pretty quickly.


  1. Definitely agree with your review. But thought Lundgren was a better Punisher than Thomas Jane.

  2. I agree, he just got the tone of the character a little bit more.


About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.