Friday, May 24, 2013

The Punisher (1989) Review

The Punisher 1989 poster
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Stars: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr.
Genre: Action, Exploitation

One of the earliest film adaptations of a Marvel comic book character (lest us not forget the Howard the Duck movie), though perhaps not the finest example of how to do a comic book movie right.

So the mob kills Frank Castle's, an ex-cop's, wife and children. So he decides to kill every criminal there is, especially the mob. Thus he becomes The Punisher. However, when the yakuza come over from Japan and try to take over the mob by kidnapping all the dons' young children, The Punisher must step in and save the children.

The plot doesn't really have much to do with The Punisher comics at all. Sure there's Frank Castle's backstory (a very loose backstory, mind you) but there's no classic Punisher enemies, take for example Jigsaw, instead there's all new enemies and a new story. I know that when this film came out The Punisher was still a fairly new series (started in 1986) but they still had plenty to work with. This is essentially The Punisher thrown into the plot of a typical 80s action film. The yakuza? Seriously? A bunch of young kids serving a major plot in the film? The kids in the film mostly ruined it for me. It made the film seem like it was undecided whether it wanted to be family-friendly or not. With the yakuza and ninjas and the kids it almost feels like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie at times.

The main problem is that this film is just some damned conventional and boring. Everything about it follows the formula of an 80s action film: from the enemies to the stereotypical black 80s cop to the involvement of children to the soundtrack to the camerawork to everything else. If you've seen any other action film from the 80s you've essentially seen this one. 

Then we have The Punisher himself, played by Dolph Lundgren (whom also did many of his own stunts in here). Lundgren does a decent job portraying The Punisher/Frank Castle, for the most part. He certainly fits the look (except for that painted on 5 o'clock shadow. Seriously, what the hell?). He has such a dumb face though that sometimes the sight of him makes you want to laugh. If anyone has a dumb-looking face it's Dolph. He's not a terribly good actor either, but that sort of works for The Punisher. He does a decent enough job as the title character, I can't really complain. What I can complain about, however, is the design of the character. Where the hell is the skull? Why would you design The Punisher without a skull on his torso? That's like making a Superman movie and not giving him the 'S' on his chest. Were they trying to make it less comic-booky and feel more realistic?

The Punisher 1989 motorcycle

This is an action film. In fact, I'd probably even call it an exploitation film (or, more accurately, an Ozploitation film). The only problem is the action scenes are lame. They're boring. The action is dull, unimaginative, and often gratuitous (not that I have much of a problem with gratuitous violence, so long as it's in good fun). And when an Action Film's action fails then there's not much else you're left with.

The Punisher 1989 yakuza Lady Tanaka

I watched this movie a lot when I was a kid. I wasn't born yet when it was released (not that it was released into U.S. theaters anyway), but I remember having a VHS or possibly even DVD release. There was probably even a time when I would have called The Punisher my favorite comic book character largely because of this film (my favorite pretty much changed every other week back then). But even with nostalgia working for it I couldn't call this a good film or even a largely enjoyable one.

The Punisher 1989 Dolph Lundgren

There's many better Action films from the 80s that you can watch. I'd avoid this one unless you really love The Punisher and want to see what early Marvel films were like.

1.5/5 stars

Purchase The Punisher on Amazon: DVD - VHS

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