Title: The Punisher (1989)
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Writer: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Dulph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Nancy Everhard, Jeroen Krabbe
Sometimes a movie just doesn’t take off for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes, like in the case of Mark Goldblatt’s The Punisher, a film will die a quick and ugly death at the box office, not because the film is bad, but because the studio that backed it up is going down the drain. The studio in question was New World Pictures; a studio that was going bankrupt during the time The Punisher was being made. It was going through one of those name change things, where one company buys the other and so they end up changing the companies name. Goldblatt’s The Punisher suffered promotion wise and release wise because of this. It wasn’t released theatrically in the
but it did receive theatrical releases around the world, which is how I got to
see it in theaters, because I live in Puerto Rico.
Lucky me; this is after all, the one and only Punisher movie that’s worth a
damn, so far anyways. I didn’t enjoy Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Punisher (2004),
that’s the one with Thomas Jane as the titular character. I thought Thomas Jane
was the worst choice to play the character, not because I don’t like Thomas
Jane as an actor, but because he didn’t look the part. He didn’t look tough
enough, plus, Travolta was weak as a villain and the film itself, it just didn’t
do it for me. Punisher: War Zone (2008), I need to rewatch because I can’t
remember much of it; but I do remember thinking that Punisher looked just right
on that one, and that the action and violence was brought up a couple of
notches. But for me, this 1989 version is the closest they’ve ever gotten to
capturing the gritty, violent nature of Frank Castle.
The story is about Frank Castle going up against the Yakuza a.k.a. The Japanese Mafia. You see, the Yakuza wants to take over the whole drug operation in the city and they are asking for a huge cut of the earnings. Of course, the established drug lords of the city don’t like the deal that the Yakuza’s have set upon the table and so they decline the Yakuza’s offer. But the Yakuza’s won’t take no for answer, so in order to make sure the drug lords will all cooperate; the Yakuza’s kidnap the druglords kids and hold them as hostages! The Punisher a.k.a. Frank Castle, takes it upon himself to save the kids and destroy the Yakuza. Will he be able to do it?
What I like about this film is that it doesn’t focus so much on The Punisher’s back story, they don’t show us how he became The Punisher, on this film he just is The Punisher. We meet him when he has already set up camp in the sewers of the city, living in darkness and filth. What little we do see of his past we see in flashbacks, so the story doesn’t necessarily center around an origin story like so many comic book movies do. When he is not fighting crime, The Punisher likes to pray to God, while looking at pictures of his dead family. He asks god questions like: “Come on God, answer me. For years I’m asking why? Why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world, here is justice, here is punishment. Here…in me?” This is really the best thing about this film; they portrayed The Punisher as this lost soul, completely devoid of emotion or the ability to enjoy a normal life. He is a man drowning in sadness and revenge. Lundgren’s Punisher is bitter, angry, depressed, you kind of get the feeling he’s on a death wish. This is the way that The Punisher should always be portrayed, the man is fueled by hatred for criminals, he is not a clean cut, nice dude. He is a few bullets short of blowing himself away. A far cry from the relatively wimpy version we got on The Punisher (2004). For me, Lundgren was the perfect Punisher; he doesn’t talk much but you can just see that hatred bursting out of every pore.
So you guys know me, cinematic violence and action equals awesome. Not that I’m a violent person myself (actually far from it) but movie violence is entertaining for me, the more excessive the better; and on that note, Goldblatt’s The Punisher delivers. This is the kind of action that the 80’s were known for. There are a handful of movies that I watch when I want to remember how excessive violence was in cinema during the 80s: Commando (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987), Cyborg (1989), Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1989), Die Hard (1988)…the list can go on and on. These films remind me of a time when violence in cinema was excessive, and when I compare them to today’s “action” films, well, today’s stuff just pales in comparison. I mentioned a good example of this on a recent article where I compared the new Total Recall (2012) remake with the old TotalRecall (1989). These are two films that are thematicallyl similar but are totally different in terms of violence and gore. The Punisher is one of those good old fashion action films that has shotguns shells flying, kicks, punches, stabbings, decapitations, samurai swords, you name it, they use it on this film. A little detail that’s interesting to note: The Punisher never uses the same weapon twice!
This film comes to us from director Mark Goldblatt also known as the guy who directed Dead Heat (1988), which is a pretty fun zombie flick about a cop who gets turned into a zombie. Some old dude is creating zombies to steal diamonds! For what purpose? Watch the movie, but trust me, this is a fun, gory, violent, cop flick! The only way I can describe it is Lethal Weapon meets Return of the Living Dead, trust me it’s fun times for sure! Sadly, Goldblatt has never directed another film since he made The Punisher. I guess that has a lot to do with the fact that neither of these two films recuperated their budget at the box office, and you know how unforgiving
Hollywood studios are! The
Punisher was actually a huge turkey, it loss more than 8 million for its
producers, but like I said before, it was not the films fault. This film is solid
80’s style action, it’s dark and grimy, it’s action packed and it’s deadly
serious! A very underrated action flick from the decade of decadence. Need a
shot of testosterone?
Rating: 4 out of 5