Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Punisher (1989)

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 U.S., 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


Michael Grover said...

I'm with you - I liked this version much better than the one with Thomas Jane, which I found to be excruciatingly boring. Dolph Lundgren did a pretty decent job, and Jeroen Krabbé was a great villain (I've liked him since seeing him in a couple of Paul Verhoeven's Dutch films and the James Bond movie The Living Daylights). Punisher: War Zone, with Ray Stevenson, was also a lot more fun than the 2004 film. It's extraordinarily violent; I wrote a review in which I called it the bastard child of an action movie and a Romero zombie film.

sir jorge said...

I love this version of the film, much more than the other updated ones, an instant classic then and now

josephondrums said...

This was a staple of my adolescence! Dolph is the man! By the way, Ro and I have nominated you for a Liebster Award! Go here to check it out: http://rojomovie.blogspot.com/2012/08/liebster-award.html

Chris Hewson said...

I love this film too! I've always been annoyed at the reasons why some people bash it-it's usually for really stupid reasons! They whine about the missing skull on the uniform, and they bitch about how Frank Castle 'works with the mafia' in this movie, the very peole he wants dead. With a complaint like that, I doubt they've even seen the film!

I've heard from very reliable sources that P: War Zone is awesome! So be sure to check it out soon!

Jack Thursby said...

Jake: "You're crazy!"
Punisher: "No, I'm not"
Jake: "What the f*** do you call 125 murders in 5 years?"
The Punisher: "Work in progress."

This is definitely in my top 3 Dolph movies. Lots of 80s fun - bloody action + corny one liners.

It's very cheap and rough around the edges but it's got a good pace (which is to be expected given that Goldblatt has edited a lot of action films). I like that they started with Frank already being the Punisher, as the comic book's origin is sort of a cinematic cliche now.

That said they actually deleted about 20 minutes (you can find it on youtube) from the start that showed Frank and Jake as cops prior to Frank's wife and kid being murdered.

On a side note, yeah I agree Thomas Jane was miscast in the 2004 film. That said, I quite enjoyed the fan film he did for the Comicon recently - Dirty Laundry - check it out if you haven't.

Franco Macabro said...

Michael: I really need to rewatch Punisher War Zone, I remember diggin the violence, but I can't remember much else! Expect a review soon! I'll try and check out yours, thanks for commenting.

Sir Jorge: It still holds up very well, it's got one or two cheesy moments in there, like the one where Punisher fishes his informant with a bottle of alcohol strapped to a remote controlled toy truck, but the film has so much action, I love that shoot out when they first encounter the Yakuza!

jtwoddy1: Thanks for the award!

Chris Hewson: Yeah, most complaints end up being about the missing skull, which really isn't much of a complaint, hey, his skulls show up on the knives he leaves behind, they all have a little skull carved into them. I will be re-watching War Zone soon, expect a review in the coming weeks.

@Jack Thursby: True, the onliners are awesome, I read that Lundgren himself helped write some of the dialog!

True about Goldblatt, he's more of an editor than a director, he has edited many films in his career and he is still going strong.

I found some images of the deleted scenes but have never seen them myself, I will definetly be searching it out on You Tube or something.

I heard about Dirty Laundry, it has gotten rave reviews all around, I guess Jane decided to make up with that short film for the crappy movie, looking forward to checking it out.

Jack Thursby said...


Here you go - this is part 1 of the deleted opening. Pretty murky looking but then again the whole movie was. Makes for an interesting extra but I'm glad they cut it and got straight to the action.

Definitely check out Dirty Laundry when you get a chance. Very slow going but quite satisfying. It's got a surprise cameo from another big name actor but I won't spoil it.

Kev D. said...

I lost my copy of this a couple of years ago... I used to throw it in periodically to feel happy. Granted one of my roommates used to ALWAYS point out that you can see Lundgren's balls in his sewer meditation scene.

Not sure why he always thought that was important.

Franco Macabro said...

@Jack: You mean Ron Perlman? Don't worry, I read about that, all that's left is watching it. Thanks for the link to the deleted scene, i will be checking it out soon.

@KevD.: I found a copy of this dvd by pure chance at a Walgreen's sale bin and I couldn't believe I had found it, of course I bought it right away! I was so happy to finally have it, now all I need is to find a copy of I come In Peace and I can die happy. I haven't seen that one in ages and I seem to remember liking it.

I'll have to freeze frame that subway meditation sequence to check it out...just kidding! LOL.

Jack Thursby said...

Kev D: I totally forgot about the nude Lundgren scenes - what the hell were they all about? Anyway, thanks for imprinting them back in my mind!

Kev D. said...

I COME IN PEACE!!!! wow. That was another one from my childhood. I'd love to see that again...

@Jack: That's what I'm here for... reminding people to watch for Lundgren testicle and potential side-peen.


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