Mark Goldblatts 1989 film the Punisher, for once, is a simple film for me to review.
Id been a fan of the comic books as a kid and always enjoyed Frank Castles grittier approach to dealing with situations as opposed to the usual Cape wearing heroes Ala Superman. His “balls to the wall” attitude, the zero damns given, and his lack of restraint when offing bad guys. Whats not to love?
Whereas Batman, never killed the bad guys, and just plopped them in Arkham Asylum to inevitably escape and cause havoc again, The Punisher’s results were more final, trading in the Asylums for a spray of bullets. Case closed.
“Here is justice, here is punishment, here….in me!”
The early 80s was a tricky time for comic book fans, we didn’t have much in the way of film adaptions for our favorite heroes, despite a slow TV series with Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk, and some hammily acted Spiderman movies from the late 70s.
Flicking through the latest copy of Wizard magazine i stumbled upon an article on the upcoming Punisher Movie to be filmed in Australia. This was surreal. Not only a feature length super hero film, but based on my favorite character!!
So, excitedly i rode my BMX down to the video library to hire the VHS tape. Then was turned away, as it had a R rating. Curses! Hours later, and a lot of begging, i got my Mum to hire it for me (as you did in those days, Bless her!) and i was off to experience the film, finally!
I watched this film over and over, taking all of its 80s cheesiness in and relishing every moment.
No Skull Logo? Ah well.. here’s lots of bullets anyway..
The film, while often overlooked, is a great representation of the Frank Castle character. Although it often skews from the comic mythos with its storytelling, it still holds the basic concept of the Punisher, and pulls it off well, in a grandiose comic book feel.
The role of Frank Castle is played by Dolph Lundgren, best known as Rocky 4’s Ivan Drago at the time. While some feel his portrayal as being wooden and monosyllabic, i found his grim demeanor, strong vengeful mindset and sheer brutality to “get the job done”, a fitting tribute to Marvels Protagonist.
The basic plot of the Punisher, and his rise from the ashes, comes from a Mafia family who was slowly being taken down by a pair of Cops, played by Louis Gossett Jr and Dolph Lundgren. The Mafia kills Franks family, in a car bomb, and supposedly Frank in the process, sparking a split from the buddy Cop pair and the birth of the Punisher.
Frank, supposedly dead, becomes a ghost to the world and sets up base in the sewers exacting his revenge, one Mafia Member at a time, whilst his old partner, Lois Gossett Jr, follows the bloody trail, hot on the tail of Franks handiwork, convinced that this “Punisher” is his old partner on a killing spree.
Enter the Yakuza, seeing that the Mafia is falling to pieces, decides to step in and attempt to control the now crumbling family and make a healthy profit in the process. The Mafia, being the stubborn proud lot that they are, are initially defiant with the Yakuza’s proposal, resulting in the Yakuza boss kidnapping the children of the Mafia family and holding them to ransom.
The Mafia, at a loss, now have only one choice to get their children back, and regain control…and that’s enlisting the help of the one man they know can get the job done. The Punisher…
While its a simple story that pans out predictably, the Punisher overall is a great popcorn film. While it deviates from Marvel lore, Frank being a police officer as opposed to a Marine and him enlisting the help of an old actor to get his information, (Wheres Micro?? Is that him??) it still charges along quite nicely, much to the distress of true comic nerds.
The action sequences have enough grit and firepower to please any action fan, and the finale has a host of Stock adversaries to battle through to keep the blood pumping.
Alternate Sleeve artwork…
The Blu-Ray features a slew of extras to satisfy your needs. The directors commentary highlights some of the trickier aspects of filming, as well as a few interesting tidbits about some of the actors and stuntmen who participated in the film.
Along with the Theatrical version, there’s also the Unrated version of the film, which adds in a few more frames of violence that were deemed too “Nasty” for film goers. (On a side note watching this version, i felt that it was very similar to the VHS release we got in Australia.) Also added is a longer cut of the film which adds in roughly 30 minutes of footage at the start of the film. This was a real highlight, as it shone a light on the relationship between the two Police partners prior to Franks family being killed, and added much more depth to the characters which helps make the later scene in the prison with the two, more meaningful.
So all in all, with the movies these days going Super Hero crazy, and Netflix reinventing the Punisher in his own series, this is a great look into the character and a simple but entertaining film. Whereas later iterations would follow the comics more tightly, this comes off as a fun action romp that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, just enjoyed for what it is…Good 80s action fun.
The Punisher is available on DVD and Blu Ray from Umbrella Entertainment and all good leading stores.