"Dolph Lundgren stars as Marvel Comics most feared vigilante."
As an adaptation, the 1989 version of The Punisher staring Dolph Lundgren is a spectacular film. Although It has almost nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character other than the title character’s name. One draw back of the film is that Frank Castle doesn’t even wear his trademark skull T-Shirt. Aside from this nuance, as an action film, The Punisher isn’t all that bad. Of course it has ninjas, tons of bloody mob violence, and a body count that at times seems to number in the hundreds. If you look past the few mistakes you can see that the film is supposed to be bringing a comic book character to life, and that The Punisher is actually a pretty good time.
As an actor Dolph Lundgren doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. One notable lesser known fact is that in addition to having a master’s degree in chemical engineering he starred in some great movies during the ’80s and most of the ’90s. Sadly his name often, and unfairly, gets shuffled behind the other stars of the era. But there is just something undeniable about him on screen; Lundgren always looked incredibly convincing as an action hero. The way he held a gun, the way he kicks a bad guy, it always seemed to have an authenticity behind it. He truly brings a weight to Frank Castle, a dark intensity and huge stature. He’s menacing and very believable.
The plot of The Punisher is perfectly ’80s. Frank Castle’s one-man war against the mob is disrupted when the Yakuza come to town and enter into the fray. The Punisher is happy to let all the bad guys kill each other until the Yakuza decide to kidnap all the mob lords’ school aged children. Obviously The Punisher can’t stand by while innocent children are hurt, regardless of who their parents are. So, the guns and knives come out and the bodies pile up. It’s action from start to finish, a hail of bullets that leads to bloodbath after bloodbath.
For a film shot in the 1980's ,the action in The Punisher is surprisingly well shot and fun to watch. The shootouts are great, but the real awesomeness is centered around a car chase scene that features a bus full of kids. At one point, the bus rams a parked car with a dude standing on the hood. The guy leaps into the air, flies through the windshield of the bus and lands inside where he proceeds to fight the Punisher. It’s fantastic stuff and perfect example of why this movie is so freaking rad !
Now, there is no way that you can talk about this movie without talking about the honorable Louis Gossett Jr. He shines through and through as the detective hunting down the Punisher; the only man who believes that Frank Castle is the vigilante. He’s driven and obsessed, but not in a cartoonish way. One of the best moments in the whole movie just features Gossett Jr. and Lundgren in a jail cell talking. There’s a real sense of pain and frustration as the two men, former allies, realize they will never again see eye to eye. It is one of the deeper moments in the film and is something that adds to the physiological and moral ambiguity of The Punisher.
The best line of the film comes when Gossett Jr. tells Lundgren he’s sick and that he needs help; “What do you call 125 murders in 5 years, Frank?” he says. “A good start,” Lundgren growls in response. It’s amazing.
Directed by Mark Goldblatt and written by Boaz Yakin, The Punisher never managed a theatrical release in the United States. Instead, it went straight to video and laserdisc where it no doubt traumatized thousands of parents who rented this for their children thinking it was just a comic book movie. Goldbatt and Yakin went on to have very successful careers in Hollywood with a list of film credits you have to see to believe. This might seem hard to swallow given all the flack The Punisher gets, but if you watch again with a fresh set of eyes, you’ll see it’s a fairly well crafted flick.
If you, like most folks, haven’t watched this film in decades, give it another go. If you give it a fair shot, you’ll find that Dolph Lundgren’s The Punisher is a pretty great 80s action movie. It’s brutal, violent, and really very well put together.
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