First, a few facts. Dolph Lundgren expresses emotions ranging from stoic to, well, really stoic. There are holes in the story large enough to pilot the Exxon Valdez through without spilling a drop. And the film is litt... more »ered with action movie clichés. But none of this matters. The Punisher succeeds because it stays true to its origins, the Marvel comic of the same name. Studio-engineered films such as Batman never quite capture the mixture of loyalty and betrayal, justice and revenge, moral ambiguity and emotional truth that are the hallmarks of the graphic novel. Films such as Darkman do. So does The Punisher. Lundgren plays Frank Castle, a dedicated policeman whose family was wiped out in a mob hit. He went underground (literally) and, as the Punisher, has been exacting his revenge, killing 125 mobsters in the past five years. But when the yakuza (Japanese Mafia) moves in on the mob's territory and kidnaps their children, it's up to the Punisher to rescue the kids. The action blazes, Lundgren (a former full-contact karate champ) moves with feral grace, the production design is a pleasure to watch, and director Mark Goldblatt (whose credits as editor include such big films as Starship Troopers and True Lies) has a clean, efficient style. --Geof Miller« less
When I first saw this back in the VHS days, I was a full-on Comic Book Geek, and the Punisher was one of my favorite books at the time. Back then I frickin HATED this movie, which had little to no resemblance to the comic book (The Punisher does not even wear his iconic Skull Emblem on his chest, for cryin' out loud!!!!). I'm fairly sure that when New Line Pictures got the "Punisher" license they didn't even bother to read any of the comics, they simply slapped his name on a generic action-movie script that they had stashed away in a drawer someplace.
So anyway, 20+ years later, I'm now a retired comic book geek, and I find this DVD in the bargain bin at the supermarket so I give it another shot. I figure, enough time has passed since I've read a Punisher comic that I should be far enough removed from the "source material" to enjoy the film on its own merits. And y'know what? I like this "Punisher" better now than I did back in the day.
In and of itself, "The Punisher" is actually a pretty decent B-Grade action movie. There are crazy gun battles every two minutes, martial arts battles against ninjas, some decent gore, shell casings everywhere, wall to wall violence, and occasionally ol' Dolph actually displays a few acting chops!
It still bugs me that they made "Frank Castle" into an ex-cop in this version (he was an ex-Marine in the comic), that his hideout is in the sewers (he's not a dang Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!), and the complete and total lack of The Skull is unforgivable, but as a straight up action movie it was better than I remembered. Still a "Punisher" movie in name only, but if you can put fanboy-ism aside it's an OK flick.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Chad B. (abrnt1) from CABERY, IL Reviewed on 3/30/2011...
This film has nothing whatsoever to do with the Marvel Comics character. It began as another movie and names were changed to make it a Punisher film. This is total crap. The 2004 Thomas Jane Punisher got it right. This version ignores about 99% of the comics in favor of being nothing but another cliched action film. Horrible beyond belief.
1 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
IVOR I. from CHICAGO, IL Reviewed on 7/4/2010...
This low-budget masterpiece has a special place in movie history. Before Blade (1998), X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002,Marvel Comics had zero luck in getting good films made based on their characters. The greed-driven Stan Lee, despite a lifetime spent screaming about his shattered innocence in that awful Hollywood, repeatedly sold movie rights to anyone with cash enough to make barking dogs like Dr. Strange (1978), Howard the Duck (1986), Captain America (1989), and, of course, a Fantastic Four film so abysmal it was never released. The Punisher (1989), however, is something else again. Introduced as a 'toon character in Spider-Man in 1974, as a former police homicide detective-cum- vigilante, taking ruthless revenge on criminals, driven to madness and existential despair by the gangland-style murder of his family, is both silly and brilliant.
Directed by Mark Goldblatt, the film stars two low budget veterans Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Dutch star, Jerome Krabbé. The story starts with a mafia Don-type acquitted of the crime of murdering detective Frank Castle (Lundgren) and his family. This thug has a very funny accent, as do many of the other minor performers. They're Australian, you see, and their American accents are dreadful. Shooting in Oz has its hazards, t the least of which is their actors' tin ear for American speech. Anyway, plotwise, turns out the Punisher has been busy killing mob members for five years. Is there a connection? Duh! This mafia guy and his crew are swiftly killed off, and in comes Detective Jake Berkowitz (Gossett). Yes, Berkowitz, the Jewish brutha has been leading an investigation of the Punisher and cleaning up the Punisher's bloody messes. As there is now a power vacuum in the local mafia, the return of the vicious Gianni Franco (Krabbé, the brilliantly suave bad guy from the Harrison Ford version of the Fugitive) from Europe means Berkowitz might bring Castle out of hiding.
Meanwhile, the mob's lack of leadership has brought in the opportunistic and even more ruthless Yakuza (Japanese mafia). The Japanese are at war with the Sicilians and the Punisher waits in the wings to eviscerate the survivors. It's all really great, fun stuff. Bad guys are offed by the usual mix of rifles, sawn-off shotguns, large caliber pistols, knives, throwing stars, grenade launchers, mortars, RPGs, etc. Yes: explosions galore! And mucho karate!!! A former karate champ, Lundgren performs all of his own stunts, and there is almost none of the usual fast-cut, heavy on the edits, fake choreography within the film's super martial-arts scenes. The acting is pretty poor, to be sure, and the scipt is a dog, but if you like your action to look convincing, this is your movie!
Comic book purists will surely be dismayed if they expect a purity of devotion to plot, but, from my point-of-view as a lover of low-budget actioners like Escape from the Bronx, An Army of One, anything with Wings Hauser and Terminator 1, I was very amused and satisfied. The big-budget version featuring Thomas Jane and a scenery-chewing bit of ham from John Travolta pales into insignificance by comparison.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
If society won't punish the guilty, he will.
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 06/18/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Let's face it, before Blade (1998), X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002), Marvel Comics really didn't have much luck in getting successful films made based on their characters. The reason? Because they would often sell the movie rights to anyone who had two coins to rub together, releasing cinematic flops like Dr. Strange (1978), Howard the Duck (1986), Captain America (1989), and even a Fantastic Four movie that was so bad it never saw the light of day, as it was too bad to even release on video. And then there was The Punisher (1989), a character introduced in the 70's within the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, issue 129, circa February 1974, a former police detective, now vigilante, taking revenge on criminals, motivated by the death of his family. Most people I know who've seen the film have pretty distinctive feelings about it, ranging from dislike to severe hate, but I always thought it was pretty good, considering...The film, directed by Mark Goldblatt, whose primary credits include editing films like The Howling (1981), The Terminator (1984), and True Lies (1994), stars Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Jerome Krabbé. Yeah, I know what you're thinking...Dolph Lundgren? I think a number of people had instant reservations when hearing Dolph, certainly an interminable dweller of the B movie circuit, pre-judging the film unfairly. Lou Gossett, Jr. brings a little star power to the table, but he also is no stranger to B movie fans appearing in films like Jaws 3-D (1983), Firewalker (1986), and any of the four or so Iron Eagle films.The film opens with a television news report, giving us some expository background with regards to a mafia type recently acquitted of the crime of killing detective Frank Castle (Lungren) and his family five years prior. The report also speaks of an elusive character named the Punisher, who has been busy killing members of the mafia over the last five years, racking up an impressive body count. Any connection? Probably...anyway, the mafia guy, returns home to celebrate, and guess who crashes the party? Killing and explosions ensue. Enter Detective Jake Berkowitz (Gossett). Seems Detective Berkowitz has been leading the investigation of the Punisher for the last five years, and believes the Punisher is actually Frank Castle, despite his superior's beliefs that Castle is dead, as the thought of a rogue cop going around killing people would be unpopular. With the recent death of this mafia boss, there's a void of real leadership in the organization, one filled with the return of Gianni Franco (Krabbé) from Europe, who intends to unite the remains of the various mob families whose ranks have been severely depleted by you know who...Turns out the decimation of the mafia families hasn't gone unnoticed, as the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) has decided to move in and take a controlling interest in criminal activities within the city, a hostile takeover, to say the least. Sounds pretty to the Punisher, as if the criminals are killing themselves off, less work for him...until the Yakuza kidnaps children of the remaining mafia families in an effort to extort control and pressure them under the Yakuza's thumb. So Castle, feeling somewhat responsible as his five-year vendetta has left the families unable to protect even their own children, begins dealing with the Yakuza, which eventually leads to an unlikely alliance with Franco, who's son is one of the kidnapped children. Guns, knives, throwing stars, explosions, it's all here (well, as far as the explosions, at one point the Punisher is firing a grenade launcher, and the explosions seem less than spectacular, more flashy than boom boomy). Not only that but there's a good amount of karate. Lundgren, a former karate champion himself, performs most all of his own stunts, and there is almost no choreography within the marital arts scenes, as real artists were used, and training in stunt techniques. Does the film stay true to the original character portrayed in the comics? For the most part...some minor changes, along with a few major ones (he never dons a shirt emblazoned with a white skull on it). I think one of the main reasons this film was ill received is because comic fans are a particular picky lot, as they spend a lot of time getting to know these characters, and tend to have high expectations when someone adapts one of their favorite characters to the silver screen. I read comics from the age of 9 until I was 23, so I have intimate knowledge, or at least I did, of many characters, and I thought this particular rendition of this character retained most of the important elements. The main element I didn't care for was his living in the sewers. I brought to mind teenage mutant ninja turtles, which is an altogether different film. I did think Lundgren face makeup was overdone. I understand why it was done the way it was, to present the visage of a skull when the light hit his face just right, and it succeeded, but other times he sort of looked like a drag queen. The most painful element of the film was the dialog. I rolled my eyes more than a few times as the delineation between Frank Castle and the Punisher was examined, unsuccessfully. Some of it was extremely corny, more so combined with Lundgren's deadpan delivery. The direction was pretty good in most areas, given that this was Goldblatt's second film, his first being the Joe Piscopo/Treat Williams cop flick Dead Heat (1988). Goldblatt has since returned to editing, which seems a much better fit for him. Gossett is fun to watch, but again, given the dialog, he is given some completely rotten lines, but he does seem to try to make the best of it, earning whatever he got for appearing in this film.A nice wide screen anamorphic print here and good audio, with special features including production notes and a theatrical trailer.Cookieman108"
Better than the year 2004 version
Tim | Cambria Heights, NY United States | 09/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The 2004 version was too soft and watered down for my tastes. I didn't like it at all.
This 1989 version is how the Punisher is truely meant to be. He punishes the guilty with extreme prejudice, without hesitation and without regrets."
Great 80's Punisher movie
cookieman108 | 04/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is great for what it is: an 80's Punisher movie. It's also the type of movie that seperates those who enjoy a great action movie from the more dogmatic and less fun. Take a look at the reviews on this site and you'll see what I mean. Action fans, who have read some Punsher comics and think it's a fun character, know an 80's action movie when they see one and can appreciate them for what they are: escapism. They enjoyed this movie.
You also have the flip side of the coin. These folks can't get past the Punisher's shirt, his having the wrong number or gender of kids, the wrong mobsters being the baddies, the wrong form of execution of his family (it's a car bomb in the movie), the wrong location of the execution (it's not in Central Park)...etc. and this is not a happy bunch. They aren't happy when Dolph is super-heroic and they aren't happy when he's more human and his shirt really bugs them.
Do any of these changes really get in the way of the movie being a great 80's action film. No. It's still a decent and entertaining movie, but they would disagree. "The Punisher has on the wrong shirt" is a major complaint, and "the new movie will be better" they hoped in vain. "Better" meant more true in every little detail to the book with no changes.
Now the '04 Punisher has arrived. Other than the shirt is the 2004 Punisher free of many of the "problems" that geekdom has with the '89 movie? Not really. Once again it seems the bad guy isn't exactly right in the new one, the Punisher's family isn't exactly right, and they are killed in Puerto Rico and not in Central Park...etc. and once again there will be folks that won't be happy. They are very "by the book" and the word escapism apparently is not in their book.
Is the 2004 Punisher a good movie? I think so. So is the 1989 Punisher. It is what it is: a great 80's action movie. Take it for what it is and have fun. Check out the '04 Punisher for additional fun BUT, if you demand that every single aspect of a movie be like the comic version then don't watch any movie with the title "The Punisher". Ever. The '89 version, as with the '04 version, are strictly for those of us who enjoy a little escapism in the form of a good action/adventure movie. The Punisher '89, like the '04 version, is a good action flick."
Original and Best
DIABOLIC888 | Pittsburgh, PA USA | 10/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Better then the 2004 version hands down. Dolph Lundgren plays the ultimate punisher, captures and delivers the story of an ice cold world that is "The Punisher". Just a great movie for this character, total classic."