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Awfully Good: The Punisher (1989)

03.30.2016

Did you enjoy Frank Castle on the second season of Netflix's DAREDEVIL? Here's another version of the character to give a shot…

 

The Punisher (1989)

 

Director: Mark Goldblatt
Stars: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jeroen Krabbe

 

Having finished taking down the local mob, vigilante Frank Castle must now stop the Japanese Yakuza using his vast wealth of weapons, fighting skills and remote control toy cars.

It tends to get lumped in with bad comic book movies from the era, like CAPTAIN AMERICA and FANTASTIC FOUR, but the 1989 PUNISHER movie is legitimately great. Technically anything starring Dolph Lundgren is automatically awesome (remember I COME IN PEACE?), so therefore by the transitive property of mathematics, this movie is awesome too.


If Dolph Lundgren's KINDERGARTEN COP 2 has a scene like this, I will buy five copies.

I won't argue that Jon Bernthal's brutal and philosophical take on Frank Castle in DAREDEVIL is the best version of the superhero vigilante we've seen in live action. I also enjoy the cartoonishly violent portrayal in the delightfully ridiculous PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. (The less said about that Tom Jane-John Travolta movie the better.) But there's something about this pure 1980s version of the character that brings me such joy every time I watch it. It's probably the part where Dolph Lundgren shoots a guy with a spear gun and then proceeds to zipline down to his torso, shooting random bad guys the entire way. 


"You can tell because he branded me. Batman does that now."

Sure, there's no skull on his chest and you could make a case that this Frank Castle is more of a generic vigilante than the Punisher from the comics per se, but this movie has a lot going for it to make up for that. For one, there's a ton of action and it's all great. The fights feel like real brawling (and in some cases the fighting was full-contact) and the shootouts are worthy of the character. Frank Castle goes through a crazy number of weapons in this movie, constantly discarding so many guns the cops would have to arrest him for littering in addition to murder. Writer (and future director) Boaz Yakin definitely gets the appeal of the Punisher and manages to give fans what they want in spite of some obvious studio interference. For example, the film opens like a horror movie, with random mobsters being murdered by the unseen title character, who's lurking in the shadows and waiting to punch through the ceiling to stab someone. It's a great start and only gets better from there. 


Once Batman started using guns, it was only a matter of time…

Obviously Lundgren is great as Frank Castle and has no problem handling all the action and the one-liners. However, he's also tasked with a couple big inner monologues about justice and vengeance. The actor does an admirable job, but just to take your mind off of his performance, each of these scenes for some reason ends with a shot of Lundgren sitting completely naked from the back, his testicles precariously exposed for all to enjoy.  


"I must break you."
- Things Ivan Drago says to his penis before getting intimate with himself

The film thankfully skips The Punisher's origin story (save for a few choice flashbacks/dreams) and offers us a Frank Castle in his prime who's been at the job for years. By this point, the vigilante hero has essentially taken out the entire mafia, only for the Yakuza to move in. Eventually, the Yakuza kidnaps the children of all the remaining mob bosses (and to show they're not screwing around, they execute a panda). This puts the Punisher in quite a predicament: he really, really hates the mob for murdering his wife and kids, but that also gives him a soft spot for potentially-murdered children. He first tries shooting up a Japanese casino (literally a five-minute sequence where the Punisher fires hundreds of bullets at various slot machines and poker tables), but eventually decides to just kill the entire Japanese mob and rescue the kids himself. Just another Thursday for Frank Castle. 


Donald Trump's restaurant had a welcoming policy toward minority guests. 

Admittedly, there is some "awful" to all the "good" here. Mainly just silly scenes like a shootout at an amusement park fun house where ninjas use the slides, or the Punisher driving a bus full of children in a slow-moving car chase where the little ones help fight off bad guys. Castle also has a couple of completely worthless allies, including his former cop partner, played by Louis Gossett Jr., who spends the entire movie tracking down the Punisher only for that thread to go absolutely nowhere. And then there's the most bizarre aspect of the movie—Castle's friend Shake, a former British thespian who is now an alcoholic that speaks entirely in rhyme for no reason. (Best Lines, obviously.) 


GO HOME OPTIMUS PRIME. YOU'RE DRUNK.

Also enjoyably odd is the film's ending, which was allegedly reshot at the last minute. The final fight, after all the build up and big action moments, takes place between the Punisher and a mute teenage girl. She's a good fighter, but it's still hilarious to see Dolph Lundgren pretend to struggle against a tiny teeny bopper. THE PUNISHER also attempts to end on a touching note between the title character and one of the children. Except in this movie "touching" means Dolph Lundgren rescuing the kid, murdering his dad in front of him, and then threatening to kill him too if he doesn't "stay a good boy and grow up to be a good man."

I would totally buy a "Frank Castle's Guide to Parenting" book. Someone from Marvel get on that.

The best of The Punisher's one-liners and naked monologues.

The best kills and action scenes involving Dolph Lundgren, Lou Gossett Jr, and a panda.

I'm pretty sure I've now seen Dolph Lundgren's nutsack. 


Been bad? Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • The Punisher says the words "guilty" or "justice"
  • The Punisher discards a weapon
  • There's a flashback
  • A panda dies
  • A kid gets hurt

Double shot if:

  • Dolph Lundgren is naked

 

Thanks to Ben for suggesting this week's movie!

 

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.

Source: JoBlo.com

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6:15AM on 04/01/2016
Hasn't this movie been covered before? In any case, I recall enjoying this and thought Dolph portrayed a broken, depressed, psychotic Castle fanatically well. Sure, like Superman 2, it's terribly dated now - but for what it was, at that time, it was great stuff. I certainly enjoyed this far more than Jane's Punisher or War Zone (the only version I can't remember anything of). Prior to season 2 of DD, I'd have said the best Punisher was in fact Jane's short - very entertaining, followed by
Hasn't this movie been covered before? In any case, I recall enjoying this and thought Dolph portrayed a broken, depressed, psychotic Castle fanatically well. Sure, like Superman 2, it's terribly dated now - but for what it was, at that time, it was great stuff. I certainly enjoyed this far more than Jane's Punisher or War Zone (the only version I can't remember anything of). Prior to season 2 of DD, I'd have said the best Punisher was in fact Jane's short - very entertaining, followed by the 1989 version, followed by Jane's Punisher movie but only because I can't remember anything of War Zone. Jane's movie at least had a great Castle origin (family massacre was very well done). The best Punisher movie that wasn't a Punisher movie has to be Man on Fire though. Anyhoo, we can all thank the heavens for season 2 of DD now - we don't need to think about this stuff anymore.
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1:45PM on 03/31/2016
Can I just say, Lady Tanaka's daughter (the mute teenybopper who damn near beat the shit out of Frank Castle) had a very profound effect on me in my formative years.
Can I just say, Lady Tanaka's daughter (the mute teenybopper who damn near beat the shit out of Frank Castle) had a very profound effect on me in my formative years.
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8:21AM on 03/31/2016
Very much "of its time" - I still enjoy this version of The Punisher. Had it on VHS back in the day, have it on DVD now and still have the comicbook adaption of the film somewhere too. It's a bit nonsensical in parts, but that's not a significant criticism of action movies generally.
Very much "of its time" - I still enjoy this version of The Punisher. Had it on VHS back in the day, have it on DVD now and still have the comicbook adaption of the film somewhere too. It's a bit nonsensical in parts, but that's not a significant criticism of action movies generally.
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10:05PM on 03/30/2016
I actually used to have this on VHS back in the '90's.
I actually used to have this on VHS back in the '90's.
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5:44PM on 03/30/2016
Hands down cheesy. Could've sworn I've seen this movie before in this column. I think Ray Stevenson was the best Punisher since he had the physicality along with the monotone voice nailed down. Jane was great too. Too bad those films were really bad. Jon Bernthal has had the most fleshed out incarnation yet and I'm hoping to see more.
Hands down cheesy. Could've sworn I've seen this movie before in this column. I think Ray Stevenson was the best Punisher since he had the physicality along with the monotone voice nailed down. Jane was great too. Too bad those films were really bad. Jon Bernthal has had the most fleshed out incarnation yet and I'm hoping to see more.
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4:44PM on 03/30/2016
"... it's still hilarious to see Dolph Lundgren pretend to struggle against a tiny teeny bopper."

Then you know exactly how I feel when watching Hunger Games, Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean 2-4, anything else portraying Keira Knightly as a battle bitch, Star Wars: Episode VII, Terminator: Genysis, etc.

Cue the wailing from the "equal representation" tards.
"... it's still hilarious to see Dolph Lundgren pretend to struggle against a tiny teeny bopper."

Then you know exactly how I feel when watching Hunger Games, Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean 2-4, anything else portraying Keira Knightly as a battle bitch, Star Wars: Episode VII, Terminator: Genysis, etc.

Cue the wailing from the "equal representation" tards.
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3:40PM on 03/30/2016
I still think this is the best version we have had.
I still think this is the best version we have had.
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11:45AM on 03/30/2016
So far this was the best and most accurate rendition of the Punisher. Yes, I completely understand that this version of the Punisher was clearly flawed and out dated since it did come out in 1989 with a limited budget and filmed out of the country. It was always crazy to me just how bitter some people are to this version. Name a comic book movie that was this brutal to had came out before the 90's? To those that have already seen this and hated it need to be aware that there is a uncut version
So far this was the best and most accurate rendition of the Punisher. Yes, I completely understand that this version of the Punisher was clearly flawed and out dated since it did come out in 1989 with a limited budget and filmed out of the country. It was always crazy to me just how bitter some people are to this version. Name a comic book movie that was this brutal to had came out before the 90's? To those that have already seen this and hated it need to be aware that there is a uncut version out there that could have made this version better. What stood out to me the most about Dolph's version of the Punisher was his take on the character itself. Dolph is a relentless emotionless hulking killing machine that has no care about his own well being. This was clearly noticeable in every Punisher comic book series. The one massive flaw about all of the Punisher movies is that neither one follow enough aspects from the comics. Of the three directors that have made a version of the Punisher neither of them were actually a fan of the Punisher. Nothing against Tom Jane as an actor. I thought his best work was in the movie "Thursday". If you are unaware of the movie "Thursday", watch it and you'll see Tom Jane play a much tougher character than what he potrayed in his version of the Punisher. What hurt Tom Jane's version was how he dealt with his foes especially when he made Travolta kill his friend and wife blah blah blah. The real Punisher would not go through this much trouble, he would just walk through the front door and kill Travolta's entire family. Ray Stevenson version was a damn comedy, nuff said. Hollywood is afraid of truly creating a legit version faithful to the comics. The Punisher is a soulless pissed off killing machine that only cares about massacring bad guys and yes... sometimes innocents get killed in the middle of it.
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11:39AM on 03/30/2016

THANK you.

This movie has an unfairly bad rep and I can't understand why. I saw this as a youngin' just as I was discovering the comic and was totally on board. I didn't miss the skull shirt as I felt the movie was clearly going for gritty and real before this became the M.O. for every comic book movie. Massively underrated 80's hot cheese action flick IMO.
This movie has an unfairly bad rep and I can't understand why. I saw this as a youngin' just as I was discovering the comic and was totally on board. I didn't miss the skull shirt as I felt the movie was clearly going for gritty and real before this became the M.O. for every comic book movie. Massively underrated 80's hot cheese action flick IMO.
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11:35AM on 03/30/2016
80's action packed cheesy fun, I did not like it as a young teenager but I rewatched it a few years ago and I loved it. The same thing will be said about War zone in the future I'm sure which I consider to be the best punisher put on film so far. The daredevil version is good , it's not like he had much to do this season as the punisher so I'll wait till definitive judgement. One thing that bothers me a bit though about Bernthal is that he doesn't seem big enough and I like my punisher being
80's action packed cheesy fun, I did not like it as a young teenager but I rewatched it a few years ago and I loved it. The same thing will be said about War zone in the future I'm sure which I consider to be the best punisher put on film so far. The daredevil version is good , it's not like he had much to do this season as the punisher so I'll wait till definitive judgement. One thing that bothers me a bit though about Bernthal is that he doesn't seem big enough and I like my punisher being big, intimidating with big guns. Bernthal looks more like a middleweight boxer who loves De niro and Pacino movies a bit too much... The Thomas Jane/Travolta version was wrong in almost every way imo. I love Thomas Jane but he wasn't the punisher from the comics I've been reading.
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3:42PM on 03/30/2016
Im actually surprised to not see Bethnal rubbing his head every 5 minutes like he did in the Walking Dead.
Im actually surprised to not see Bethnal rubbing his head every 5 minutes like he did in the Walking Dead.
11:07AM on 03/30/2016
The Thomas Jane version is my favorite cinematic film of the Punisher, but Jon Bernthal is my overall favorite interpretation of the Punisher.
The Thomas Jane version is my favorite cinematic film of the Punisher, but Jon Bernthal is my overall favorite interpretation of the Punisher.
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10:43AM on 03/30/2016
This movie is really an awfully good movie. Such cheesy fun. Still, I never understand why there's so much hate on Thomas Jane's Punisher. I actually like that movie a lot, even more than Punisher: War Zone. Also, I really love the line Go Home Optimus Prime, You're Drunk!
This movie is really an awfully good movie. Such cheesy fun. Still, I never understand why there's so much hate on Thomas Jane's Punisher. I actually like that movie a lot, even more than Punisher: War Zone. Also, I really love the line Go Home Optimus Prime, You're Drunk!
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