Awfully Good: The Punisher (1989)
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.
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!