“THE GUILTY WILL BE PUNISHED!”: The Punisher (1989, directed by Mark Goldblatt)


The-Punisher“What the fuck do you call 125 murders in 5 years?”

“Work in progress.”

With that line, Dolph Lundgren claimed the role of Frank Castle as his own.

Who is Frank Castle?  A former cop, he was mistakenly believed to be dead after mobsters killed his wife and children.  He has spent five years waging a one man war on the Mafia.  When not killing the criminal element, he spends his time naked in the sewers and having conversations with God.

“Come on God,” he says, “answer me. For years I’m asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me.”

Everyone knows him as the Punisher.  Only his former partner, Detective Berkowtiz (Lou Gossett, Jr.) suspects that the Punisher is actually Frank Castle.

Frank has been so effective in his one-man war on crime that the Mafia is now permanently weakened.  Plotting to take over city’s underworld, the Yakuza arrives in New York City.  Their leader, Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), kidnaps the son of Gianni Franco (Jereon Krabbe) and threatens to kill him unless Franco turns his operation over to her.  The Punisher and Franco team up to rescue Franco’s son and to destroy the Yakuza.  Even as the two works together, the Punisher makes sure that Franco knows that he will be punished for being a criminal.

“There’s a limit to revenge, you know,” Franco says.

“I guess I haven’t reached mine yet,” The Punisher answers.

With the current popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is easy to forget that, in the 80s and 90s, almost all Marvel movies were straight-to-video affairs like this one, made with budgets so low that they could not even afford a Stan Lee cameo.  The Punisher was one of the few halfway entertaining ones.  It may not be a great movie but when compared to the 1990 version of Captain America or the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four, The Punisher looks like a masterpiece.  When this movie was first released, The Punisher was one of the most popular of Marvel’s characters, starring in three separate titles.  While the movie embraces the Punisher’s violent methods and reactionary worldview, it also make some unnecessary chances to the character, not only tweaking his origin story by making Frank a former cop (instead of a grieving father whose family fell victim to random mob violence) but also doing away with The Punisher’s iconic skull shirt.

Marvel's Punisher

Marvel’s Punisher

Dolph Lundgren's Punisher

Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher

Can a punisher without a skull still be The Punisher?

Surprisingly, he can.  Dolph Lundgren is not only physically right for the role but he is also believable as a psychologically damaged vigilante.  This Punisher could teach Deadpool a thing or two.  After the Punisher kills one gangster in front of the man’s terrified son, he tells him, “Stay a good boy and grow up to be a good man.  Because if you don’t, I’ll be waiting.”  When the boy aims his father’s gun at him, the Punisher places his forehead against the barrel and says, “Do it.”  When you consider that The Punisher was originally introduced, in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, as someone who would shoot jaywalkers because they had broken the law, you can see that Lundgren’s performance really gets to the twisted soul of the character.

Even without the skull, Lundgren’s Punisher is still far superior to the versions played by Tomas Jane and Ray Stevenson.  When Jon Bernthal plays the role in the second season of Daredevil (and officially brings the character into the MCU), he will hopefully have learned some lessons from watching Dolph Lundgren.

Punisher

 

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