The Punisher (1989)

Frank Castle…  It’s the A-1 super bad ass of the Marvel Universe.  He is a marksman from the U.S. Marines who also trained with the Navy Seals.  Basically, name some group in the military, and Castle probably had something to do with it.

When he returned from service, he was excited to come home to his wife and children.  However, while picnicking with them, tragedy happened.  A mob deal went sour and the shootout resulted in Castle’s family being caught in the middle and killed.  He vowed to destroy every criminal and became known as The Punisher.

Punisher’s first appearance came in a 1974 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in which he tries to take down Spidey for the apparent murder of Norman Osborn (not knowing the truth which was Osborn actually was a supervillain and his death was at his own hands).  He became a huge hit with readers, and grew to even greater prominence in the grimy-gritty days of the 1980s.  That’s when he got not one, but two series of his own.  With this type of popularity, the 80s mostly being a tough-on-crime era full of action and shoot-em-ups, and hype growing for the upcoming grittier version of Batman coming to screens (as opposed to the campy 1960s version from the TV series), it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking for a Punisher movie.

New World International won the opportunity to put Frank on the big screen.  They intended on putting the film out in theaters in August of 1989.  That would have been great timing to capitalize on Batman’s popularity, and still get those lucrative summer bucks.  The film was delayed being released, playing only in a couple places in Europe in late 1989, and at a comic convention in 1990, but New World’s financial issues that would eventually lead to their demise caused them to have to sell the film to Live Entertainment.  Live released it direct-to-video in summer of 1991.

I remember seeing advertisements for this around before its release to video, but I never saw the movie.  I was never a huge Punisher fan.  I’m not that big on grimy and gritty anti-heroes.  I prefer the sunshine heroes as opposed to those who utilize darkness and shadows like villains would.  I have seen the later films made in the 2000s (The Punisher in 2004 and Punisher: War Zone in 2008, the latter being far superior to which I know I am in the minority with that opinion).  While it did carry some negativity from fans, but not quite like 1990’s Captain America and 1994’s Fantastic Four did.  That indicates to me what I always believed – this movie mostly flew under the radar and therefore never that much of a disappointment in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, now that he’s made his big bow on Netflix’s Daredevil series, he’s about to get his own series on the streaming outlet and is likely to get the attention he deserved as one of the best selling comic book characters of the 80s and 90s.

The synopsis from the back of the DVD box reads: “The avenging angel of Marvel Comics fame comes brilliantly to life in this searing action-adventure thriller!  Dolph Lundgren stars as Frank Castle, a veteran cop who loses his entire family to a mafia car bomb.  Only his ex-partner (Louis Gossett, Jr.) believes Castle survived the blast to become THE PUNISHER… a shadowy, invincible fighter against the evil who lives for total revenge on his mob enemies.  Lashing out from a labyrinth of subterranean sewers, THE PUNISHER leads a heavily armed raid into a world of brutal crime and savage retribution.  A world where only one thing is certain… the guilty will be punished.”

Not being much of a fan of The Punisher, and by no means an expert, I will primarily be watching this as a casual viewer.  I will likely not be able to point out too much that wasn’t well adapted – well aside from Castle not being a cop and it was a shootout that killed his family.  So let’s get this thing rolling!

Now, I will admit it took me about a full half hour trying to figure out how to get this goddamn DVD to play on my new laptop.  It’s a real struggle getting older, kids.  Once I was finally able to get it to play, I was greeted by a menu screen that is nothing short of complete madness.  Don’t take my word for it.  Check it out:

There’s billowing fire behind what appears to be an airbrushed Dolph Lundgren in order to make him look more like Sylvester Stallone.  There’s a craps table that leads to some sort of juggling clown statue in a Buddhist temple.  “The Punisher” is also reaching into the distance.  The menu itself is made out of bad 90s computer effects, but worst of all…  It doesn’t keep the same perspective as the rest of the image.  It’s like Special Features, Scene Index, and Movie all stay parallel to the craps table, but then Play ramps up as if it is deciding to take off and leave this menu behind.  I kinda feel like this is what you’re shown by a mad scientist trying to experiment on you to drive you insane.

As the movie opens, a news broadcast has information about Moretti, a lieutenant in a big mob family, being released from prison.  He’s the one accused of killing Frank Castle and his family.  It’s also stated that the mysterious “Punisher” has killed like 125 criminals in the last 5 years.  When Moretti comes home, his thugs are dispatched one by one by the Punisher.  Not only that, but the Punisher blows up Moretti’s house.  The crime boss stumbles out and collapses with a knife in his back.  The news gathered outside almost get a look at the Punisher, but he is hidden by the explosion and he is able to escape.

Nice shot.  I can really see everything that’s happening.

Berkowitz (Gossett, Jr.) is getting pressured by the mayor and his captain that he needs to put a lid on his belief that Castle is the Punisher.  Sam Leary, an up and coming go getter in the police, begs to be Berkowitz’s partner.  She gets his attention when she says she also believes Frank is the Punisher.

Big time top dog mob guy, Gianni Franco, comes home from being abroad.  He meets with his trusted #2 and says he’s got a whole bunch of coke coming into the city soon and he’s looking to consolidate his power so they can crush the Punisher.

Castle gets some information from a boozehound named Shake (you know, because alcoholics have the shakes).  Shake tells him where the dope is arriving and also reveals that it’s not the dope that is the big deal, but that a giant contingent of mob guys are going to be on hand.  Basically, Castle will be shooting fish in a barrel.  What no one expects, though is that an Asian crime syndicate has hijacked the boat with the drugs on it and steals the cargo.  While killing some of the guys who survived the attack from the Asian group, Castle tries to stop the others taking off with the shit.  He eventually takes a knife to the chest and falls into the water while the others get away.

Say what you will, he looks the part.

Leary and Berkowitz investigate and she thinks that it was simply a drug deal gone bad, but Berkowitz sees a signature skull knife handle that Castle uses to kill some of his targets.  Franco meets with Lady Tanaka, the first female leader of the Yakusa.  She wants take over the mobs.  She offers Franco an ultimatum and if he doesn’t take the deal, they will go to war.  Franco decides that they only have one possible option – they go to war.  However, Tanaka already has taken steps to put the mob at a disadvantage.  She’s ordered the kids of the various mob guys to be kidnapped.

Shake tells Castle that the kids have been taken.  He says that Castle’s five year bender of killing and punishing has caused this escalation.  He intends to simply let the Yakuza and the mob kill each other and he pretty much plans to cleanup what’s left.  Shake thinks that no matter what, the kids will be sold by slavers and suffer the worst, but Castle doesn’t really give a shit (and that’s awesome).

Evil dragon lady and piles of cash…  Just another Tuesday for me.

Shake may be a drunk, but he’s proven right in the very next scene as Lady Tanaka gets a giant brief case of cash for the kids to be sold into slavery.  She and her hot ass adopted mute daughter go to visit the kids and offers them some solace by saying they will be going home soon and hands out candy.  She takes one little girl with her and when Franco’s son gets a little sideways with the guards, he gets knocked out and taken too.

At one of the Yakuza underground casinos, Castle drops in and blows the place to shit.  As Leary and Berkowitz investigates, Leary finds out that all the chiefs of the mob’s kids have been kidnapped and that the Punisher has been tapped as the prime suspect.  Berkowitz says he thinks they are wrong, but Leary thinks it makes sense, but because of Catle’s kids being part of the situation that has driven him over the edge, Berkowitz thinks there is more going on than meets the eyes.

Castle follows a lead to a rundown amusement park but gets outmatched by the Yakuza.  Hea and Shake get taken captive.  Lady Tanaka and her hot ass mute daughter try to torture information out of Castle but he refuses to give them anything.  She then tries to torture Shake to see if he will let a friend get hurt.  Castle works himself out of his cuffs and kills the captors.

Lady Tanaka and her hot ass deaf daughter go to meet the heads of the mob.  They think she will be giving back their kids, but she’s set a trap for them.  The mob guys all get killed except Franco because he refused to do business with the Yakuza.

Elsewhere, Castle frees the children.  He nearly gets captured again, but escapes in a bus with all but one of the children – Franco’s son.  Castle dispatches the Yakuza, but when a police blockade prevents them from going any further, he has to out himself to let the kids go.  He’s taken to a holding cell where he and Berkowitz chat.  Castle explains that if someone is guilty, he will kill them.  Berkowitz wants Castle to let him in so he can help.  He refuses, and Berkowitz leaves angrily and brokenhearted.

Franco helps bust Castle out so he can help bring down the Yakuza.  Franco has also captured Berkowitz and says if Castle doesn’t help him get back his son, they will kill his friend.  Franco and Castle enter the Yakuza’s stronghold.  Back at mob headquarters, Berkowitz escapes from his captors.

Franco and Castle make their way to Lady Tanaka and her hot ass mute daughter.  Oh, the hot ass mute daughter is like a ninja champion.  I would let her karate kick my balls for hours on end.  I could really get into some weird sex shit with her.  You know what else?  She wouldn’t be able to complain when I kinda let myself go, or decide I don’t want to eat leftovers and would rather eat McDonalds.  Just no yakkity yak from her whatsoever.  Mute chicks…  They’re the best!

Oh fuck, never mind… The Punisher just snapped her neck.

So, Franco finds his son and Lady Tanaka.  She wants him to commit suicide right in front of his son, but she’s killed by a Castle flying through the paper wall and tossing a knife in her head.  Franco, now reunited with his son, hold Castle at bay with a gun.  He says that in just a few years’ time, his son will be the head of an even more powerful mob.  Castle and Franco wrestle with the gun in the mix and it goes off killing Franco.  His son swears he will kill Castle for what happened to his father and he basically asks the kid to in the hopes that if he kills him now, maybe Tommy won’t grow up to be like his father.  Tommy isn’t able to do it.  Before leaving Castle tells Tommy to be a good man because if not, he will be waiting for him.

Holy fuck…  Frank Castle just told a kid to fly right or he’s gonna kill him.  That’s fucking magic right there.

Kid, he just killed a hot ninja mute girl.  Don’t fuck with him.

Berkowitz hopes to find Castle, but he was nowhere to be found.  In his sewer hang out, Castle kneels naked and greased up waiting for the guilty so they can be punished.

I dug the shit out of this movie.  I kinda expected the worst.  Instead, this turned out to be just as good as any other 80s revenge action flick.  We can debate how “good” that actually is, but it’s a good 90 minutes of mindless action.  Not over the top like War Zone, but, personally, I liked this much more than the 2004 version.

I’ve tried to figure out exactly why people love the 2004 one so much.  It’s a bad movie.  It’s very fucking bad.  John Travolta’s villain was goofy as shit and his final scene where he was drug into one of his car lots while each car he passes explodes is utter fuck.  However, I think I know why people jizz their boxers over that movie.

Thomas Jane.

I don’t give two fucks for Jane.  Sure, he’s, I guess, done some good stuff, but he’s done a lot of shit too.  Do I think he was any good as Frank Castle?  Not particularly.  He doesn’t really look like Frank Castle.  He doesn’t have a “fuck with you” attitude that really comes across.  He looks soft.  I know a guy who actually once told me that he thought he was perfect because you could feel what the Punisher was going through because Thomas Jane wasn’t some hard edged monster of a person.

Fuck that right in the nostrils.

I don’t want to feel anything but unbridled fucking rage.  I don’t want to see Frank Castle crying.  I want him to waste motherfuckers.  That’s what War Zone was about.  That’s what this one was about.

Thomas Jane didn’t ask a kid to shoot him in the fucking face or then threatened the kid if he didn’t grow up good.

There’s one more, maybe the most important reason why people lose their mind over Thomas Jane.  He desperately wanted to continue to play Frank Castle.  He was the rare example of a guy going out in public to profess his love for the character he was playing from a comic book.  This was before Robert Downey, Jr. became synonymous with Tony Stark and started flaunting it.  People were easily lulled into loving his version of the character because Jane said it himself that he loved Frank Castle.  He played himself off as one of us – a superfan who felt utterly blessed and profoundly driven to play the role as best he could again.

That doesn’t mean that he is the right person or his movie is the right movie.  He may have liked being Castle, but that isn’t a Get out of Jail Free card for him to have some proprietary claim on the role.  So no…  I am not a fan of the 2004 movie called The Punisher.

Anyway, I’m done with this.  It’s time to turn my attention to three things.  First, my favorite superhero in his first attempt at a big “Hollywood” movie (I use that in quotation marks because I wouldn’t say Hollywood had anything to do with it).  Second, my 100th article for B-Movie Enema!  Third, and finally, my last article before I go on a little bit of a vacation while I kick some other ideas around on how I can make this a better site for me to torture myself with shitty movies.

I’ll see you all next week when I take a look at the 1990 version of Captain America!

Coming in December, check out Film Seizure, hosted by Geoff Arbuckle and Jason Oliver!  Follow Film Seizure on Facebook and Twitter to be in the know when the series starts on December 6, 2017!

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