Hi, IMDB. This is just a formality. I know that this movie never got a formal theatrical release in the States, but we all know that this movie is R. You still need to post that. Perhaps this is awfully America-centric for me to post this considering that the MPAA is exclusively American. You know what, IMDB? I take it back. Way to respect the censorship needs of the entire planet. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
DIRECTOR: Mark Goldblatt
Oh my goodness! I seriously thought I was going to see the Cannon Films opening for this one. It's Thanksgiving. I have far too many papers to grade and I know that there is no priority in writing this. But this room is quiet. This room is peaceful. The Punisher Netflix show is out and I wanted to discuss the original portrayal of the Punisher before it got too far away from me. (In the back of my mind, I want to watch every Marvel property movie for a Literally Anything episode, despite the fact that would take an eternity. I know. I already skipped Howard the Duck.) My kids are having a blast with my aunt, so I decided to write for a bit. But then again, I'm going to be reviewing the 1989 Punisher film, so let's keep everything in perspective.
This movie gets giggled at a lot. I can kind of see why. It is an absolutely ridiculous movie. It never saw a theatrical release in the States, and it got a limited run in West Germany, I think. After all, that's what Germany needed at the time when it was thinking about Americans. My buddy Dan loves schlock like this. When I first picked this up in a Walmart $5.00 bin about a decade ago, I tried to get Dan to watch it. He fell asleep very early on. Even he couldn't get into it. It is a bad movie. It's absolutely ridiculous, but it actually has a weird accolade in my mind. I might deem this movie (possibly!) the most tonally accurate comic adaptation of all time. That might be telling about the problems with the Punisher as a character, but the one thing that Goldblatt got really right is how silly Punisher comics were in the '80s. They were self-spoofing bleak nightmares. Yeah, I don't remember Frank Castle constantly doing naked yoga in the sewers, but I also don't NOT remember Frank Castle doing naked yoga in the sewers. Part of everything that is going on screen is the memory of the subgenre of action movie that doesn't really exist anymore. There are still plenty of ridiculous action movies, but this is the era when pyrotechnic guys would hold sway over silly things like narrative or character development. Rather, these movies were about the stereotypical alpha male. Men liked guns and bombs and ninjas and crap like that. (Insert Tim Taylor grunt here.) This is what Cannon lived for and the Punisher might have been custom made for a film like this. Looking at those old comic books, there are stupidly thin characters and murder enough to go around. That's what this movie is and nothing really else. Yeah, he's not wearing the Punisher skull on his shirt. But there are times where Frank just murders out of costume. Remember, this is also the era where the Punisher actually wore a costume. Dolph Lundgren wouldn't be actually wearing a Punisher tee shirt. Oh no! It would have to have been this spandex nightmare where the teeth on the skull turned into Frank's gunbelt. Oh, and white boots and gloves. Maybe the choice to give him all black tee shirts and jeans was not the worst idea. The worst idea, however, was whoever decided a five o'clock shadow was just dirty makeup. Also, giving him fake bags under his eyes to show how little he sleeps. C'mon, makeup team. You guys get the f-minus for the movie. Every time there was a closeup of Frank, I just started giggling. It didn't help that Lundgren looked cross-eyed at times.
It's really hard to critique this movie from a point of view of real criticism. Interesting fun fact: Dolph Lundgren is apparently a genius. The guy is scary smart. He is way smarter than I'll ever be. Do you understand how hard it is to watch a movie knowing that he is way smarter than every aspect of this movie and that he has made a career out of slumming on screen. He's aware of how dumb the things he is doing are, but that doesn't stop him for an instant. Nope, he doubles down on the dumb! How weird is that? His performance in this movie is awful. I mean, it is really bad. I think that Lundgren knows the production value on his films. I'm not saying he's an award winning actor in Rocky III, but he doesn't seem to be so dead inside. Perhaps it was an acting choice. Frank Castle is meant to be emotionally dead inside. Perhaps Lundgren decided to just go with that. Perhaps he thinks that his choices are genius (he's the genius, guys!) and that people can get that old Frank is dead. He has, after all, been replaced by the Punisher. But there is nothing to attach to with this character. It also kind of sucks that Frank is not particularly talented at being the Punisher. The opening scene shows how Batman-like Frank is. And for that scene, it is kind of believable. Then Frank walks out in front of a bunch of reporters and no one really sees that it is him. This is where the suspension of disbelief goes into overdrive. The movie really depends on the idea that you aren't supposed to be critical of it. Frank survives stuff just because. He blows up the house so hard and yet...no injury. The only reason that Frank is a one-man war on crime is that no one can hit him, even given the best opportunities. People complain about stormtroopers and those moments are funny. But there's a reasonable sense of understanding that people miss sometimes. There is one time in The Punisher where Frank has been setup. He has fallen into a trap. Everyone is shooting at him and he doesn't move. He just starts single shotting everyone one-by-one. That's it. He eventually starts running. But the odds that everyone missed that hard using machine guns? C'mon. The other big name attached to his movie is Lou Gossett, Jr. I don't even know why Lou Gossett, Jr. is in this movie. (Okay, it was a paycheck in the '80s. Sorry, Mr. Gossett, Jr.) His character is necessary to the plot, but that story is pawned off for the most part on his new amateur partner. I don't want to resort to libel because this is all speculation, but what if Lou Gossett was just sick of this kind of crap. Like, I imagine a drunk Lou Gossett, Jr. not showing up for set and so they created this second character to pick up a lot of those beats that he didn't do. Again, this is all speculation, but those two characters only make sense with the knowledge that there were narrative weak points that needed covering. Really, the best casting in this movie was Jeroen Krabbe (I don't have to put the accents in because the movie didn't. I'm also contributing to the wiping away of a culture.) I love Krabbe. He always plays the same evil sleezeball in everything from the '80s and '90s. He's just so good at it. I had to take a little trip down his IMDB page. He had a couple of movies in 2016. I don't think he's working in the US right now, but thank you for your contribution. You made this movie worth watching. Ever since The Living Daylights, you have not disappointed. (I think.) The worst character, however, had to be the most '80s comic book character. He's dead on. He just doesn't hold up. I'm talking about the alcoholic actor played by Barry Otto. Mr. Otto, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You did your best. That character was just insane though. Ladies and gentlemen, because the character is an out of work actor, he rhymes almost all of his dialogue. ::pinches sinuses:: I know that there were not a ton of strong, well-developed characters, but c'mon. The worst part is that I'm sure that the screenwriter was probably thrilled that he made that character.
Oh geez. I just remembered that Stan Lee was the consulting producer on this movie. What if he came up with that character? He probably had nothing to do with this movie.
I WANT TO SPOIL THE ENDING: I can't handle the ending. There was this scene where Frank had a choice to stop Gianni Franco. It was going to be that moment where Frank realizes that he didn't have to kill everyone. He has Franco in front of his kid and they fight over the gun. In the tussle, Frank murders Franco. But again, this is in front of his kid. That moment is handled badly. I really wanted to have Frank make the choice to try to save the guy and send him to prison. In that moment, Frank becomes the bad guy. I know, there were circumstances. But he has this long speech with the kid saying that he had the right to kill him. How much more did that screw up that kid? This might be more telling about Frank's character in this movie. While vengeance is the primary driving force in the movie, the Punisher has still been about protecting the innocent. This movie doesn't do that. I don't know if the filmmakers wanted to have the cathartic moment of seeing the good guy (kinda) kill the bad guy, but I think it was a really bad choice.
The movie isn't good. The movie is the most '80s thing that ever happened. But I don't absolutely hate it. Frank fights ninjas and that's pretty cool. It's violent and if that's what you are looking for, then this movie has it in spades. Also, it took the very heavy implications of the comic and made it full on R rated.
Okay, we think it is R-rated. IMDB let me down.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.