I like movies based on comic books when they are done well. I've even ended up liking some of the comic book adaptations that weren't as good. I've been watching more movies that I know were based on comics lately, even some that I knew personally or had heard just weren't that good. I had heard very little, most of it not good, about the version of The Punisher that was released in 1989. Despite that, I still decided to watch it recently.
Frank Castle had been a cop before his wife and children were killed in a car bomb plant by the mob. Several years later, 125 criminals with ties to the mob had been killed by a vigilante the media called the Punisher. Frank was living in the sewers and had become the Punisher to punish the guilty that the police weren’t able to catch with his only friend a drunk named Shake. Frank’s former partner, Jake Berkowitz, along with some of the media and some police officers believed that Frank was the Punisher even though he had been considered to be dead for five years.
Samantha Leary was one of the cops that believed Frank was the Punisher and she wanted to work with Jake. They spent time trying to find Frank to help him. At the same time, Lady Tanaka was trying to take over organized crime in the city. Frank got pulled into the fight and ended up working with an unlikely partner.
The Punisher was based on the Marvel comic book of the same name. The character was created by Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr. and Ross Andru. The Punisher first appeared in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. In the comics, Frank had been in the military before his family was killed and he became the Punisher. I’ve never read any of the comics featuring the character. I have read a little bit about him, including a few things online that said that the movie wasn’t very true to the source material. Stan Lee served as an executive consultant on the movie. I believe that this was the second Marvel character to be featured in a movie. Another Punisher movie was released in 1994. The character was just a regular man with no special powers who went on a quest for revenge.
When the movie began, Frank had been the Punisher for five years and was responsible for killing 125 people with ties to organized crime. As the movie progressed, it was shared that the deaths of his wife and their children had driven him to his new way of life. Their deaths were even shared in a brief flashback. There was an adequate explanation for what Frank was doing. However, since his family was already dead and he had been killing for five years, it was harder to feel sympathy for him and what he’d gone through. There was no connection with his family since they were only briefly shown in a flashback. I think it would have been better if more background information was shared. The back of the DVD case said that only Jake believed Frank was the Punisher, which just was not true. Within the first few minutes of the movie, it was clear that many felt that way.
The Punisher was a very violent movie, so it was no surprise that it was rated R. The movie had a very dark tone overall and will be too dark and violent for some people. Frank was shown killing a lot of people throughout the movie, and he was brutal in his methods. He didn’t just want to stop the criminals or turn them over to the police. He wanted them dead, and he didn’t see any problem with his methods. In addition to the killings that Frank was responsible for, the battle for territory in the mob world also resulted in several deaths. Lady Tanaka was deadly in how she dealt with the competition. There were several fight scenes, most of which involved Frank in some way, and a few action scenes. The action scenes were stupid and the fights were badly choreographed. There were times when some sort of weapon was thrown, and they looked horrible when they were flying through the air before they hit their targets. The effects were not done well at all. Late in the movie, Frank was inside a building fighting all kinds of people. For some reason, very annoying red lighting was used for much of that part.
For some reason, Frank was living in some sort of lair in the sewers. I’m guessing he did that to avoid the police, but there was never any real explanation for why he did that. It did sort of seem like it was an attempt to give Frank something like the Batcave without all the cool gadgets. It wasn’t like he’d found some sort of old bomb shelter or something under the city. He was actually living in huge sewer pipes and he ever rode his motorcycle through them. He was shown a few times sitting naked in one area - I think it was his main living area - while he tormented himself with memories of what had happened to his family and thought about punishing the guilty. That was just stupid and didn’t work well at all. Also, when he was shown naked, he was all oiled up so his skin was glistening. It is possible it was intended to be sweat, but it just came off looking stupid. I really had no desire to see the character naked, oiled up or not.
There really was no character development for any of the characters, even Frank. He was just portrayed as a killing machine who didn’t care about anything other than punishing those he decided were guilty. He had no problems going to extreme measures to do what he thought was right. Dolph Lundgren spent the movie trying to act like a tough guy with a perpetual sneer and a vacant look. It didn’t work. Instead he just seemed to be grumpy. The character was given a scruffy look with fake whiskers. It looked like he was selectively shaving his face, leaving sections of whiskers to add to his tough guy image. The whiskers would be visible in a scene and then in another shot in the same scene, they would be gone. It got ridiculous and made me laugh even though nothing in the movie was intended to be funny. I also thought that Lundgren looked really bad with the fake dark hair for the character. In one scene - that including the magically disappearing whiskers - I thought I saw a small patch of his natural, lighter hair color.
Jake and Frank had been partners before Frank’s life was blown apart. From a few things that Jake said, the two men had been friends, and Frank had helped Jake through a very difficult time. Jake still believed in Frank and wanted to help him. Louis Gossett, Jr. has won an Oscar, so I have no clue why in the world he got mixed up in this mess of a movie. He really didn’t have much to do and looked silly when he and Samantha went looking through the sewers for Frank wearing raincoats, peering around with flashlights even though it was incredibly well lit. For some reason, Jake had to stand on the top of a building screaming like an idiot. This was not one of his better performances.
Samantha was a good cop that was determined to work with Jake. She wanted to help find Frank and not because she wanted him arrested. There wasn’t a good explanation for why she wanted to find Frank. She got very protective of him in a very short time. That would have seemed more believable if she and Jake had actually been shown working together a bit more. Nancy Everhard was fine in the part. Shake was the drunk who was Frank’s only friend. Shake turned up a few times to help with certain things. Several different mobsters were shown throughout the movie. None of them were really developed and severed very little purpose in the movie. They were basically around just to be killed in various ways, either by Frank or Lady Tanaka. She received a tad more development, but still was a very flat character and not likable at all.
Nancy Everhard - Samantha Leary
Louis Gossett, Jr. - Jake Berkowitz
Dolph Lundgren - Frank Castle/Punisher
Kim Miyori - Lady Tanaka
Barry Otto - Shake
Mark Goldblatt - Director
I watched the DVD version of The Punisher. The DVD contained only the widescreen version of the movie. I have no idea if there is a full screen version also available. There were really no extras on the disc. The theatrical trailer, some production notes, and cast and crew information was it for the extras and I didn’t bother to check any of them out.
The Punisher wasn’t one of the better comic book adaptations that I’ve sat through. I didn’t find anything enjoyable or entertaining about it like I’ve managed to do with some other lousy comic book movies I’ve watched. I don’t think there is any reason for anyone to waste time watching this movie.
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