Classic Film Review: The Punisher (1989)

Marvel vs. DC:

The Punisher, 1989

Directed by: Mark Goldblatt

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr.


Marvel’s debut, Howard the Duck, wasn’t very well received, and after seeing DC produce film after film, they decided to get back on board with their characters being on film, and the third Marvel/DC film of 1989 was released: the original The Punisher. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren) has been on a personal vendetta against the guilty since his wife and children were murdered some years prior. Enacting his own form of punishment (usually killing them) he soon finds himself mixed up in a gang war between a united mafia group, led by Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbe), and Yakuza, Asia’s most powerful crime syndicate (who also kidnapped all the American gang-members’ children).

Marvel obviously have high hopes for this character (they made another Punisher film in 2004 and a Netflix TV series which is currently airing), but they didn’t give him the strongest of starts. While The Punisher is an alright action film, it doesn’t really have much outside of guns and explosions to keep an audience entertained. There is a small bit of a story thread in Frank’s former police partner Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) has been searching for Frank since he was legally declared dead (before becoming the Punisher) and the rivalry between Gianni and Frank (which ends up with them having to work together), but ultimately this is an action movie, with a rising action star in Dolph Lundgren, with guns and explosions and heroism and fights.

I’m not afraid to admit that action films are probably one of my least favourite genres and I hate the ridiculousness of several trained gunmen not being able to hit one man (which this film has in spades), and The Punisher doesn’t really offer the genre anything new; the explosions look pretty cool, the choreography of the fight scenes is, for the most part, pretty decent, the acting overall is fine, but I was never fully invested in anything. Missing out the five years between Frank’s family dying and him being the Punisher really starts this film off on a bad foot, as we don’t get to see him struggle to overcome his loss and desire his own form of justice, instead it’s done in small flashbacks here and there. An extra 20-minutes at the start, properly introducing his relationship with Jake and his family dynamic, alongside his retreatment to the sewers and his idea for being a vigilante would have really helped our interest in the character by the end more so than him being a hero that we have to route for because he’s standing up for what’s right. I attribute this to following sports teams without knowing or caring for their players; you care about the overall outcome and not about anything else. And this is why I’ve never taken to the action genre; too often we have characters like Frank/The Punisher who are one-dimensional. They fight. Sometimes they get the girl. Everyone lives happily ever after. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, and it’s a proven formula for making money, but sometimes having more interesting characters can make a film much, much better.

The Punisher was an entertaining film, and I never found myself bored for very long because of the amount of action scenes and loud explosions (which would normally have gotten the presentation score at least one higher, but the final act is presented with weird music in a weirdly lit room and it made for a strange atmosphere so it got knocked down to two). Dolph continued his early form which led to him being catalogued in the action genre, and his physique and athleticism and look make for a right fit in the genre. A fine film, nothing more, nothing less.


Plot: * *                Acting: * *          Writing: * *               Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * *


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