The Punisher (1989)

The Punisher
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Writer: Boaz Yakin
Based on: Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru‘s comic character
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbé, Kim Miyori, Bryan Marshall, Nancy Everhard, Barry Otto, Brian Rooney
Seen on: 18.12.2022
[Here’s my review of Punisher: War Zone.]

Content Note: racism

Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) was a cop, but then his entire family got murdered by the mob and the world believes him dead, too. Instead he hunts down everybody and anybody connected to the mafia. His murderous alter ego is known as The Punisher. And he has been very successful in decimating the local crime families. So much so, that the Yakuza, led by Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) have come to town and are trying to take over. But Castle can’t have that either.

I liked this version of The Punisher better than I liked Punisher: War Zone, though neither can hold a candle to the TV show. As films (and not as adaptations), I’d say, they are about equally matched and give us some nice action, though The Punisher is much less campy than War Zone.

The film poster showing The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren) in a leather outfit with a big gun standing in front of a motorcycle.

I liked Dolph Lundgren as Castle. His utterly serious, dead-eyed take on the character worked for me as Castle is a character who has all life, joy or fun sucked out of him. He is barely more than a killing machine with a rigid sense of honor rules, and Lundgren’s flat delivery works (now, we can argue whether it’s conscious choice on his part or a lack of skill, but it gets things done). Also, he looks hot.

It’s also rather emblematic of a film that doesn’t have much of a sense of humor (and when it does attempt to joke, it falls flat), foregoing the one-liners that are otherwise a hallmark of 80s action movie, and really any sense of camp. Much like for Castle himself, there is violence and gore and not much else. This is not a criticism, nor is it a cry of joy, it’s a simple statement of fact.

The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren) in the middle of a fight, taking a short break.

The movie does try its hand at moral ambiguity, and sometimes even succeeds with it, though it is far from a critical masterpiece. When it comes to the protrayal of the yakuza, it is actually the opposite and plays right into the “yellow peril” stereotype. If we have to live with gangsters, at least they should be white. Because the Italian mob won’t cross certain lines, but the Japanese gangsters have no limits in their evil.

Overall, The Punisher achieves what I think it set out to do: give us a violent and gruesome action film with a couple of moral gray areas. It’s not a great film, but it isn’t bad either.

The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren) readied for torture by Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori).

Summarizing: enjoyable enough.


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