Action Movie Fanatix Review: The Punisher (1989)

The Punisher 1989 banner

If Society Won’t Punish The Guilty, He Will.

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbe, Kim Miyori

Director: Mark Goldblatt

1989  |  92 Minutes  |  Rated R

“Do you know how much pain $10,000 can buy?” – Lady Tanaka
“Is this question true or false, or multiple choice?” – The Punisher

Hollywood has been trying to bring a decent version of The Punisher to movie theaters for some 20+ years.  Not one of them has gotten it quite right.  The 1989 Dolph Lundgren version was the first and it certainly deserves some respect and fanfare for the aspects it did get right although it, like the others, is far from a perfect Punisher movie.

After police officer Frank Castle’s (Dolph Lundgren) family was killed by criminals he becomes The Punisher.  The Punisher wages an all out war on the city’s criminal underground all the while being pursued by the police force, including his former partner Jake (Louis Gossett Jr.)

One really cool thing about the 1989 Punisher is that it doesn’t spend a lot of time on the hero’s backstory.  So many super hero movies spend so much time just to explain the backstory for a hero that we already know quite well.  In The Punisher’s case there were probably people who didn’t know his backstory so a quick flashback was all that was needed.  His family was killed by gangsters so now he kills gangsters.  Nuf said.

Dolph Lundgren was a really good choice for The Punisher, with his hair dyed black he really looked the part and his low, growly voice was perfect.  Unfortunately it looks like they decided to paint a scruffy beard on Dolph as well so you get the impression he just can’t grow one when more likely his grows in blonde.  It’s also really unfortunate that the decision was made to not give Punisher his signature skull shirt.  I guess I could understand if this movie had striven for full on realism and it just didn’t make sense for a guy to wear a skull t-shirt if he wanted to blend in sometimes.  But of course, this is not a realistic movie by any stretch of the imagination so why not give Punisher his skull.

A few of The Punisher’s one liners were delivered too dryly.  This is sort of Dolph’s style, he has never had that humorous side to him until more recently.  His few “funny” lines didn’t elicit the laughs that they would have if they had been delivered by Arnold.  Of course, Arnold would have made a terrible Punisher so I would never suggest him for the role.

As one would expect, The Punisher has some great action scenes, the  most memorable being one where he mows down a little underground casino and another where he slides down a giant carnival slide, machine gun on full auto all the way.  Sure they are ridiculous but they are awesome.  To make them even better, watch Dolph’s facial expressions while he is doing it.  Full on badass.  It is like he is making kissy faces at his victims as he sprays them with bullets.  This is the REAL Punisher, the one that doesn’t lose sleep over a few innocents being hurt as long as he got his man.

The violence is right up there with some of the great 80s actioners and it really doesn’t pull any punches.  The necessary Punisher grit is here and the blood flows when it needs to and the 20 year old effects have held up well.

The 1989 version of The Punisher is a lot of fun and is one of Dolph Lundgren’s best movies.  Not THE best but it is up there.  It becomes really hard to decide which of the three Punisher movies is the best because all three have their strengths and all three have their weaknesses but, gun to my head, I might actually put this one on top.  It is just such a blast to watch with friends even after seeing it so many times over the years.

4 thoughts on “Action Movie Fanatix Review: The Punisher (1989)

  1. Actually, The REAL Punisher WOULD care about shooting “a few innocents”. That’s kind of his deal, his innocent family was gunned down. Besides that, great review. The ’89 Punisher is my favorite as well.

      • You should check out the Welcome Back Frank storyline by Garth Ennis, the whole apartment-buddying happens in that, it’s pretty accurate. The Jane Punisher was pussified for sure, total waste of an R rating.

      • Sheesh, you are putting me to shame with your Punisher knowledge. I appreciate it though. I haven’t been able to keep up with comic books for quite a few years now so I tend to go off of my memory of old stories and just what feels right for a character. Some things just don’t feel right about the T. Jane Punisher but it isn’t horrible by any means. I will get around to reviewing it someday.

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