100 Days of Superheroes- Day 17: The Punisher (1989)
His superpower is a gun. His other superpower? A bigger gun.
“Everyday I ask God why the innocent suffer and the wicked go unpunished.”
After Howard the Duck came out with less that warm reception and box office numbers, Marvel still had yet to release another film based on one of their properties, choosing instead the route of television adaption over major releases. But all in due time they were ready to return to the playing field with the big guns….okay, maybe bigger guns is a better word.
By no means is The Punisher one of Marvel’s better known or most popular characters. He is not as obscure or weird as Howard the Duck, but he isn’t what you would consider brand recognizable either to the average audience. The Punisher got his start as nothing more than a villain in the pages of Spider-Man comics, an Anti-hero that was difficult for the web head to deal with. He was so well received that he ended up getting his own spin off title, becoming one of Marvel’s more middle of the road heroes.
The film itself was made more out of an attempt to preserve the adaption rights than for any other reason. Not that it mattered Artisan Entertainment who distributed it would lose them only a later anyways.
But let’s get down to what thin story there is here. The film opens with actually a pretty slick opening credit sequence, highly reminiscent of the James Bond films. It was stylized but simplistic in an artsy way. After that though you might as well turn off the film because you’ve already seen the high point. The films opens with the Punisher (Dolph Lundgren) hunting down the head of the crime family that killed his wife and children. According to Detective Berkowitz (Louis Gorssett Jr.) he has been at work for over five years and committed over 120 murders.
When a new head of the mobsters arrives a gang war breaks out between them and a Japanese mob for reasons unexplained. The Punisher gets caught in the middle and is forced to try and save the children of the mob leaders. I guess that was supposed to be the “moral grey area” of the film.
Frank Castle is chased around by an old friend of his, a detective that had his life turned around by Castle years ago. Berkowitz, the detective, is just a far more interesting an dynamic character than The Punisher ever becomes. He struggles with having to face his friend becoming a killer and having to catch him. The scene between him and Castle in the jail cell was one of the high points of the film. It was the only time it didn’t seem afraid of showing a little emotion. It seems like the film put acting talent into Gorssett, leaving none for any other character.
The Punisher himself is one big bore of a hero. Where in the comics he is a man haunted by his past, chased by his mistakes, and walking a thin line between good and evil. Here he is a man with a gun. With all the personality of a unnamed henchmen. His origins are told through a series of flashbacks but the only time you really feel for him is when you seem him through Berkowitz eyes.
Dolph Lundgren plays the part stale and boring. Everything he does is with a scowl and he might have a total of five lines throughout the entire movie. He looks half stoned and half drunk the majority of the time. Hell he even gets advice from a hobo, clearly this is not a guy to give a gun to.
The danger, or dare I begin to consider “drama” of the film comes from a bunch of Japanese women in suba gear. Not only are they stereotypes and cliché, they are also just kind of lame. Their grand evil scheme to take over the mobs is to kidnap their children. It is hard to feel a sense of tension when the Punisher has a gun and is going up against 108 pound female kung fu masters. And too top of the lackluster action scene, the climax is shot almost entirely in a dense, eye-wrenching filter.
Overall the Punisher is a prime example of what happens when a film is rushed to preserve the rights. The screenplay was half hashed, the actors had minimal talent, and the effects looked about as impressive has a middle schooler playing with fireworks. The Punisher is one embarrisment that deserves to be lost in the archieves.
FINAL RATING: 2/10- (20%)
Previous DAY 16: Batman-1989
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