A weekly look at all the Marvel movies, right from to the very beginning…

punishermovieposterThe Punisher (1989)
Based on The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita, Sr.
Written by Boaz Yakin | Directed by Mark Goldblatt
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Lou Gossett, Jr.

With Netflix’s Daredevil series reimagining the Punisher for the screen, we finally see Jon Bernthal give the character some life. This reboot of the Punisher undoubtedly will cause some to seek more out about Frank Castle, where he came from, how he fits into the Marvel Universe. Some will seek the printed version, and there is a world of joy to be found there.

Others will stick to on screen versions of the character. Those lucky individuals may come across 2008’s Punisher: War Zone, or maybe the John Travolta led 2004 Punisher movie.

Both will be disappointed.

Others will seek out earlier times that this anti-hero has graced the screen. Those souls will invariably find 1989’s Punisher movie.

Dolf Lungdren.
Marvel Comics.
Low budget Australian film production.

It’s like I’m just listing the ingredients for a recipe for disaster, right?

That’s pretty close to what’s going on here, to be honest.

Let’s break it down though, because it’s not ENTIRELY the movie’s fault.

1980’s action movies had a certain flavour, Some of them were to go down in history as classic cinema. Predator, Terminator, Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Hell, Flash Gordon, Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Return of the freaking Jedi!!

Others… less so.

You need one of two things to make an 80’s action movie to work, though. A big ol’ budget, or some world class ass-kickery. You just can’t get that kind of thing with a few guns and a flashbulb or some pyrotechnics. You need the mad skills of Van Damme, or Jackie Chan, or at least the questionable skills of Chuck Norris to pull that off.

Otherwise, best you drive a dump truck of cash up to a special effects studio and let the magic happen.

The Punisher was filmed in Australia. Not Hollywood, and it’s not like it was because they were looking for some remote, obscure, or specifically picturesque location. Nope. But I assume the price was indeed right. Another point for the argument that no quality sci-fi film has ever come out of Australia. Ever. There, I said it. Australia is incapable of producing quality genre cinema. (The first Ghost Rider, the worst Matrix, two Star Wars prequels, both Wolverine movies. The Island of Doctor Moreau!) To be honest, the fact it is currently being filmed up north in sunny Oz is the scariest thing about the new Thor movie. There was so much promise. But I digress…

Dolf Lungdren. Sigh. You want to like him. You want him to succeed. Hell, he has the jawline, the body, the inability to string a sentence together and the lack of any emotion that should hail him as one of Hollywood’s greats. That’s like the holy grail of 80’s action movie stars. But it just never works. Sure he goes okay as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, but Russians weren’t allowed to have personalities in 80’s America. So it worked.

Frank Castle (Lundgren) is a man that is torn. He’s been driven to the edge, he’s had everything taken from him, but he is still an undeniably good person. He’s conflicted, resolved in the fact he is doing the right thing, convinced that it must be done, and he is the only one that can do it. But still lives by a strict code. He is inherently complex.

Guess what type of character shouldn’t be handed to an actor that is generally more wooden than most trees?

Now to be fair, that character complexity probably wasn’t in the script. It wasn’t until the Max reissue of the Punisher that they really developed the character, that he became the harder, deeper, darker, but more human character we know today. That redevelopment of the character wasn’t even going to start until 2000, so was still a long way off. Dolph didn’t really have a lot to work with, huh?

So we’ve got the guy who played He-Man, given a character yet to go through his most in-depth character development, filmed on a super-low budget, in a country incapable of making a good genre movie.

Why even bother?

Because this was the 80’s and things are so bad, they’re good!!

Between the corny scripting, the standard jumping into a room full of baddies, and the blowing everyone away whilst nary a bullet comes near our valiant hero moments, this movie ticks a number of boxes.

Borderline racist mob warfare, where stereotypes clash for control of the streets, an arsenal of weaponry that has never-ending bullets, a loud, ostentatious mode of transportation that can only announce our hero’s entrance as they continue to murder by stealth… err… ummm… Sure, let’s go with it. You can’t be a hero without a motorbike. And finally the only line in the movie ever worth hearing:

“What the fuck do you call one hundred and twenty-five murders in five years?”
“A work in progress”.

Actually, that’s a lie. There are a few stupidly corny one-liner tough guy type moments… but if you only Google one scene, make it that one.

In conclusion, what you expect to see when you hear “A Marvel comic adaption in 1889 that went straight to VHS in America starring Dolf Lungdren” is EXACTLY what you get here. If that’s the kinda thing that gets you hot in the undies, go and find a copy of this gem, stat.

And for everyone else… It could be Green Lantern, right?

The Quote:

THE PUNISHER: I still talk to God sometimes, I ask him if what I’m doing is right or wrong, I’m still waiting for an answer, and until I get one, I’ll be waiting, watching. THE GUILTY WILL BE PUNISHED!

About the author


Jason Murdoch is an occasional contributor to Geek Speak Magazine, ninja, wargamer, lover of breakfast, co-creator of the Unfauxcast Malifaux podcast, master of his own underwear.