"If you're guilty, you're Dead"! The Punisher (1989)

Starring; Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gosset Jr, Kimyori and Johathan Krabbe
Written by Boaz Yakin
Directed by Mark Goldblatt

While everyone was fawning over DC's Batman thirty years ago, there was a lesser known Comic book movie that appeared during that same time.

The Punisher, based on the hugely popular Marvel comics, centers around Frank "Castle" Castiglione, a former vet and good Man, whose family were massacred by a mob right in front of his eyes. As a means of seeking retribution and not redemption, Castle goes on a one-man crime killing spree! Armed with sophisticated high-grade firearms, along with his military training and tactical knowledge, The Punisher as he is known by the fearful underworld, is a living target who fires back.

Forty Five years ago, marks the debut of Antiheroes like Deathlok and this guy, here!

Created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr and Ross Andru, the titular character was loosely inspired by vigilante films most notably, 1974's Death Wish and the Blaxploitation film, Gordon's War as the latter bears more similarity, but I digress.

Directed by Mark Goldblatt of Terminator fame, New World Pictures' The Punisher, features Actor, Martial Artist and one who holds a Degree in Chemical engineering, Dolph Lundgren as the titular character. Most of the plot involves the Punisher’s unlawful actions of retribution that, has caught the eye and ire of both your basic Mob Syndicate. If that wasn’t bad enough, our vigilante hero is forced to go up against the Yakuza!

At the start of the film, there's that generic press conference with local Crime Boss, Dino Moretti who was exonerated from all charges, stemming from the Castle murders.

When asked about the Punisher, Dino boasts, that he'll show him what "punishment", really means!

Afterwards, Moretti is found celebrating his acquittal with his associates.

But the party is about to be canceled the minute you see a boot entering through the attic's window, inside of a Mansion followed by what appears to be dust as this mysterious figure makes his entrance.

Moretti's goons are systematically, slain one by one until Dino becomes the last man standing! A shocked Moretti pulls out his sidearm after being approached by the assassin.
Suddenly, the entire Mansion explodes with the reporters witnessing a tall shadowy figure among the flaming ruins.

This was a cool method of Castle's intro along with settling the score for the one responsible for the Castle murders, thus moving the story forward.

What soon follows, is a scene to which the camera pans through the underground sewers, in conjunction with Lundgren's most memorable quote.

"Come on god, answer me. for years I'm asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me".

I say "memorable " because that same quote was reused for the song, "Punishment" courtesy of the Metal Rap band called Biohazard.

Writer Boaz Yakin wasn’t hesitant to get Frank's motivation for killing Mob guys, thanks to a flashback of his wife and daughters getting blown up via car bomb.

Note: On the back of the DVD Cover, there's a picture of Castle as a Cop working an undercover sting operation, what seems to be the Moretti heroin bust as mentioned. 
This omitted scene would have been crucial to the film's storyline since Dino, ordered the hit against Castle as a means of retaliation.

Rumor has it, that there's a Director's workprint of said omitted scenes circulating around, for those who are very curious. But until I see it for myself, it's just that...a rumor.

Frank's former partner and best friend Detective Jake Berkowitz played by legendary actor Louis Gossett Jr. is the only one who is convinced that Castle is still alive, and in believing so, is out to convince him to put an end to his crusade.

Jerome Krabbe as Gianni Franco is forced to come out of retirement as a Capo de capo boss, since previous members of the Mafia families have been picked off one by one.

Franco's plans immediately turn to shit when both the Yakuza and Punisher are involved. He's found him and his syndicate embroiled in a gang war with the Japanese Crime organization led by Lady Tanaka, who is relentless as she is vicious and dishonorable. After Franco refuses to comply with Tanaka's demands, she goes after the mob families, be it murder or to the extent of kidnapping their children to be sold into White Slavery!

It seems that our hero or rather "Antihero" Mr. P is caught between a rock and a hard place. Can Castle put an end to both underworld organizations, before the law catches up to him if he's not killed in the process of administrating "punishment"?

While most would dismiss The Punisher as a poor attempt at making a comic book movie, I personally enjoyed this modest budgeted adaptation.  The action scenes were nuanced and still holds up to this very day. I mean, how often would you seen masked Ninja like assailants armed with SMGs going down an amusement park slide? Or how's about the loading docks infiltration or the Casino raid?

In my humble opinion, I think Kim Mayori was a major standout in The Punisher, as she played the sadistic Yakuza Boss exceptionally well!

Who could forget her OG defining moment during that one scene in which she boasts: 

"We are Yakuza "!
"While your ancestors were screwing sheep in the Mediterranean, we were the Crime lords of Asia"!

For a Movie based on a bestselling comic at the time, the Punisher didn't stray too far from Political correctness as the writer took many liberties to make this movie’s setting as authentic as possible.  During the infamous dock scene, one of Franco's soldiers refer to their Drug dealing associates as "Faggot Frenchmen " Tanaka being referred to as a nip and rich Arabs as the beneficiaries of Human Trafficking,  again, honing in on an grittier atmosphere within Frank Castle’s world!

Although shot on location in Sydney, Australia, the buildings, urban environments and other areas can be easily mistaken for any major city within the United States, as the Punisher often operates from within.

costume designer Norma Maricaeu, who worked on 1982’s The Road Warrior, lent her talents for the Punisher's wardrobe and while its more feasible for Dolph to wear leather thin pants, bearing the tougher version of the comics counterpart's spandex, my major gripe would be the omission of his trademark skull iconography.

Its almost as bad as Superman without the "S" or Batman not having his, you know..

What many had overlooked, is how Dolph's Punisher facial "makeup" somewhat bares a skull motif especially when his jawline had a darker complexion to give him that look of death.

However, you can see the "skulls" as part of his knife collection, that's only a minor part of Punisher's arsenal! From knives, shotguns, a Smith & Wesson Magnum and even a goddamn Crossbow, Castle means business! My favorite goes to that M60 LMG retrofitted with a grenade launcher, that he used when infiltrating Tanaka's casino, in such symphonic methodology!

While composer Dennis Dreith's score borders slightly above your average b movie soundtrack, his Punisher theme, used in both intro and during credits, is still the best representation of all Punisher films.It's energetic, yet solemn toward the end. Another standout is how Dreith implemented Japanese themes during the infiltration of Tanaka's Penthouse. 

Castle's informant, former thespian and alcoholic, “Shake" played by Barry Otto, serves as his moral conscience as he often rhymes with reason. What's funny is how Shakes bear an Australian accent, as it's no mere coincidence when the movie itself, was filmed down under.

Its as if New World's Australian production partners, had thrown in one of their stock actors to fill the gap of a supporting character.

I liked how Castle lured Shake into the alley via RC toy truck with a bottle of scotch as its cargo,
which demonstrates how this movie wasn't afraid to shoehorn in a few bits of levity in order to balance out all the drama and carnage. One hysterically funny scene is where Castle, while rescuing kidnapped children in a getaway bus, gives a drunken passenger, who misses his stop, a bus transfer pass!  Other clever moments goes to Dolph’s ad lib about a certain rival Comic character. During an interrogation scene, Tanaka asks Castle, who does he work for? His response; "Batman". Batman's movie was released a few months prior to Punisher's limited release.

Now as for unintentionally funny scenes, one goes to "Peter Bear", while the other, is at a crowded restaurant which the patrons are presumed to be "regulars"! Mr. P even makes a nonchalant "pun" after turning the tides on Tanaka's interrogator.And by the way, I would be remiss without bringing up Berkowitz's escape scene, where he knocks out one of Franco's men, then takes a slice of Pizza!

The Punisher's storyline moves at a rapid pace with an abundance of familiarities and a modicum of nuance leading to a predictable, yet efficient twist during the climatic fight. While Miyori's performance deserves a huge modicum of praise, its Louis Gossett's Berkowitz, who advances more actor credibility as a concerned ex-partner and best friend. Somehow Yakin managed to squeeze in his backstory of why he never gave up on Frank. When Jake finally catches up to Castle after five years, his intervention attempts toward a good man, now mass murderer are for naught after a heated exchange.

" What the fuck do you call 125 murders in 5 years?
"Work in progress".

And Justice for all:

Although Blade was responsible for ushering what we know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was The Punisher that became the first Marvel film to have a more serious tone in a post "Howard The Duck" era. Unfortunately, this movie didn't get a chance to shine theatrically within the United States since New World Pictures didn't have the funds for expanded theatrical distribution, thus going straight to video, as with most B rated films.

I have seen quite a few adaptations of the Punisher that came and went decades afterward, some decent, while others, not so much. In my opinion, the 1989 film deserves a modicum of respect for its ambition if not what it was striving for.
It's either regarded as a poor attempt at putting one of Marvel's signature characters on screen, a guilty pleasure or cult favorite.

In between killing criminals, Mr.P even manages to rescue kidnapped children!

I personally, would pick the latter because it was the very first Marvel film to get most things right despite a shitty budget and an “novice” Director. What Lundgren lacked in playing a more "humanistic" Punisher, his martial art qualifications, size and stature more than made up for any shortcomings.  A sequel was announced in 1990, but after the disappointing results from the 1st film, Lundgren refused to reprise the role as Punisher and went on to other projects i.e. I Come In Peace, Universal Soldier, and so forth.

Dolph to his credit, was more convincing as an embattled vigilante seeking vengeance as opposed to "friendly faced" Thomas Jane, whose portrayal was lackluster to say in the least. Oh, and did I forget to mention, how he performed most of his stunts?
While 1989’s The Punisher lacks a fraction of pop culture significance compared to Tim Burton's Batman, it is still among my top favorite versions of Marvel's "Angel of Death" if not the favorite.