Friday, August 21, 2015

The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004), and Punisher: War Zone (2008)

It really is surprising that cinema has given The Punisher three go's, and gone with the ultraviolence route for all three! You'd think they'd try and sanitize them, making them PG-13 levels, but instead, we've had Punisher-induced ninja bloodbaths, face-explosions, and other such gory spectacles each time!

Tonight, I'll be looking at all three adaptations of the famous Marvel comic character The Punisher, and see how they all shape up. Which are the best?...

The Punisher (1989)

Five years ago, police officer Frank Castle's wife and children were murdered by mobsters, and believed to be dead, the = Castle has become the burnt-out vigilante known as The Punisher. He swiftly and violently dispenses his idea of justice on all criminals that evade the legal system, and some he takes care of before they ever can. However, his wearing-down on the various mafia families has left them so weakened, that they couldn't stop their children from being kidnapped by the ruthless Yakuza-Japanese mafia. Now, The Punisher has to save the children, destroy the Yakuza presence, and wipe out the remaining mobsters if he can, to finally gain complete revenge for the loss of his family, while all the while, his old friend Detective Jake Berkowitz is on the hunt for him...

For the longest while, heaps of fans hated this movie (and still might) for one dumb reason-The Punisher doesn't have the trademark skull insignia on his jacket. 'GASP! HE DOESN'T?! THIS IS THE WORST COMIC BOOK ADAPTATION EVER!'. Newsflash! In the early comics, The Punisher wore thigh-high white boots and purple spandex! It really doesn't matter if the movie adaptation is missing the skull, so long as the movie's otherwise good and faithful to the source material. And besides, look into your hearts and tell me that the lack of skull is isn't worse than that time The Punisher became an angel. Or when he was dismembered, and became a Frankenstein monster aptly named FrankenCastle. Or when he turned black for several issues! Yeah, remember that? I'll take the lack of a skull, thank you.

Moving on from that point, this is a faithful adaptation of The Punisher. It's about Frank Castle killing criminals by the truckloads. Where could you go wrong with such a simple premise?...I mean besides setting it in space, anyway (I kid. I've never read Space Punisher, so it could very well be good). Probably the only major change I can think of is how Frank's family is killed, but that's honestly not that big a deal. It doesn't necessarily matter how they die, as long as it still happens.

Possibly the best thing about this movie is its look and direction. This isn't a by-the-numbers point-and-shoot affair, and you can tell there's genuine work put into the framing of many shots. Then there's the colour scheme, with many stylistic touches, such as the finale, where the all-in-black Frank Castle clashes effectively against the pure white of the Yakuza stronghold. Later on, there's also a large section of the climax set in emergency lights, and despite looking like The Punisher: The Virtual Boy Experience, it looks good and never strains the eyes.

While not the goriest, this iteration of The Punisher is by far the bleakest, thanks to its gritty realism (real gritty realism, that is, not the petty excuse that's so often overused, both in comics, and movies), and through its tragic connection between Frank and Jake. The latter was a great cop whose alcoholism slowly ruined his career and life, but young newbie cop Frank Castle, who idolized the man, was able to help Jake turn his life around and get a new start. Then, after the tragedy with Frank's family, Jake, the only person believing Frank to still be alive, looks for him tirelessly for five years. Knowing what it's like to be given up on, Jake never stops looking, but when he finally catches up with Frank, he can neither change, nor help him, and the movie ends with the Punisher leaving the scene, and Jake yelling out in vain for his lost friend to come back.

There's plenty of the red stuff in this movie, and the effects are all handled well! Nothing ever looks unconvincing, and while there are a couple of moments where you doubt Frank Castle would have survived (we're taking about A-Team levels of bad aim from the Yakuza), the action scenes are all handled really well, and there's certainly enough of them!

The Punisher's score is decent, with a great main sting. While the remainder of the score isn't particularly memorable, the placement of music is very strong, with the right chords going in just the right places for maximum effect!

I've read reviews of this film from back in the day, which complained about it having "some of the worst acting ever to disgrace the screen". Were we watching the same movie?! The acting here is really good! There are no real bad performances, the villains, played by Jeroen Krabbe and Km Miyori respectively, are both distinctive, and act very differently, helping their characters stand out greatly from one another. Krabbe gets to act with more vulnerable moments, and has his share of action in the climax, while Miyori is badass intimidating as the true main antagonist.

Louis Gosset Jr. adds heart to the movie as Jake Berkowitz, and while he only gets almost just the one scene with Frank, he makes it count. Nancy Everhard is also good, although she unfortunately vanishes near the end of the film. At least she survived it! And so does Barry Otto's character, who's a likable 'sidekick', and definitely makes up for the absence of long-standing Punisher comics character Microchip. Also, that character was barely two years old when this movie was released (to say nothing of when it was written and made), so one can hardly rag on the movie for being inaccurate for lacking the character.

Now, finally, onto the titular lead. Dolph Lundgren is a fantastic stoic and badass action hero as Frank Castle, and shows off the character's burnt-out persona so well. You look at his eyes, and you really believe that he's a man with nothing left but bloody revenge. Lundgren talks a little slowly sometimes, but that's for emphasis. Oh, and yeah, you see his bare naked ass, which really shouldn't freak some people out as much as it does.

The 1989 iteration of The Punisher is one of my favourite action movies, and in my opinion, a classic of the '80's! Is he missing a skull? Yeah, but who's complaining when the movie is still such a fantastic film?...Well, a lot of people, unfortunately...

The Punisher (2004)

Undercover cop Frank Castle is involved in a weapons deal gone wrong, and in the ensuing crossfire, the son of mob boss Howard Saint is killed. While Castle is on vacation in Puerto Rico with his family, Saint finds out his identity, and sends out a small army to take revenge. Frank's entire family is brutally slaughtered, and he himself shot repeatedly, but manages to survive. Nursed back to health by a local, Frank Castle 'dies', and The Punisher is born, filled with a desire for revenge against the man responsible for destroying his life...

This version of The Punisher is probably the least impressive in that it's just a stock-standard revenge movie, with nothing really all-that distinctive or memorable about it (besides a few weird scenes). It's not bad, but has nothing to make it stand out like the other Punisher films.

This is more of a revenge thriller than it is an action film. What action there is is small and brief, while the plot isn't very much like a Punisher story at all! It's just about a guy getting revenge for his family's murder. That doesn't instantly make your character The Punisher, but rather just the lead of every revenge movie ever made! This isn't The Punisher. He's just some guy. He's even shown himself to the police and the public, who all freely now know he's alive and well! Everyone is meant to think Frank Castle is dead!

I'm not sure how to feel about the film being about The Punisher's origin. While on one hand, it's not necessarily a bad choice, and I guess it's good that at least one of the multiple Punisher movies actually tell his origin story rather than start off in media res, but it is a bit irritating that we have to wait half the movie for Castle to become the titular vigilante. It's also kinda depressing watching his whole family tragically die!

When I said that it takes half the movie for Frank to become The Punisher, that's not actually true...It takes ALL the damn movie! Sure, he's plotting and scheming throughout, and engaging in some deadly combat (mostly only in self-defense, annoyingly enough), but it's only in the climax where he goes into rampage mode, and only at the very end of the movie where he truly becomes The Punisher.

As much as I don't feel that this Frank Castle would become The Punisher (I feel he would've gotten his revenge, then settled down to live a quiet, secluded life with his new friends), the ending is still really cool!

The villains in this movie are boring. They're just a bunch of suits, with a wimpy John Travolta leading them. He rarely does anything on his own, and never stands a chance against The Punisher, getting offed instantly. The supporting characters are odd at first, but are rather likable, and thankfully they don't die, at least.

This is largely a regular realistic movie, but it goes way overboard in certain aspects. Would you believe that Frank Castle in this film is just one day from retirement when mobsters kill his family? I swear I'm not joking! Also stupid is that it's not just his wife and children (or rather kid, singular, in this case) who get killed, but his whole extended family! Over 30 people! It's frankly ridiculous. There are also a few other dumb things about the movie, such as Frank's survival after the massacre, where despite getting fatally shot several times, tossed in the ocean to drown, and caught in an exploding pier, he still manages to get up and crawl out of the wreckage and onto land! Also idiotic is the whole scene with The Russian, for numerous reasons, from the antagonist's invincibility (yeah, I'm gonna go with the soldier over the bodybuilder, no matter how Arnie-ripped he is), to how absurdly weak the apartment is, among other things. Finally, there's the fire skull at the end, which is trying to be cool, but I find just dumb. Another bizarre scene is the singing hitman, but that's kinda amusing, so I'll cut it some slack. I'll give less slack to the popsicle-torture though, or when Travolta's gangster friend literally says "You're killing me! You're killing me!" when being killed. It's like Friday the 13th Part IV all over again...

The action here is decent, but aside from the finale, and the ridiculous fight with The Russian, the action scenes are all too short. The finale is fantastic, and is a perfect way to climax the movie, particularly the final confrontation with Saint ("Both of them.").

This is by far the least violent of the three Punisher movies, and the only one that doesn't fall under the 'ultraviolence' category. It's still bloody, but nothing too over the top, and nowhere near the levels of grue in the other two.

The score is ok, but nothing remarkable save for the main theme, which is cool, and has a nice western touch to it.

The acting is decent all-round. While Thomas Jane is sometimes held back by the script making him a bit too milquetoast and untraumatized after his family's death, he's a really good Punisher! He looks perfect for the role. John Travolta is ok as the villain, sometimes getting times to wildly overact, but is overall pretty dull, and doesn't get much to do at all.

Overall, this is an ok revenge film, if a bit overlong, but it's not all that great a Punisher flick. I still recommend it though, if you're curious. It's decent overall...

While the 2004 Punisher movie has never gotten a sequel, it did get something special back in 2010]-A short film on Youtube, starring Thomas Jane. Dirty Laundry is a decent little short, with a thematic conversation about the dangers of intervention to protect the innocent, culminating in a sudden burst of violent Punishment, and it shows to an absurd, but probably realistic, degree just how strong alcohol bottles are, as opposed to the sugar glass you always see in movies. Jane is good, as is Ron Perlman. The violence is over-the-top and silly, but amusing, and the effects are certainly quite decent for a presumably no-budget 10 minute Youtube short.

Punisher: War Zone

It's been years since police officer Frank Castle lost his wife and daughter in a mafia shooting, and he's continuing his streak of vengeance and punishment on criminals everywhere. However, his latest victin, Billy 'The Beaut' Russotti, has survived, albeit heavily scarred. Now dubbed Jigsaw, he plots bloody revenge on The Punisher. Castle, meanwhile is conflicted after having just unwittingly killed an undercover cop. He wants to quit being The Punisher, but Jigsaw forces his return by attempting to take the family of the undercover agent hostage...

Not a sequel, but another reboot, Punisher: War Zone follows the comics the closest (technically, as most of the material it's adapting didn't exist back in 1989), and the product is a gory action extravaganza unlike most comic book movies, particularly the more family-friendly MCU content of today.

There's a surprising lack of action after the opening setpieces. It makes sense, given we're not going to see Frank going around the city Punishing when he's tormented by the death of the undercover cop, and the movie is never boring with this lack, but it's still pretty noticeable. Thankfully things pick up eventually.

The villains here are absolutely off-the-wall loony. Unfortunately they get a bit too much screentime in the first half, while Frank gets too little. He manages to appear enough, but things aren't quite balanced perfectly.

Frank is well-characterised here, and Ray Stevenson portrays him with a lot of humanity, but also stoic badassery. It's a little annoying that he's is basically an unstoppable machine, but it's even stupider that he's able to decimate an entire building of thugs, yet can't handle the tiny Loony Bin Jim in hand-to-hand combat!

The rest of the film's characters are merely ok. They're decent, but nothing special, and don't really appear enough.

Punisher: War Zone is delightfully over the-top movie, full of extreme gore, absurd moments, and the darkly funny dialogue (courtesy of Jigsaw) is a blast, most of the time.

However, as much as I enjoy The Punisher reducing a man's head to gore with but a single bare-fisted punch, there are a few scenes that I just found plain stupid. There's the scene with the obese guy's head exploding, among others, and there's the shotgun facesplosion. That second one is an awesome scene on its own despite its silliness, however in context, Frank had no reason to kill Pittsy, as the guy was being arrested, nor do I think Frank would be the kind of guy to murder a man when he's holding a little girl in his arms! Not to say anything of the damage to her ears, or the risk of the shotgun's recoil giving her a concussion, I don't think he'd be that much of a psycho asshole to turn a man's face into tomato goo while a little girl is witness to the whole thing! Other things I don't like about this movie is its treatment of side characters. Nothing good happens to Frank's poor teammates, and that sucks. It's depressing! One last thing I dislike about the movie is the concluding line from Frank in the church scene, which I felt was out-of-place, and ruined an otherwise good reflective scene. It pales in comparison to the 'talking with God' scene from the '89 film.

Given the over-the-top gore in this movie, it's a shame that there's quite a bit of CGI blood. Thankfully there is still plenty of practical work, and the make-up for Jigsaw looks really good! As for the look of the film, it's quite stylistic, like a living comic book. Not to the levels of Sin City, but still quite unreal at times, and very colourfully lit.

The acting is all decent. Ray Stevenson is fantastic as playing Frank Castle, while Dominic West is amusing as the main villain.

Punisher: War Zone is a stupid movie, but a load of fun! It's likely to not be everyone's cup of tea, and I can understand why, but I find it to be an enjoyable flick, and I recommend it if you like super-violent actioners...


Well that concludes my look at all three Punisher movies. I recommend them all, despite the flaws some have. All round, some are more faithful than others, and some have better-handled aspects than others, and in the end, I find the 1989 version to be the best. If you're going to watch any, make sure it's that one!...


  1. I could not agree more not the best movies but some great fun! I did like War Zone not sure why it gets such a bad rap.

  2. Same here. I'm glad you enjoy them too!