The Punisher (1989)R


The nineteen eighties were, among other things, the Golden Age of cheap shitty action movies. In the days of the Rambo and Reagan zeitgeist, it seemed America had a limitless thirst for these movies, plus cheap shitty slasher films and cheap shitty teen sex comedies. At times it seemed like these three categories constituted the entire output of Hollywood. And when the body- count- über- alles attitude filtered back from movies to comics, many classic characters started turning into nihilistic bloodthirsty fascists... but the most callously murderous “hero” ever was The Punisher, who had previously made only minor appearances in other characters’ comics. As a villain. I loathed this character.

So when the film-inspired mayhem in the comic migrated back to film, in the person of Dolph Lundgren... well, the result is certainly not a good movie, but given its origins I was expecting worse. Perhaps one point in its favor is that not much of the Marvel source material made it into the movie — the name and the vigilante lifestyle are about all that connect the two. So what we get is pretty much an ordinary eighties action movie, with a hero (if that’s the word) a bit more exotic and interesting than usual.

It’s a film for people who like lots of bullets. Plus fists and boots and knives and exploding cars, of course. If you can’t get into rooting for a hero who at the beginning of the movie is described as already having killed over a hundred Mafia gangsters over the last five years, this isn’t for you. You might enjoy this if you’re capable of liking something like American Ninja III.

Dolph Lundgren’s performance cannot by any stretch be considered acting, but at least you usually don’t notice his accent. And the story is coherent. On the other hand, the quota of “why aren’t they all dead with so many people shooting at them?” scenes is exhausted quickly.