Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Give Us Your Worst, Part 18: Punisher (1989)

Last weekend I came across a copy of The Punisher - the 1989 one starring Dolph Lundgren - at a yard sale for $2. While that seemed a tad high given the film's reputation, I decided it was worth to finally see the one Punisher movie that had so far escaped me.

I'm glad I did, because - and I honestly wasn't expecting this - I kind of liked this thing.

Sure, it had most of the problems you'd expect from a bad 80's action flick. There are slow bits, the acting is mixed at best, and the script is at least 60% cliche. And, yeah, the skull's missing from The Punisher's shirt for absolutely no discernable reason: that's damn annoying.

But, not only is this more entertaining than either of the recent reboots, it's both a far better take on the Punisher and a vastly better comic book movie. This is a cold, murderous version of Frank Castle, but he has a larger-than-life quality that was missing from the Jane flick (they tried in War Zone, but it came off feeling like bad camp). Lundgren's Castle feels like a bonafide superhero, even if he murders someone in every other shot.

Better still, unlike almost every superhero movie that's been made since, this isn't an origin story. If you didn't already know Castle's backstory, it provides you with a flashback, but it's certainly not the focus on the story.

In fact, the movie's focus isn't really on Castle, at all. The main crime lord gets nearly equal screen time, and actually comes close to competing for the role of the protagonist, as does Frank's old partner. The whole thing winds up feeling like an ensamble piece about The Punisher's corner of the Marvel Universe, which is exactly what it should be.

This movie has plenty of issues (did I mention the annoying kids?), but it takes its premise seriously and delivers a solid comic-book action flick, something the newer attempts didn't come close to accomplishing. I'm as surprised as anyone to be typing this, but I honestly think this one is severely underrated. Don't go expecting fine film, but if you manage your expectations, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

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