The Punisher (1989)

6.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 5/10
Visuals: 6/10

Dark and gritty

Not enough resemblance to the comic book series

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Punisher

Studio:  New World Pictures

Genre(s):  Comic Book/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  October 5, 1989

MPAA Rating:  R


That’s right…I’m the Punisher. You’ll have to take my word for it since I don’t dress like him!

Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) has lost his wife and children to a bomb meant for him and ordered by mob leader Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbé).  Castle “died” that day the Punisher was born…out to kill the men responsible and those who would harm others.  When the Punisher’s attacks lead to a crime vacuum in the city, the Yakuza steps in to take control and Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) has the children of the crime leaders kidnapped to force them to comply.  Now, the Punisher must work with Franco to rescue the children, and Frank’s old partner Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and his new partner Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard) are getting closer to catching him.


I can’t quit you, Frank!

Directed by Mark Goldblatt, The Punisher was a low budget adaptation of Marvel Comics’ vigilante superhero.  The movie released straight-to-video in the United States but did see some theatrical run in other areas.  The movie was largely panned by critics but has received a cult following over the years as one of the early examples of comic book cinema which has become popular in the last decade.

I’m not a big fan of the Punisher because he always seemed to me to have limited appeal.  The character first appeared Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #129 in the February 1974 issue as a one-off guest-star but quickly gained popularity in the ’80s when comics got darker.  By ’89, the Punisher was probably at the top of his popularity and ripe for a movie in the gun-toting action ’80s…but the movie just didn’t live up to expectations of fans.


Frank…am I holding this gun right? It just feels weird…

The movie’s plot isn’t horrible, but the quality of the film and its actors hurt it.  Dolph Lundgren’s Frank Castle powers his way through the enemies and has the same grimace he always has.  This isn’t bad for Frank Castle, but when he has to have some range, it isn’t great.  Louis Gossett, Jr. added some star power for the time and Nancy Everhard makes another Marvel appearance (she also appears in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk as Matt Murdock’s associate).  Kim Miyora isn’t bad as the Yakuza leader, but Jeroen Krabbé just isn’t the most intimidating gangster.


…and suddenly, it is an Akira Kurosawa film

The visuals for the movie also hurt the movie.  Marvel allegedly was just out to make some quick cash from the film and only licensed the names and not the Punisher’s trademark costume.  I think if the movie had done something as simple as having a Punisher-looking Punisher in The Punisher, the movie would have done better.  I do like the gritty nature and there is something appealing about the Night Gallery-Hitchcock-esque opening sequence.

I saw The Punisher when it was new.  Comic book movies were few and far between and cheap…and The Punisher has that feel.  It does have some merit, and it is a little entertaining in its base nature and violence, but much like the character (in my opinion), it does have limited appeal.  The Punisher returned to the screen in 2004 in the remake/relaunch The Punisher starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta.

Related Links:

The Punisher (2004)

Punisher:  War Zone (2008)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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