The Punisher - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Punisher Reviews

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Super Reviewer
July 20, 2013
I think everybody can agree on one thing here, this is a very loose adaptation of the Marvel comic book character. There is no skull logo to be seen, 'Castle' goes around everywhere on that loud bike, the origins are all wrong and they basically made him into some kind of revenge stricken Hell's Angel looking leather clad biker.

Initial impression is bad as the film kicks off, just look at those opening credits! is this a film from 89 or 79??. The whole sequence looks like some kind of shitty US TV cop serial, half expect Starsky's Gran Torino to roll across the screen sheesh!.

The film is a typical violent trashy 80's action flick no doubt. If you take a step back and look at this flick you could easily remove the Punisher character from the plot and nothing would change. You could then stick in any muscle bound character played by any muscle bound star and the film would still work, it would still deliver. Basically its just a run of the mill action vehicle that just happens to have the Punisher as the main character.

Now don't get me wrong this isn't a bad thing, end of the day this film is a solid riot of action that will please any 80's buff. The violence is strong, brutal and not cut much, you see it all really. Sure its totally stupid and highly unrealistic but it still takes it self seriously making it more enjoyable. The film has a really nice balance between realism and heavy realism, its not Nolan realistic, its not an 'Expendables' parody/spoof and its not 'Batman n Robin' camp/silliness. You can have a lot of fun with the film if you don't think too much into it yet its still realistic enough to satisfy...if you don't think too much into it.

Of course there are some things which simply don't make sense, the bike Castle uses is hardly much for stealth is it, plus he rides around all tooled up completely in black, errr....stealth/hidden identity much Mr Castle?. It also always amused me how they applied makeup on Dolph, he looks so pale and ill throughout this film haha. Trying to capture the appearance of a dark haired hairy man didn't really work. His stubble line keeps getting washed off, you can see it on his earlobes at times and when its pasted on in all its glory it looks like a dirty big smudge across his face hehe.

But as far as the character I think Dolph does really well and gives us a nice muted sinister Punisher. A man of little words but big on action, the more I think about it the more I liked his performance (lack of acting skills in one of his first films aside). He does look good, his outfit is bland but effective (the skull logo does give you away somewhat), he looks like he can pull off the heists he sets out to do, he fights well and can handle the weapons. Its Rambo in a black outfit basically.

The bad guys weren't quite as well thought up in my opinion, plenty of suit wearing thugs to gun down sure but no one stood out. I quite liked the Yakuza direction, the female boss and her sexy kick boxing female assistant, kinda corny but fun. The finale set in a traditional washitsu filled with Shoji doors was well done, the lighting getting knocked out gave it the atmosphere.

I think the film overall is actually a perfect comic book adaptation that is pretty gritty, quite dark and highly exciting with real action, no over the top CGI. The obvious lack of budget, good locations and screen busting stunts actually gives the film a much better feel, much more seedy, much more grim, one of those things that just works and can't really be recreated, a happy accident.

If you like masses of henchmen getting killed as an invincible one man army runs around with unlimited ammo 'Commando' style, whilst the bad guys empty clip after clip in his direction hitting everything but their intended target...then this film could well be for you.
Super Reviewer
½ October 29, 2007
This was the first film adaptation of the Marvel Comics antihero, but, aside from the title, character name, and violence, it bears little resemblance to the source material.

Frank Castle (in this version) is a former cop who is presumed dead. After his family is killed in a mob hit, he goes into hiding, and wages a one man war against organized crime using the moniker The Punisher. His war really heats up when a group of Yakuza (Japanese mobsters) show up wanting to take over the criminal underworld from the Italian establishment, with Frank caught in the middle.

As an adaptation, this isn't all that great, but as a straight up action movie, it is a bit better, though in the long run is ultimately just run of the mill when compared to the overall crop of similar genre films from the era.

The film does have a pretty high level of violence though, with an impressively large body count to boot. The film is also suitably grim, gritty, and has a sense of realism to go with it's dark tone.

Dolph Lundgren is fine in the title role, though he kinda comes off as a bit monotonous at times with his line delivery, and it feels rather lifeless. Louis Gossett Jr. is unfortunately wasted as Frank's former partner who is hell bent on tracking him down. As the main Italian villain Jeroen Krabbe is actually okay, but the real treat with villains comes in the form of Kim Miyori as the head Yakuza lady, She's frighteningly creepy and threatening.

All in all this is a watchable, though unremarkable action flick. It has it's moments, but in the grand scheme of things isn't all that special.
Super Reviewer
½ November 6, 2011
The first Punisher film starring Dolph Lundgren is a decent film, but one that has too many flaws to really make it a good viewing experience. Nonetheless it is still pretty entertaining. The biggest problem I had with the film is that it feels too low-budget with a so-so cast of actors. Lundgren is pretty good in the part, but I feel he lacked the intensity that Stevenson gave in the 2008 reboot, Punisher: Warzone. The film has some decent action scenes that are exciting and violent, but the films plot is not that interesting, and is underdeveloped, as if the filmmakers rushed to finish the script and make this film as fast as possible. As far as Punisher films are concerned, this is my least favorite of the three due to a very weak plot, and very wooden acting. Luckily Lundgren saves this film from being a total dud. If you're in the mood for a cheesy action film, then give this one a shot. This film is entertaining, but you see that the filmmakers are struggling with trying to deliver something effective on-screen. This film could have been done better and it lacks anything to really make it a memorable action film. However, it's still fun for what it is. Just don't expect anything great with this film. Expect a decent popcorn actioner with this 1989 version with a limited plot and so-so acting. The action scenes do standout, but compared to other Punisher films, the action in this film is fairly minimal. I think it's a fun film that had the potential of being so much better than what it turned out to be. As far as Punisher films are concerned, this one is fairly bland, but is worth watching if you're a fan of the character.
Super Reviewer
½ May 25, 2010
In no way is this really The Punisher, but in a lot of ways it works as a bizarre 80s action movie. Dolph Lundgren plows his way through bad guys and continues to prove that he is an unstoppable force. The semi-futuristic landscape didn't work as well as it theoretically should have and it just comes off as a Robocop Knock-off. However, that's not what this is and should be enjoyed for the solid action movie it is.
Super Reviewer
April 21, 2007
Well this Punisher was alittle realistic, dont say that the one with Thomas Jane was bad. It awesome as well, though the plot faded from the comic away.
The ending was the killer.
Super Reviewer
August 10, 2009
A hard-boiled and hard-core action-packed thriller. Dolph Lundgren is sensational in the lead role, he captures the emotional torture and violnet aggression of the Punisher. Louis Gosset Jr. is teriffic. The story is sharp and the character development is great. A brilliantly done version of the classic marvel comics character. A fast, furious, intense and loaded with explosive non-stop action. It has plenty of great gun battles, fight scenes and chases. It's sizzeling, riveting and powerful. An electrifying action movie that is a real adreniline-rush.
Super Reviewer
July 4, 2009
As a Punisher fan from down under,I finally got a chance to watch this Dolph Lundrgen classic among other (i.e showdown in little Tokyo with the late Branden lee). I have to say, he really portrayed the punisher's behavior after the five years of tormented thoughts of his families death.

it turns out the movie was shot here in Australia, I got blown away with the 'No Way'look. i found out this when at the end of the film I could see the Centre point Tower from far and the NEC building that was next to where the building with Jake is yelling 'Frank', the same building where the final fight takes place, and it was one bloody Punisher Classic.

In the Comics the punisher faces up to a lot of enemies in one go, seeing this movie did bring the comic to life. I have no idea why there was no Punisher Death Skull on his clothes, but at least it was on his knives he left on the dead gangsters.

I wont saying anything bad about the recent version because I now take it as a prequel or just a movie that explains how the Punisher came to be. Thomas Jane did a Killer job working out for the role (without using any protein Steroids like Dolph did, 10 points to him) but I now understand Dolph had to do what he needed to and with the situation he had making this movie.

What I hate is that bloody things have happened to both in the making of the punisher movies, and it had to be coincidental, but the people who worked on both of them really did a excellent job.

Overall I recommend all the Punisher fans to get a hold of this classic by any means necessary.
Super Reviewer
February 28, 2009
Cheesy and cheap 80's action. Like other Punisher films the film is very simple and very violent. Though because of the budget the violence isn't very memorable here. Lundgren makes a surprisingly good Punisher. His version is definitely further gone than either Jane or Stevenson. His old partner slapping him about a bit almost has some emotion to it. The film is hard to watch as it is so dated. Either that or just because it is slow, hard to tell. Punisher is a hard character to get right as you must juggle hardcore violence with character development. Unfortunately Frank Castle continues to be a distant character on screen.
Super Reviewer
½ July 2, 2007
The movie takes off from the hyper-violent Marvel comic series of the same name and a comic I have read since I was a kid and still pick up and read as often as I can. I will address some the changes made to turn this comic into a movie so excuse my comic book nerd rants here.. After his family, including his two children, are senselessly and brutally murdered by the Mob, Frank Castle launches himself into a one-man war on crime to avenge them. In the movie, The Punisher, in the midst of a five-year campaign of rising up from the sewers to kill 125 people and break the back of the mob, faces a new threat. Against his weakened foe enters the Yakuza, the Japanese organized-crime faction, playing to a bid to oust the Mafia for control. When the children of the remaining power-players within the mob are kidnapped by the upstart Japanese gangsters, The Punisher must take up arms with his old enemies to rescue them.

The changes from the comic book were numerous and jarring to a long-time fan of the series. Castle's background was changed from Marine Corps Vietnam veteran to police detective (presumably, it was cheaper to film and set up the conflict with his old partner still searching for him). Rather than living (relatively) high in various safe-houses and depots paid for with vigilante bounties and money seized from his victims, as does Marvel's Punisher, the movie version tools around in the sewer tunnels under the city. His sidekick and link with the aboveground world has been changed from Marvel's "Microchip", a super-genius computer hacker and weapons procurer, apparently to a former stage actor turned drunken bum. The change of villains from the mix of sundry drug-dealers and other upstart criminal entrepreneurs and old Marvel standbies, like The Kingpin, to a mix of Italian mobsters and Yakuza is another change. Lastly, Lundgren plays the Punisher as a brooding, sullen, half-dead avenger 5 years into his career, instead of the somewhat more energetic, aggressive, and "happy", for want of a better word, Punisher more than 20 years down the line. As a side note, the nordic Lundgren (even with dyed-black hair) isn't quite the same as the Brooklyn native whose birth name was Castiglione.

None of this is serious, it can simply be said to be an "interpretation" or "inspiration" on the part of the writers. Or just the various exigencies of having to tell a different kind of story in a different medium.

The movie itself is largely mindless violence and stereotypes. The criminals are super-powerful and totally above the law, making the Punisher necessary. In a strage way, this turns into a curious mix. We have somewhat retrograde stereotypes of crime (a very Italian mafia in natty suits, peddling heroin; criminals acting with no concern for legal ramifications, doing stupid things like kidnapping for ransom or killing cops, etc.) mixed with newer ideas (the introduction of the Yakuza, for example). It's sort of like The Professional's interpretation of the New York mob, but written more larger-than-life. The Punisher has gotten into the middle of a mob war, set up to set tension for the movie.

The gangsters themselves are a complex of strange stereotypes. For one, the Italian mob is incompetent, unsophisticated, and apparently always eating. Their leader, played in a strange twist by Jeroen Krabbe, is the only one with a brain. The Yakuza are portrayed as dangerous, ruthless and alien invaders who mean business. They all, it seems, are incredible, super-human ninjas who possess incredible martial arts skill, and they act in incredibly vicious and bold ways, performing child kidnappings, open assasinations, torture, etc. In short, we have a pair of competing stereotypes, largely ethnically based.

The backstory of his former partner, played by Louis Gossett Jr, is interesting, and personalizes the story more. Castle, as a cop, was Gossett's partner and is obssessed with finding his old comrade turned above the law. This adds to the story, setting up a second fold in things, but is poorly handled. A new female partner, who turns into an otherwise useless and totally wasted character, finds The Punisher's hideout in 30 minutes when the seasoned veteran couldn't do it in five years. Ultimately, any conflict gets left to the wayside, as Gossett's character proves to have little impact on the outcome. This whole aspect to the story had potential, but should've been done much better if, for example, the ex-partner was more like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, a relentless and capable detective always just one step behind his quarry.

The battle scenes are interesting and much different in style from the comic book. Marvel's Punisher, in his war on crime, was a man of big guns, big presence and big entrances. His means of fighting as one man against many was to use stealth, speed, surprise, firepower, intimidation. A typical comic Punisher move would be to sneak in first and get set, set off an explosive in an ambush and then dash in quick and waste as many bad guys as possible with the biggest guns available, evening the odds and shocking the rest into panic, and then usually getting away before the cops showed up. This Punisher is a little lower in scope (it was probably cheaper anyways). He's even sneakier and stealthier sometimes, but he tends towards using less firepower in a more cinematic type of way (no armed vehicles, rocket launchers or machineguns for this fellow), wading through, firing a weapon at full-auto, and not taking any sort of cover or moving in and out quick. Realism, if that's important, slips a bit as he also gets into hand-to-hand fights a lot more and uses throwing knives as much, if not more, than guns. In fact, for both the Punisher and the Yakuza, throwing knives or other thrown weapons seem to be preferred to guns. Whoever made this movie really liked throwing knives, and it's used as a metaphor. The incompetent cops and Mafia never use knives and the message is that they are too unsophisticated and clumsy for them and are no match for either the Yakuza or the Punisher, with their sneakiness and their hundreds of pieces of hand-launched steel.

Dolph Lundgren, as I said, does the Punisher in his own way. He's laconic, droll, half-dead seeming. Perfect for Dolph. He actually didn't do bad, as I'm sure this is what he was going for. He plays the Punisher as a walking dead man rather well. Even his eyes look dead, almost as though he were stoned. The shaving job, the penciled five o'clock shadow, was a neat touch, and was (deliberately or not) shaped just right to evoke the Punisher's skull motif that is noticably missing from his chest here. Gossett does... Gossett here. The "good man" trying to do right. He got the part of the cop who owes something to his former friend well enough. Jeroen Krabbe did well, as the embattled but visionary and very snaky mob boss. The lady who played the Yakuza boss did a good here, evoking sufficient menace and arrogance to nearly make one's skin crawl.

The movie is an interesting take on the Punisher theme. Execution could have been a bit better, but they got their money's worth I think. If you like action and are looking for an action-packed Death Wish homage, check it out. Just don't expect either the comic book or anything really challenging or new here.
Super Reviewer
February 27, 2007
I liked it. It was a good action movie with a decent story. So what if he didn't have a skull on his shirt.
Super Reviewer
½ January 25, 2007
not the real frank castle but still an entertaining flick
Super Reviewer
December 5, 2006
So terrible. Especially with Lundgren driving a motorcycle through the sewer to his little nest. His greasepaint 5 O'clock shadow was amusing. But the best part was when he says "take that message to your people" and opens fire on said messengers. Lundgren's dopey delivery is the thing that piss-drenched pants are made of.
Super Reviewer
October 3, 2006
Dolph Lundgren's really tough and dangerous in his title role on this action movie.
Super Reviewer
½ May 18, 2006
The main bad guy wore a jean jacket.
Super Reviewer
½ April 6, 2014
Dolph Lundgren deals out justice in The Punisher. Based on a Marvel comic, former New York City police detective Frank Castle turns vigilante in order to wipe out the mob families, but he's forced to help them when the Yakuza kidnaps their children. Lundgren's performance is alright, but the character of Castle is poorly written. Still, the fight sequences are especially well-done. The Punisher is entertaining and full of action, but it lacks a compelling protagonist to root for.
Super Reviewer
November 25, 2013
The first Punisher film ever made, in fact the third Marvel film ever, and the first that was even remotely watchable, stars Dolph Lundgren (The Universal Soldier Series, Missionary Man, The Expendables, Rocky IV) as the titular anti-hero.

Well, Dolph's a rather dark Punisher, which is good, but the character really could have been anyone. There was nothing to define his character really, and the Mafia/Yakuza he was fighting against were all even worse. Complete with appalling acting, the film doesn't really hit the spot.

Still though, it's not overwhelmingly bad. And it's worth watching for the comparison to the other two.


Super Reviewer
August 9, 2007
Whenever I watch this movie, I have to marvel at the fact that it was ever given a theatrical release. Captain America didn't get one, after all, and this movie really isn't any better than that one. So why the double standard? Well, thanks to the brilliant filmmakers and marketing people of the late eighties, the difference is that, while Captain America is so clearly a superhero, the Punisher could be pared down to a gritty ex-cop out for revenge, not particularly any more "super" than Martin Riggs or John McClane (okay, that is still pretty super, but you get the point). It's funny to me that superheroes used to be an embarrassment in Hollywood, even with the box-office success of Superman (except the last two) and Batman (except the last one). Because of this, characters like Spider-Man couldn't have their movies made for years because they were too bright and overtly fantastical for what was perceived to be the tastes of the audience at the time (probably a good thing, since the effects could never have worked fifteen years ago). However, this was not the case with Frank Castle. Take the giant white skull off his chest and voila! You have a completely nondescript vigilante killing machine, exactly identical to the hordes of revenge-flick heroes that populated the screen at the time. The Punisher is just that kind of movie, too: poorly thought-out, badly acted, devoid of tension or character, filled with improbable action sequences which don't come off as too convincing, and ultimately forgettable. Truthfully, the most fun to be had while watching this one is to see Dolph Lundgren hold the exact same emotional state through the entire film, no matter what actually happens to him (it's funny, in some scenes it looks like he's actually fighting NOT to react). This is about as cheesey and predictable as action gets, my friends; if you have a couple of hours to kill, and want to see just how much better Marvel's films have actually gotten in recent years, this is your movie. It's not as good as Captain America, though.
Super Reviewer
November 21, 2007
One of Marvel comics' first forays into live action. It's a cheesy, low-budget, 80's action flick, but it's not without charm.
Super Reviewer
½ July 10, 2007
Back when anyone who had 5 bucks to spare could buy the rights to a Marvel character, came this exploitation classic. Everyone I know or have ever met hates this film, like it's somehow supposed to be more than what it is, but if it is taken for what it is, it's pretty cool. Lots of guns and action and Lungren plays a pretty decent Frank Castle. Plotwise, I don't remember any of it, but I do remember having a very good time.
Super Reviewer
½ March 9, 2007
Now Dolph, you suck
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