Monday, April 14, 2014

The Punisher

We are sitting in the new golden age of comic book movies, with Marvel Comics really leading the way.  At least leading in terms of blockbuster franchises.  They haven't all been hits, of course.  One notable failure is the Punisher.  Based on a fairly dark, violent, and somewhat bottom shelf comic, it is an odd choice for such a push.  There have been three attempts to make the Punisher into a movie.  The best, by far, was the first.  1989's The Punisher.

You don't remember this gem from the 80s?  Well shame on you.  Shame!  This movie is awesome.  Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett Jr. team up to punish the guilty.  It is different than most comic book movies these days.  Back in the 80s, before comic fans were put in charge of making comic book adaptations, Hollywood second rates often wasted tons of dough making movies they didn't understand.  With no reverence to the source material they made what they thought little kiddies would like.  Richard Lester made that crap Superman 3 with slapstick stupidity paired with a terrifying ending.

nightmare fuel

Or else they disregarded the source material entirely and made what they thought it should be.  Supergirl was a clusterfuck of a movie because the director thought that comic book movies are fantasy with no regard for plot or characters, and also should not resemble each other stylistically even though they resided in the same universe.  Sometimes Hollywood second tiers tried to find a few kernels of a story in the comic books and fill in the rest with their imagination or stock Hollywood tropes.

And this Punisher did that.  Except it worked.  Here's why.  The people who produced this movie saw the comic book for what it was:  a violent action thriller.  And so they made it into a dark action movie.  Not a superhero movie, because honestly the Punisher isn't a superhero at all.  He is a lunatic gun toting vigilante who goes around trying to murder "the guilty".  That's basically it.  He is an ex-cop (Frank Castle) whose family is murdered by the mafia and he is presumed dead, so he goes and kills them.

I read a few of the comic books and of course the problem with comic books is they are for kids.  So they can't show the Punisher violently murdering mafioso.  But an R rated action movie can!  And boy this movie delivers.  Dolph Lundgren murders everyone.  I'm not into VHS nostalgia that much.  But I'm proud to say I own this one on VHS, a treasure of raiding an old video store's inventory closeout.  They didn't card anyone that magical day!

The best way I can describe this is "80s action flick".  It has a real RoboCop vibe, complete with fake TV news footage.  It is interesting because it starts in medias res, with Frank Castle already transformed into the Punisher.  And they waste no time, because it in the first five minutes it is stuffed full of violent murders and explosions.

The one thing that always bothered me about this movie was that Dolph Lundgren, a natural blonde, was cast as dark haired Frank Castle.  So they die his hair, no big deal.  But they decided he needed stubble to look gristly.  So they paint on some dark stubble.  Looks really weird.

Other than that, check out this fantastic Marvel Comics movie from the 80s.  If you like RoboCop, you'll love the Punisher.