A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 389 – The Punisher (1989)

The Punisher (1989) – March 24th, 2011

Okay, so I’ll take half the blame for watching this tonight. I picked it out off the list, after all. Then again, Andy bought it in the first place. It was part of his comic book movie collection. What amuses me about that whole endeavor is that up until about a week ago it was lacking the 1990 Captain America, and yet we owned this already. I guess it was a matter of opportunity. Andy saw this one and snagged it and poor Cap never crossed his path. I’m still amused by it. Especially since I have to admit I have almost no knowledge whatsoever of this particular character or his canon.

For most superhero comic based movies, I’ve at least got a passing acquaintance with the basic story and characteristics. I know the X-Men. I know Batman. I know Superman and Swamp Thing and Daredevil (yes, we will get to this one) and through other Marvel storylines I know Iron Man and the Hulk. But Punisher? No, not really. What I know of the Punisher comes from two places: The 2004 movie with Thomas Jane and a joke from MST3K where they posit a not-so-strict Punisher who just sends people to their rooms. That’s about it, and I’ve only seen a couple of scenes of the other movie. I’ve seen the same ones about ten times, but that doesn’t really help. It just means I know when and how it’s going to make me squirm.

This movie? Did not make me squirm. It didn’t make me do much of anything aside from shake my head and wonder if I’d missed something or if something had been cut out. I’m assuming it was usually the latter. It comes off as a movie that was butchered in post, full of odd cuts and flying leaps from plot point to action scene to plot point. It’s a messy movie, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It just feels all around sloppy. Not that I was expecting anything better, but I feel it’s worth stating outright.

There is a plot. I’ll give the movie that. There’s a story about how Frank Castle’s family was apparently killed by the mob and everyone thinks he’s dead except his old partner from the police force who thinks he’s alive and responsible for over 100 mob member deaths in the past year or whatever. Castle lives in the sewers and rides his motorcycle around underground and surfaces to hunt down mafiosos because he’s on a vengeance kick. Sort of like Robocop, except less coherent and more fleshy. After he takes out the head of the biggest mob in town, a new guy shows up and Castle promptly switches his attention. But oh no! The Yakuza are in town too and they want to take over! And so our little vengeance plot gets complicated with a Yakuza boss threatening the mob and kidnapping their children and the mob kidnapping Castle to force him to help them rescue the kids and then there’s Castle’s old partner and his new partner whose only bit of development involves listing her credentials.

Man, is it messy. And I just made it a hell of a lot more linear and cohesive than the movie makes it. Things just sort of stumble along, with Castle showing up and kicking some ass before getting the crap beaten out of him for a while until he gets his second wind and kicks some ass again. Dolph Lundgren’s got a decent haunted and vacant look to him, which works for Castle as presented, what with losing his whole family and existing for vengeance. But while Lundgren can do his own stunts and lumber around like the big chunk of muscle that he is, he doesn’t precisely inspire me to want to know more about him. Not that there’s much for anyone else either. Louis Gossett Jr. as his former partner gets a bit more character development than anyone else and I still couldn’t bring myself to care much about him.

This movie is full of inexplicable bits and pieces and odds and ends. Castle’s living situation, his arsenal of weapons he casually discards after use, his apparent imperviousness to explosions, his good friend the drunken thespian who helps him out with inside info on the mob, whom he lures into alleys with remote controlled cars full of booze? Yeah, no clue about any of that. There’s no attempt to explain it all either. None whatsoever. The Yakuza? The mob kids? The partner and the rookie who joins him? Yeah, they get explanations if not much in the way of exposition. But there’s so much that doesn’t. It’s a bizarre movie full of hilarious ADR, ridiculous explosions and a big muscle-bound hero who almost never speaks. So, fun, but messy all the same.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Punisher (1989)

March 24, 2011

The Punisher (1989)

We own an awful lot of movies based on comic book properties. For years I made it my policy to collect anything based on a comic book – it was just a thing I enjoyed doing. It gave me a simple guideline for my purchasing decisions. My point here is that I’ve watched an awful lot of comic book movies, and I feel that I’m pretty familiar with the genre. So I hope you’ll believe me when I say that this movie doesn’t hold to most of the common trends that generally hold true for such films. I find this refreshing, really.

The primary difference between this and most other comic book movies is that it makes no attempt to be an origin story. As the movie begins Frank Castle is already the Punisher. In fact this movie starts where most other comic book movies would end: with the Punisher blowing up the palatial mansion of the crime boss who killed his family. Because this movie isn’t about how the Punisher came to be – it’s about Dolph Lundgren slaughtering hundreds of Mafia and Yakuza killers.

After he kills the mob boss Castle is tipped off by his drunken actor friend that the remaining Mafia families are banding together. He goes to a drug delivery they are accepting at a pier with the intention of killing a bunch of them, but is beaten to the punch by the Yakuza, who are taking advantage of the power void he has created and want to take over the city. Castle has no problem with the two groups going to war and killing eachother off, but when the new head of the Mafia, Gianni, refuses to allow the Yakuza boss, Lady Tanaka, to take control of his territory she has all the Mafia bosses children kidnapped to be sold abroad as slaves. Because Castle is all about punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent, and it is implied that even the children of mob bosses are innocent, he decides to start murdering Yakuza for a change and get the children back.

It’s an odd choice of plot in an odd sort of movie. What, exactly, does Castle plan to do with all these children he’s rescuing? Raise them as his own? Give them to orphanages? By the end of the movie practically none of these children have fathers any more because either the Yakuza or Frank has killed every one of them. I suppose the kids must still have mothers – in theory since the only women we see in this movie are strippers, a single female detective who used to work as a plain clothes detective in the guise of a hooker and the two chief Yakuza bosses.

There’s nothing aside from the character names here that really makes this a punisher movie, per se. It could be any taciturn vigilante in black with a whole mess of guns and knives that have skulls on the pommels. (Speaking of which, how does a disgraced ex-cop living in the sewers get his unlimited supply of knives, ammo and firearms? It’s best not to ask questions like this really.) He doesn’t even have the trademark skull shirt with shell casings for teeth.

It’s a silly movie with a silly plot that’s pretty much just an excuse for a loosely connected series of action scenes full of guns, swords, and lots of death. I enjoyed it from a sort of nostalgic viewpoint of looking at a plotless eighties action movie, but it could never be confused with any of the much better comic book movies in our collection like Iron Man or X-Men. It is, however, unique in being the only movie based on a Marvel property I can think of that wallows in its R-Rating. It’s a reminder of the day when any proper action movie had bare breasts and lots of cursing, comic book characters or no. And starred either Steven Segal, Dolph Lundgren or Arnold Schwarzenegger. I kind of miss those days of big muscled foreign action stars. What happened to those?

March 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment