The Punisher (1989)

There was a long period of time where I didn’t even know there was a Punisher flick from the late 80’s starring Dolph Lundgren, and I blissfully lived under the assumption that the character never entered cinema until 2004 when Thomas Jane tried it on for size, and although that’s still my favourite take on Frank Castle to date, in terms of both performance and film overall, the Dolph one is a pretty badass slice of retro action pulp that I greatly enjoyed. It’s not an origin story and doesn’t have much use for exposition, time spent on tragic backstory (beyond a few haunting flashbacks) or dark rumination, it’s strictly a blast of violence, chases and genre thrills built around the visual aesthetic of the Punisher. He’s already been doing this for quite a while here, and Lundgren, strikingly brunette here, imbues Frank Castle with a sort of tired and unimpressed yet still viciously violent edge as he teams up with an equally sardonic cop (Louis Gossett Jr) to take on pretty much every criminal faction in the city including a tribe of psychotic matriarchal Yakuzas and one pissed off drug Baron (Jeroen Krabbe) who initially hired Frank to find his kidnapped son and then inevitably can’t be trusted not to be a backstabbing lunatic. There’s an absolute ton of exciting, well staged action set pieces here including an extended bus chase all over the city, endless thundering shootouts and Frank roaring around on a huge black motorbike that he uses to descend into the subterranean tunnels below the city in a decidedly Batman-esque flair. This version is stripped of much of the mythology behind The Punisher and is more just a straightforward, bloody, pulpy action extravaganza, and had the film not been called Punisher and Dolph not been credited as Frank Castle it would just be another day at the Lundgren races. However, they chose to make it a Punisher film and it’s better for that, Dolph fits the role like a glove, and although my only complaint is that he didn’t get to wear that classic skull logo on his chest that we know so well, he inhabits the gritty, browbeaten, heavy artillery sporting viciousness of Frank very well, whether he’s beating hordes of goons mercilessly or literally mowing down more of them with a fucking Gatling gun he found somewhere. It’s brutal, urban, feels just ‘comic book’ enough to fit the aesthetic and has a ballsy, very dark final stroke to the script in the last act that is a borderline taboo shocker but let’s you know this Punisher isn’t fucking around. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

The Punisher (2004)

There’s several movie versions of Marvel’s The Punisher, which these days are pretty much eclipsed by Netflix’s take-no-prisoners, balls out long form adaptation, but the film ones are still out there, if only for variety. By several I mean three, which some might not be aware of. Dolph Lundgren made an effort back in the 90’s which looks cool, but I’ve yet to see. Ray Stevenson most recently took up the mantle for a jagged edged, jarringly violent and dismal toned entry, which is worth a look. My favourite has to be the Thomas Jane one though, by far the most ‘hollywood’, high profile stab at the mythology, slightly silly in places, dementedly weird in others, a well casted, oddly pitched vehicle that is somehow the most fun of the trio of flicks. Jane, at least in the looks department, is the closest you’ll find to the Frank Castle of the comics, a rock-jawed, all American tragic antihero turned mass murderer. The story he finds himself in… well, it’s a little stuffed with itself, subplots dangling from it like entrails and far too many characters running about, but oh well. Jane’s Castle watches his wife (sadly short lived Samantha Mathis) and family massacred in the film’s opening, at the hands of melodramatic mobster Howard Saint, played by John Travolta, who’s determined to steal every scene whether anyone likes it or not. Forced into hiding, Frank eventually becomes the angry Punisher, a vigilante dressed like a jock in a school shooter Halloween costume, now on a path to wipe out Saint and his whole freaky entourage, which includes consigliere Will Patton, sporting some icky extra curricular activities. He also shacks up with sexy Rebecca Romjin and her two apparent roommates Ben Foster and comedian John Pinette, when he needs to dodge Travolta’s onslaught of colourful assassins. Well, he only *literally* shacks up with Romjin, but you get the idea. Speaking of assassins, there’s some really cool supporting villains dispatched by Saint. Castle is unprepared when an eight foot tall, mute Russian goon in Where’s Waldo inspired attire busts down his door looking for blood. My favourite has to be Harry Heck though, a contract killer so similar to Johnny Cash that for years after watching this I legit thought they somehow convinced the man in black himself to do an epic cameo. It’s actually a country singer named Mark Collie, but oh well, the guy composes a twangy guitar accompanied vocal for every target he’s assigned, which he croons out to them before getting violent, and that’s a fuckin wicked comic book villain in anyone’s books, whether or not the character actually appeared in the ones this film is based on (I’m guilty of never reading them). This film is fun because of it’s arch, broad strokes approach, especially with Travolta’s over the top take, Laura Harring as his emotional wife, whose fault it is that the whole massacre in the opening happens to begin with. That opening is ruthless, exploitive and doesn’t hold most of anything off camera, a good setup for revenge (or,sorry, ‘punishment’) in any pulp comic book scenario. Jane holds his own, and even popped up again years later to do a pseudo sequel in short film form called ‘Punisher: Dirty Laundry’, which is so good it almost blows this one out of the water. Here you’ll find a movie that’s not quite as resigned to it’s unpleasantness as the Warzone one (which really gets messed up), but still knows how to pack a mean punch, when it’s not too tied up with itself.

-Nate Hill



goldblattPodcasting Them Softly is beyond thrilled to present a discussion with veteran film editor Mark Goldblatt! Mark‘s credits are beyond amazing, and feature some of the greatest action adventure films of our lifetimes  — The Terminator, Terminator 2, True Lies, Bad Boys 2, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Commando, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Starship Troopers, Predator 2 and Tony Scott’s immortal action masterpiece The Last Boy Scout. He’s worked with absolute titans of industry, including James Cameron, Michael Bay, Paul Verhoeven, and Joe Dante, all of whom Mark has worked with multiple times. Other amazing credits include Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Hollow Man, Showgirls, The Ambassador, Halloween II, and Piranha. He also had multiple collaborations with Cannon Films head honcho Menahem Golan, which is always a subject that fascinates us at PTS! Mark‘s directorial debut was the wild and crazy Dead Heat with Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, which he then followed up with the absolutely awesome The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren. We were overwhelmed by his resume and are so excited to share this exciting chat!