What The Film?! is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the general fuckery Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by comedy writer Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.
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“So who’s the most underrated actor of all time?” Mac asks in the fifty sixth episode of FX’s sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Without any hesitation, the answer he gets back is Dolph Lundgren. Why? “Because of his spiky hair, his ice cold demeanor, and his big muscles”. They write a movie for him where he plays a scientist who can smell crime. Outside of Rocky IV and the Expendables movies, I’ve actually never seen him in anything. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure that he even had top billing on anything. He did, and to top it off, one of those movies where he played the lead, he played one of my favorite comic book characters of all time. The Punisher.
1989’s The Punisher was directed by Mark Goldblatt, who is known for being the editor on almost every James Cameron and Paul Verhoeven ever made. So you’d think with all that Academy Award nominated editing, he could probably know enough about a movie to helm one, right?
Now, I love 2004’s The Punisher. It was my introduction to the character. It was done in that pseudo- realistic style that later made the Christopher Nolan Batman movies incredibly successful. It took the character and toned down the comic-book feel, and it worked very well. It was almost a love letter or homage to 1970s action movies like Dirty Harry, Death Wish, or Shaft. It’s sort-of-kind-of-not-really follow up, 2012’s short film Dirty Laundry continues on this path, making a darker, more dramatic, tense, and ultimately more violent Punisher.
2004’s The Punisher walked a fine line, giving us a sympathetic Punisher we could root for, instead of the comic book Punisher (which is literally terrifying). The horrifying and bat-shit-insane Punisher popped his head up into film with 2008’s Punisher: War Zone.
War Zone upped the ante and went full-on ridiculous in a style similar to Crank or Shoot Em Up. If 2004’s The Punisher was Batman Begins, then Punisher: War Zone is Batman: Forever. Plot wise, it feels right. There are plenty of homages and references to more Punisher Comics than The Punisher did. While the tone is accurate, it just doesn’t give you a character you care about. You watch this movie to see the Punisher break someone’s arm and then stab them with the broken bone or stab a guy in the face with a chair. There’s so many insane moments in this movie that it’s one of the most entertaining movies you’ll ever see.
Why am I such a big Punisher fan? He’s as if you took Batman and did an evil version. He’s a vigilante that hunts down criminals due to the horrors in his past. You could argue that he’s like Batman without morals, being okay with murdering any scum he finds. On the other hand, you could argue that he’s obsessed with morality, murdering anyone who doesn’t fit his own strict moral code.
The movie opens with a news report explaining that Frank Castle’s family was killed by gang violence, and then immediately goes into how there’s a vigilante killing off gangs (almost in the same breath). Over one-hundred-and-fifty deaths have been at the Punisher’s hands since police officer Frank Castle’s family had been killed, but of course there’s no relation between these two events. That would be obvious and the news anchors are potentially retarded.
We cut to a mob boss’ home, where the Punisher is breaking in (to presumably punish or deliver a candy-gram, one can’t be sure with this guy). The mob searches the house for the Punisher, where one guy walks into a room full of doors (at least eight), checks behind one door, and then immediately puts his guard down (which is when the Punisher kills him). The rest of the scene plays off like a horror movie, with each person in the house being killed off by the Punisher.
The Punisher ends up getting information about what the mob is up to from a hobo that he gets to follow him by putting a bottle of whiskey on a remote controlled car. He follows it, walking very very slowly because the movie needs him to meet the Punisher and not easily grab the bottle that is traveling at a very very slow speed. On a related note, there’s also a sequence where someone is trying to escape the Punisher in a van by driving just barely slower than the speed the Punisher runs.
The movie is ridiculous. It has all the typical 1980’s cliches, having every single vehicle explode at the drop of a pin, the crazy synth soundtrack, a group of people attacking the lead one at a time, writing that seems to be made just to put cool one-liners in the trailer, and bad plot holes. In addition to these, The Punisher also provides you with scenes where he makes the Facebook duckface when using a machine gun to murder a casino to death, where he sneaks into a building on a motorcycle (actually rides it into the building while trying to be sneaky), a woman kills a group of people by playing a glass harmonica, and a small child gets stabbed in the face.
Towards the end of the movie, the Punisher has to team up with a Mob boss to hunt down Yakuza, knowing that they’re just going to kill each other when their work is done. It’s a pretty cool idea, and I’d love to see that plot point be executed in Punisher movie that isn’t awful.
I’m reasonably sure Dolph Lundgren didn’t want to do this movie. He acts as if he was drunk the entire movie with that vaguely slurred monotone styled with uninterested eyes and he looks like a drug addict. There’s something just incredibly peculiar about the way he looks and it doesn’t help that he sounds like a text-to-speech application.
Fun fact: in that episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia where they write a movie where Dolph Lundgren plays a scientist who can smell crime, the joke behind that is that Dolph actually was a chemical engineering scientist. He has an IQ of 160 and had a scholarship to MIT. He’s smart enough to know that everything he’s doing is retarded, and yet keeps doing it. It’s kind of awesome.