Sunday, 1 July 2018
Mark Goldblatt puts his time as Paul Verhoeven's second-unit director to good use with The Punisher, an impatient set-piece generator that combines the interlaced fuzz of RoboCop with the vulgar, home video opportunism of The Cannon Group. Dolph Lundgren plays the titular vigilante as a disconnected and bereaved. The pure machinery of Marvel Comics' ruthlessly motivated exterminator is nowhere to be found, replaced with a character that screenwriter Boaz Yakin likely hoped would register as, at-least, semi-human. Cursed with essentially the same backstory as his newsprint forebear, Lundgren's Frank Castle glooms in biker leathers, loaded down with army surplus and branded stiletto daggers.
Lundgren's chiselled, basically beautiful face is shaped into a glaring death mask with heavy, waxen make-up and a pencilled in beard that gifts the actor knife-edge contouring. Lundgren's louche violence and lovingly photographed automatic weaponry would be star-making if the film wasn't so thin. The actor is working at being iconic, a heavy metal Elvis in a piece happy to be simply diverting. The film's main dramatic push concerns a back-and-forth between a legion of everytown mafiosa and a gang of arrogant, marauding Yakuza. Naturally the depiction of the Japanese gangsters combines every possible permutation of video shop Orientalism.
Shuriken, sexualised cruelty, white slave trading, and Kim Miyori's one-dimensional (but enjoyably vindictive) Dragon Lady boss are all pressed into service to illustrate the sub-human otherness of the invading criminals. This blunt exoticism combined with The Punisher's decision to team up with Jeroen Krabbe's heavily accessorised mob don lends Goldblatt's film the air of 40s propaganda. American criminals are still American after all. In this sense The Punisher is not so much an adaptation of Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr and Ross Andru's character, rather it is a stuttering, confused live action run-through of the imagery that Frank Miller lifted out of sombre Samurai manga then transplanted into the Western comic canon via his electric Daredevil run.