Films based on comic books were a rare commodity back in the dark days that were the end of the eighties and the start of the nineties. Comics fans had to take what they could get, and The Punisher was a flick that divided fans of the character when it originally came out. Starring Dolph Lundgren as the titular comics character (minus the trademark skull logo shirt) and classic action movie hero Louis Gossett Jr alongside him, it was notorious for a while due to the violence it features, and also for getting some rotten reviews at the time.
The thing is, the film is actually a quite convincing take on the comics character that so many people love, and I think it was a symptom of the time that the flick was received badly rather than the film not being much good. You see, the film walks the line of being too comic based for the casual action film fan, and too much of a hard-assed action film for the comic fans to really get into it. It didn't help that Lundgren's performance was of the usual monosyllabic level of so many action characters of the time. NBot Dolph's fault, more a problem with the script.
This Punisher movie is a pretty literal adaptation of the comics title as it was during the 1980s. This is another factor in why it bombed- it's too brightly shot to fit with the moody aesthetic that many would expect with a flick about Frank Castle. Plus, aside from Dolph, the rest of the cast aren't sure whether to ham it up or play it straight. Louis Gossett Jr plays it straight, and comes across as the strongest performance next to the vengeful Lundgren, but the film is just too disjointed to work well.
There's plenty of action to feast on, but while there's a bunch of impressive sequences, some of it just looks like The A-team with added blood. It's worth seeing for the Punisher fan or the casual marvel fan, but it won't change your life. That said, it is a damn sight better than either the 2004 Punisher movie or the Punisher: War Zone film that followed. Now that's saying something.