Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Punisher (1989)

Go To

"Come on God, answer me. For years I'm asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world: here is justice, here is punishment, here... in me."
Frank Castle

The first film adaptation of The Punisher, released in 1989.

After Frank Castle's (Dolph Lundgren) family was killed by organized crime, he started a war on them as the vigilante known as The Punisher. His work causes the New York crime families to appear weak, and a Mob War between them and the Yakuza breaks out, who try to muscle in on their turf. Caught between the crossfire, Frank has to shoot a whole lot of bad guys to make things right.

This film has the examples of:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Where Frank's hideout resides.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: When one goon is frustrated waiting for his European counterparts to show up for a meet, he mutters "Fucking faggot Frenchmen!"
  • The Alcoholic: Jake is used to be one before he met Frank, who brought him back from the brink.
  • Armed Legs: Tanaka's daughter slices a man's throat with blades on her boot in her introductory scene. Frank offs one of Moretti's henchman in the same fashion.
  • Ate His Gun: Holding a dagger to Tommy's throat, Lady Tanaka promises to spare him if Gianni puts his gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Frank intervenes before he can go through with it.
  • Badass Biker: How Frank is depicted, even having a Cool Bike.
  • BFG: The M-60/Grenade Launcher combo that Frank uses to demolish a Yakuza illegal casino.
  • Big Bad: Lady Tanaka, the Dragon Lady Yakuza boss trying to take over New York's crime.
  • Blade Enthusiast:
    • Tanaka's daughter. In the final battle she's covered in them.
    • Unusually, this version of Frank uses knives as well as guns.
  • Booked Full of Mooks: Everyone else in the restaurant where the Yakuza and the Mafia meet is revealed to be a Yakuza hired gun.
  • Calling Card: Frank leaves knives with skulls on them in his victims to let everyone know who killed them.
  • Chain Pain: One mook tries to attack Frank with a chain, but is stopped on his tracks with a shotgun shell to his gut.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Franco's son attacks his captors with a chair, and in an archetypical fashion, it breaks apart on impact.
  • Children Are Innocent: A predominant theme in the movie: When Frank learns that Tanaka has been targeting the mob bosses' children, he goes out of his way to save them, and even gets brought in as a result. In the end, Franco's son sees his father die in the struggle with Frank for a gun, and gets the idea to take up that gun and pull it on Frank, who ain't even mad.
    Frank: "You're a good boy. Grow up. Be a good man. If you don't... I'll be waiting."
  • Comicbook Adaptation: It notably features the scenes of Frank being a cop and a family man before becoming the Punisher that were left out of the film.
  • Cultural Posturing:
    Lady Tanaka: We are Yakuza. When your ancestors were shepherds still screwing sheep on the Mediterranean coast, ours were the crime lords of Asia.
  • Deadpan Snarker. Frank has a few of these moments when he is captured by the Yakuza and put on a torture rack.
    Lady Tanaka: Do you know how much pain $10,000 can buy?
    Frank: Is this question true or false, or multiple choice?
  • The Dragon: Tanaka's adoptive daughter is her protector and top enforcer.
  • Dragon Lady: Lady Tanaka, the Yakuza leader attacking the local crime bosses and the Big Bad of the film.
  • Enemy Mine: Mob boss Franco teams up with Castle to rescue his son Tommy from the Yakuza.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: One truck completely vaporizes on impact with another vehicle.
  • Everyone Is Armed: The meeting between the Mafia leaders and Lady Tanaka in a restaurant turns out to be a trap when every other patron pulls out a gun on the former.
  • Evil Laugh: Thinking that she has won, Lady Tanaka laughs evilly before Punisher busts through a wall and kills her.
  • Evil Plan: Lady Tanaka abducts the children of New York's mob bosses to make them sell their territory to the Yakuza.
  • External Combustion: Frank Castle's family died when their rigged car exploded.
  • Faux Affably Evil: More like "faux polite", but Lady Tanaka keeps on being polite even as she does such ruthlessly horrible things as take the sons of the Mafia dons as hostages (and when the Dons pay up, decide to sell them as slaves anyway) and put a gun in a man's mouth and blow his brains out for spitting on her (because he decided to be Defiant to the End after being lucky not to drink some poisoned wine at the same time as all the other crime lords). The only time she drops the polite act is when she forces Franco to kill himself to prevent her from killing his son (with no guarantee that she won't do it anyway) and starts to laugh at the situation.
  • Gun Struggle: Gianni Franco dies after he struggles with Frank for his gun, and it goes off.
  • Heal It With Fire: Frank Castle cauterizes a wound and can be heard expressing his agony from afar.
  • Inexplicable Cornered Escape: Frank manages to vanish somewhere while having nowhere to go really, being on the roof of a high-rise.
  • I Work Alone: When Sam offers to work with Jake, he initially insists on working alone.
  • The Informant: Shakes, an alcoholic former actor who relays information on criminal activities to Frank for booze.
  • Kick the Dog: Lady Tanaka reveals that she's lying about returning the mob bosses' kids if they cede territory to her, instead plotting to sell them into slavery. Later, she holds one boss's kid hostage and ordering him to kill himself, flat admitting she might just kill the lad anyways.

  • A Lady on Each Arm: One patron in the illegal gambling hole is shown walking around with two women in this fashion.
  • Mythology Gag: Frank's children are shown wearing Spider-Man pajamas in a flashback. This is a reference to the fact that The Punisher first appeared in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man.
  • Neck Snap: Frank kills Tanaka's daughter by twisting her neck.
  • No Name Given: No name is given to Tanaka's adoptive daughter.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: Two Yakuza mooks pretend to be armor racks to surprise Frank.
  • Not Wearing Tights: Frank never wears the iconic skull on his chest. This wound up being one of the main points of criticism from fans.note 
  • Pinned to the Wall: Tanaka's daughter uses her earrings to pin mob boss DeLeo to the wall.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Railing Kill: Happens to one mook in the amusement park shootout.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: There's a perpetually drunk former stage actor who serves as Frank's informant, and he's got an entire rant in this trope's fashion just to talk Frank out of facing certain death.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Yakuza, who even resort to kidnapping children to gain upper hand.
  • Self-Surgery: After his first run-in with the Yakuza, Frank is shown cauterizing his wounds with a red-hot blade.
  • Shaky P.O.V. Cam: When Dino Moretti gets attacked by someone he recognizes.
  • The Sociopath: Lady Tanaka, a crime boss who holds all her rivals' kids hostage to take power, and freely admits that she might not let them go.
  • The Speechless: Tanaka's daughter is a mute.
  • Spiteful Spit: DeLeo spits on Lady Tanaka's face when she offers him a poisoned drink.
  • Stab the Scorpion: Gianni aims his gun at Frank's direction, but only to shoot a mook who is behind him.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Lady Tanaka poisons the drinks of the mob bosses who agreed to have a meeting with her.
  • That Man Is Dead: In true Punisher fashion, he tells Jake that "Frank is dead" when they finally meet face to face.
  • Thrown from the Zeppelin: When Lady Tanaka first demands that The Mafia become her junior partners, not one of the five mob bosses agrees to her demands, and she stabs the most belligerent of them through the hand rather than killing them. She then kidnaps their children to use as hostages, only to murder everyone who surrenders to save their kids' lives.
  • Weirdness Censor: Nobody believed that Punisher actually existed before he exploded a building in front of the press.
  • Wrote the Book: Frank referred to Jake as "the man who wrote the book on busting bad guys" when they met the first time.
  • "You!" Exclamation: Dino Moretti's last words when he finds his bodyguards dead and comes face to face with Punisher.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    Gianni Franco: You've wiped out the competition. Thanks to you, there's only me. In five years' time, my new organization will be the most powerful crime syndicate on earth, And that boy whose life you saved will inherit all of it. And the only thing he will have to fear, I'm about to eliminate.