They say Marvel Comics refused to allow the movie adaption of The Punisher to be released to theaters. It seemed to be a trend for Marvel in the early ’90s. A year later a movie adaption of Captain America was promoted then pulled from distribution a week before it’s release date. Four years after that a movie adaption of The Fantastic Four was produced by Roger Corman and was also pulled from distribution. All three movies were part of an urban legend that went like this: In 1986 Universal Pictures released a big budget George Lucas produced adaption of Marvel’s Howard the Duck, a film that was so bad that it ruined the character forcing Marvel to discontinue publishing any new Howard the Duck comic books. From that moment on Marvel insisted on any contract they made with any movie studio have a clause that gave them the right of final approval upon completion of the movie. If Marvel did not like the complete movie then they could refuse to allow it’s release. The Punisher, Captain America and The Fantastic Four were all so awful that Marvel used their legal option and kept them out of American theaters. Cut to the mid ’90s and there I was at a comic book convention. Along with the comic book vendors there were tables selling bootleg videos. Many were kids shows that had not been on television in years and Japanese Anime that had not yet been released in this country. But they also had bootleg copies of the unreleased Marvel movies. I bought my copy of The Punisher and once at home prepared for a night of bad cinema. I just simply had to the movie that Marvel refused to release. Strange thing though. The Punisher was not a bad movie.
Let me dispel the urban legend. As bad as Universal’s adaption of Howard the Duck was, it did not effect the sales of the book. The reason for Marvel pulling it from publication ( which happened a year before the movie was released ) had more to do with Howard the Duck’s creator suing Marvel for allegedly stealing his character from him, a threatened lawsuit by Disney for what they saw was an unauthorized parody of Donald Duck. There were also poor sales after Marvel made the mistake of removing Howard’s creator, Steve Gerber, as the book’s writer and editor ( which sparked the lawsuit ), and assigned writing duties to others who were less talented. Had the movie been a success then maybe Marvel may have brought the book back, but otherwise the movie’s failure had no effect on the decision to continue publishing new Howard the Duck comic books. And as for the clause giving Marvel final approval, none existed. Both The Punisher and Captain America were not released due to their distributors both facing financial problems. Both were unable to come up with the money to make the hundreds of prints needed for a nationwide release. No other distributor was interested in buying the distribution rights to the movies. And according to Stan Lee himself in an interview with Kevin Smith, the low budget Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four was never meant to be released. It was only made because Constantine Films, which owned the movie rights to The Fantastic Four, would have forfeited them if they did not film a Fantastic Four movie by 1992. They quickly filmed and shelved a version of The Fantastic Four which allowed the production company to retain the movie rights long enough to produce the version with Jessica Alba. Both The Punisher and Captain America were eventually sold for release on home video.
I recently revisited The Punisher for the Latex Movie Review, only this time instead of the washed out bootleg print as a proper digitally mastered widescreen print. What a difference. While I found myself liking the Bootleg copy of the film, I liked it even more as a clear letterboxed version. Was it a great movie? No. But it is exactly what you would expect from a movie who’s plot is an armed vigilante running around shooting organized crime gangs. The movie stars Dolph Lundgren as former police detective Frank Castle who’s wife and children were killed by a car bomb meant to kill him. Allowing the police to believe he was also killed in the blast Castle moves down to the sewers where he builds an arsenal of weapons, only coming to the surface to mow down entire gangs of thugs a the mysterious vigilante The Punisher ( sans his trademark skull t shirt ). His killing spree is effective, and when the movie opens he has nearly driven the American Mafia to extinction. So few crime families remain alive that the Japanese Yakuza, lead by Lady Tanaka, decide to muscle into the United States, forcing the surviving Mafia bosses to give in to their management. ( Something that is achieved by kidnapping their children. ) For the sake of the kids The Punisher winds up temporarily joining forces with the Mafia, including their new Godfather Gainni Franco who Frank believes was the one who ordered the bomb placed in his car. Luis Gossett Jr. plays Frank’s old partner on the police force who suspects that The Punisher is actually his old partner, and tries to keep his new female partner off the Punisher’s trail as she attempts to track down and arrest him for the murder of over 100 organized crime members in the past five years.
The Punisher has its flaws. Fight scenes meant to be of the martial arts genre are poorly choreographed, but that was expected in an ’80s Hollywood film. Good fight choreography would not begin in American movies until the mid ’90s. Some other action sequences are poorly staged. And the decision to bring children into the plot gives the movie an unneeded darkness, making one scene of a child watching his parent killed unbearable. But compared to other Hollywood action movies of the same era The Punisher is well above average. It is not a must see comic book adaption like Tim Burton’s Batman ( which did get a release in 1989 ) but well worth seeking out by any comic book fan.
There is nothing like a mother and daughter team who decide that today they are going to dress in complementing black vinyl outfits. Kim Miyori as Lady Tanaka was pushing near 40 but still looked ravishing in her Tangzhuang style outfit. But it is the younger Zoshka Mizak as Tanaka’s daughter that takes your breath away in her vinyl sheath dress. They first show up wearing these outfits at 43 minutes while they torture the captured Frank Castle. The mother and daughter duo show up again in the same outfits at 48 minutes when they assassinate the heads of the American crime syndicate. Zoshka wears a nice ’80s style exercise outfit at 31 minutes, a red satin ( or spandex ) one piece top over tight black satin ( or spandex ) leggings. You want more with Zoshka? The mother/daughter duo appear at 21 minutes in complementing silk dress suits that resemble something women wear to church.