When Frank Castle’s family is murdered by criminals, he wages war on crime as a vigilante assassin known only as The Punisher.
Despite what the description says, this movie is not about Frank Castle and his origin story. A better description might be “Frank Castle and his one hundred and one ways to kill people while never using the same weapon twice.”
The movie opens with a mob boss being released from prison. The media is in a frenzy and ask him if he is worried about The Punisher, a vigilante who has been killing ciminals. This mob boss says no, and openly taunts The Punisher. Will he live to eat his own words? No, because he gets killed.
As this mob boss returns to his fabulous mansion, his henchmen start get killed. The boss fires his gun at this infiltrator, alerting the media loitering around outside. The gates to his property are open, but the media was patiently waiting for a valid reason to storm in cameras rolling. The media of the 1980s was so much more respectful than those of today. As they run towards the house, it is enveloped in flame. The man responsible? The Punisher, aka Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) aka Ivan Drago.
In the aftermath of the destruction we meet Detective Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.), Frank Castle’s former partner and resident expert on The Punisher. He must not be a very good detective though, because he gets a new female partner who says her name is “Sam” and he looks at her “Sam?!” and she has to clarify that it is short for Samantha, because Jake is both sexist and an idiot. Jake is convinced that Frank Castle is alive and is The Punisher, but no one else believes him (Sam says she does, but she’s a rookie, what does she know?).
Now we cut to Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbé), the new defacto head of the 5 (or however many) families left in whatever city we happen to be in (New York? Maybe?). He and the other bosses have some big deal going down at the docks. Frank gets wind of this via this strange homeless guy (Barry Otto) who speaks in rhymes.
At the docks, everything is set to go down, but then a bunch of ninjas show up and start killing all the Italians. Frank watches this for a few minutes, and then decides to intercede and kill people on both sides. We are only 18 minutes into this film, and already we’ve seen Frank kill people with knives, rope, pistols, a machine gun, a shotgun, and a crossbow. Frank eventually gets wounded and falls into the water, presumed dead (again).
Now we are in the secret meeting lair of the mobsters. At least I assume it is a secret layer, because it has a ridiculous door which is an ellipse and it has two ellipses which move to either side to open. The only place for a door like this is in a James Bond movie. Anyways, the Yakuza boss lady (Kim Miyori) comes in and tells these mobsters their time is up. They say “why should we listen to you” and she says “oh you’ll listen, you’ll listen real good” (not actual quotes). Instantly I think “she is going to take their families hostage.” And wouldn’t you know it, that is exactly what she does.
Spoiler warning right here, Frank did not die, but has been hanging out in the overly large sewer system. Hanging with the TMNTs? Maybe. Frank’s homeless rhyme-talking street informant comes down to find him and tell him about the missing kids. “The children of the new bosses are now counted among their losses. Pay they will and all for naught the children will be sold by the slave trade and be bought. My god man don’t you see this is a result of your five year killing spree. You’ve weakened the fathers to such degrees they couldn’t protect their own families.” To this Frank says “I punish the guilty.”
Back at mob HQ, four of the bosses agree to Lady Yakuza’s demands, but the main guy says no. At Yakuza HQ, they receive a bunch of money, but it is for selling the kids into slavery. I’m not sure what kind of slave masters want to take spoiled mob brats, but whatever.
Frank ultimately decides he does care about innocent kids, and then goes on a killing spree in an underground casino. He uses a belt fed M60 machine gun and a spike on the heel of his boot. Then he goes to an abandoned carnival to find the kids, but its a trap! After killing twenty or more dudes with a tactical shotgun, he is taken prisoner.
Now he and homeless guy are strung up on a mechanical rack. When asked “who sent you” he replies “Batman.” Lady Yakuza leaves, and Frank manages to free himself. He uses a revolver one of the body guards has. Meanwhile, Frank’s old partner and Sam are exploring the sewers, looking for Frank’s hideout. Jake says Frank is wanted for 125 murders in the last five years. Their search (and maybe this whole sideline) appear to be pointless, because they find nothing.
The four mob bosses who complied with the Japanese are eating dinner, waiting for their kids to be returned, and Lady Yakuza shows up and has them all killed. Frank now finds the real location of where the kids are being held, and uses a Thompson sub-machine gun, a knife, and a large revolver to do his dirty work (the dirty work being, freeing all but one hostage kid). They escape in a city bus which Frank stole, and which the bad guys fire hundreds of bullets into the roof, but somehow no one inside is injured. Frank crashes the bus and is captured by the police. he does use the bus to kill a few people though.
Inside a jail cell, Jake confronts Frank, and Frank says he’s just doing what needs to be done. Then Sam comes to visit him, and tells Frank that Jake resigned (he apparently resigned immediately after talking to Frank). This is the last we see of Sam, and honestly, we question what her actual contribution to the movie was. The police decide to move Frank to a new location, and while he is in transit the remaining boss man Franco has him rescued, and then forces Frank to help him to save his son. Frank refuses, but then the boss shows his big reveal that he is holding Jake hostage, so Frank agrees.
They storm Lady Yakuza’s office tower and kill seventeen people practicing samurai in a matter of seconds with automatic weapons (Frank uses an M-16). They kill the lights and shoot some undetermined amount of more people in the darkness. They find Lady Yakuza holding Franco’s kid at knife point. The mob boss, who up until this scene was carrying a suppressed Uzi, suddenly has a long barrel revolver. He puts his gun in his own mouth on the threat of her killing his son. Frank busts in and kills her with his signature skull handle knife by throwing it and hitting her between the eyes.
Frank and Franco have a show down, and Frank comes out alive. Part of this is Franco’s kid at first thinking he needed to kill The Punisher, but ultimately deciding not to. Jake, having escaped from the goons holding him, makes his way to the Yakuza building and then on to the roof, only Frank has disappeared. And the credits roll. We came into the movie with 125 kills for Frank, and we’re exiting somewhere around 175. Frank must feel enormous pressure to diversify his weapons of choice though, because in 50 some odd kills, he uses over a dozen different weapons. None of which happen to be his iconic dual-wielding Uzis. And other than the knife, his classic skull imagery is absent.