The first attempt to bring Marvel's The Punisher to the screen was this 1989 film starring Dolph Lundgren in the title role. It was received about as well as every Punisher movie has to this day in that critics and audiences universally ignored or dismissed it.
This Punisher is still seen as a failure by most and it is often criticised for the acting and the changes made to the character's story. The fact that he never even wears his trademark skull T-shirt at any point in the film, I'll admit, was a stupid omission and it doesn't exactly help sell the iconic look he's known for. Dolph Lundgren, however, was a decent casting choice, his monosyllabic tones adding to the cold, bitter aspect of the character and his towering frame definitely makes him a believable threat. There's also something to be said about seeing the Punisher just shoot big guns in rooms full of bad guys. It's brainless but it works and it is instantly satisfying: this movie does that a lot.
In fact, as a late 80's action flick, The Punisher is really not bad: it's violent, action-packed and silly enough to remain entertaining throughout. The fact that the Punisher rides a motorbike in the sewers is already pretty genius. Plus his only ally is an old ex-stage actor-turned-drunk called Shake (Barry Otto) and in one scene the Punisher shoots an arrow into someone's chest and zip wires down that cable from a rooftop, needless to say it's awesome. The main villain, Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), the head of the Yakuza, also doesn't get enough credit as she's a genuinely effective baddie who kidnaps a bunch of kids from other mobsters, which leads to the Punisher taking on the Yakuza by himself. Another good point about the film is Louis Gossett Jr. who brings some welcome gravitas to the story.
Now The Punisher works as a guilty pleasure and as a mindless action flick but it is admittedly uneven. Some of the aforementioned cast members (and Jeroen Krabbé) are good but the bulk of the actors playing smaller parts are really not, plus some of the main action sequences are inexplicably set in bizarre locations, the score is distracting throughout and a lot of the one-liners are unapologetically dumb so this is by no means a perfect film or a flawless adaptation of the source material since in this version Punisher is a cop-turned-vigilante.
It's a shame that this movie gets such a bad rep, however, since it is far more fun than a lot of comic-book movies out there and it's kinda cool to watch a Marvel movie aimed at a more adult audience without buckets of CGI thrown at it. It may not be the ultimate Punisher movie and it's definitely a bit of a mess but it does get the spirit of the character right so the fact he's not wearing the T-shirt you'd expect him too is, in retrospect, not that big a deal.