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The Punisher is one of Marvel’s best known non-super-hero characters which centers on the dark existence of a former government agent and soldier by the name of Frank Castle. Castle, in the comics, helps those in need destroying crime at its source, the criminals. There was a lot of fan-boy backlash when Artisan (now owned by Lion’s Gate) announced that Thomas Jane (The Sweetest Thing) has been cast as the title character, many sighting that he didn’t even look like the comic book version of the man clad in black. While Jane wouldn’t have been anyone’s top choice for the role, the final result, this past weekend, showed that with some perseverance on holding judgment before the film was even released, I think I enjoyed it much more.

The Punisher, as mentioned above, follows the origins of the title character AKA Frank Castle who witnesses his entire family gunned down before his eyes in a brutal display ordered by one of Florida’s most prominent business men and underground crime bosses. On Frank’s last mission before retirement, the job goes bad and Howard Saint’s (John Travolta) son is killed in the melee. When Saint gets word that the whole operation was a set up, he orders the killing of Castle’s family, including his wife and son, but the goons sent to do the job don’t kill Castle, and he comes back with a vengeance in one of the most brutally violent, yet brutally honest films to come along in a while.

Mind you, this film isn’t for the faint of heart in some parts. The violence is adequately portrayed on-screen, just as it is in the pages of the comic. As Castle is being set up to die in the beginning of the film he is being beaten up, and shot, point blank, to the chest, all in full view of the camera. Throughout the film head shots and the spilling of blood are as abundant as one-liners and Thomas Jane taking off his shirt.

The story itself isn’t the most original to come along, and while it tells the origins of the character, it does so in a way that is incredibly cheesy. John Travolta’s Saint is an over the top crime boss who is similar in many ways to the character Travolta played in Swordfish; he even sports the same hairstyle. Yet there are times when the film’s story goes above and beyond the call of duty to show us glimpses of ingenuity. The highlight of this is Castle’s very elaborate way of getting Saint to believe his wife is shagging up with his top lieutenant, which includes parking tickets and a portable fire hydrant.

The fight scenes in the film are also very well done; most notable of these is The Punisher’s fight with The Russian (Kevin Nash). The fight, resulting in the basic remodeling of Castle’s apartment is the highlight of the film. While Nash is a big star in the WWE, he could stick to being a hired goon in any number of films, resulting in some grade-A-ass-kicking.

Again, going back to Jane’s portrayal as the title character, I certainly believe that he brought the character alive on the big screen. His dead-pan style of talking after the massacre, his take no crap from anyone attitude, and his general disregard for anyone but his fellow tenants shows that the killing of his family had ultimately sent him over the edge as he fights with drinking and suicidal tendencies throughout the film. Certainly touched upon at the end of the movie, where does The Punisher go from here? Where does a man go after his revenge has been achieved and there is nothing else to live for in this world? These answers will, hopefully, be answered in a sequel.

I for one believe the money is critic proof, much like other comic book movies. They are not usually taken in by the casual audience in huge droves, therefore I, or any other critic, could slam the film as being too cliché, too color-by-numbers for its own good, and those who still have an affinity for the character will still see the film because it represents a coming of age for one of Marvel’s lesser known characters.

Regardless of how the film does this weekend at the box office (Editor’s Note: The Punisher finished in second with an estimated $14 million dollars), I believe the first movie set up the franchise very well. While the movie won’t go down as one of Marvel’s biggest opening weekends, it will still go down, among comic book fans, as the day one of the most human characters was brought to the big screen, in style, and got his revenge.

Many, including everyone I know, have been eagerly awaiting Volume 2 of the Kill Bill saga since the first was released last year. Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film featured the graphic, yet cartoonish violence, that we had become accustom to seeing in today’s cinema, along with intelligent, fun dialog. When the original Kill Bill was split into two pieces, many where outraged, especially when the first film ended with only two of the Bride’s five victims accounted for, but after viewing the film, those doubters were put in their places. Be warned though, those expecting the same type of film as the first will be mildly disappointed as the action takes a backseat to often-windy dialog and Tarantino’s set up of the film’s back-story.

Even without the abundance of action (such as the massacre of the Crazy 88’s in the first film), Volume 2 manages to thoroughly impress with its penance for excellent storytelling. After disposing of two of her former assassins in Volume 1, The Bride (Uma Thurman) now sets her sights on her last two compatriots and her boss, the elusive Bill. Tarantino gives us a look into the setting up of the entire story, beginning with the massacre that started this mess. Whereas the first film focused on telling of The Bride’s revenge, the second sets up why she wants such revenge and how she became the killer that she is today.

As I stated before, those expecting a redux of the first film will be disappointed to find out that only one major fight scene takes place during the course of the movie, but the senseless destruction off a trailer at the hands of the battle’s combatants is more than worth the price of admission. If the film were handled by any other director other than Tarantino I simply don’t think we would pay $6.50 to see people talk for two hours, but, as with Pulp Fiction, QT manages to craft the banter between two people into some of the most intriguing, enlightening, and interesting bits of talking ever put on film.

The story itself is your standard revenge-fare with an almost super-hero like protagonist and the calm, cool, and collected antagonist who knows the end is coming. After watching the film I can’t see anyone but David Charradine as Bill. The dead-pan style in which he delivers his lines and his appearance at the end of the film with the dart of truth serum provides both comic relief and drama. One of the best parts of the film is The Bride’s training with Pai Mei, a white bearded, elusive trainer who likes to stroke his beard and laugh, although this part of the film also makes the ending almost too obvious.

I personally would have like to see more fighting in the film, only because Tarantino and fighting choreographer Woo-ping Yuen have such a knack for creating memorable fight scenes filled with canon fodder as well as characters that we care about. Yet, as I stated before, the fight between Elle Driver and The Bride may be the best in both volumes as the mutual hatred they have for each other ends in an almost comic sense.

As a whole film, Kill Bill is a masterpiece up on a pedestal with the original Matrix, Fight Club, and Pulp Fiction. They all feature directors who know (or in some cases, knew) how to craft an excellent film and do things differently. Also, for all of you wondering out there, The Bride’s name is revealed at the end of the film, including her last name, which will make you chuckle when you then go back and re-watch some of the earlier scenes with Bill.

Kill Bill is an excellent film; there just is no other way to put it. Aside from having one of the longest credit sequences in the history of film, the movie is such an engrossing tale, with such amazing characters, that you have to feel for the Bride, and her pain. As sequels become more and more mundane and cookie-cutter, it’s nice to see a studio and a director making one film, cutting it into two almost self-contained parts, and fill it to the brim with fun. Fans of the series will love this, and with the convenient release of Volume 1 on DVD and the proposed super-box-set in the future, we will be hearing about the Kill Bill saga for quite some time, and that’s no problem to me.