Published on April 19th, 2004 | by Erich Becker0
Review: The Punisher
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.