The Punisher (2004)
Rated: R :: Released: 16 April 2004
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh :: Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn
By Doran Murphy
The recent flood of comic book movies (and the vast majority of the older ones, too) are filled with goody-goody characters, and they come hopping along with kid-friendly ratings. It makes sense; Marvel (and the recent ones have been movies made from Marvel-brand comic books, barring the AVP abomination, which is by the little-known Dark Horse comics) can get more people to see a rated PG or PG-13 movie. Plus, kids are stupid; if they see a Catwoman teaser, they'll go Awesome!; while adults look at it, see the clearly shitty CGI, and realize the only draw is Halle Berry in leather.
The Punisher (and I'm not talking the old-ass Dolph Lundgren snorefest) is not one of those movies. It's one of those movies kids want to see, yeah, but it's rated R. R for really, really violent. And that is what the Punisher is all about; a whole lot of violence. Go to a comic store and pick up an issue — $20 says someone dies in the book, and rather brutally and graphically so. The Punisher delivers death and destruction in full. In that, it's a perfect summer action movie. Unfortunately, it got squeezed and opened at the box office against Kill Bill: Vol. 2. As proof there is no God, Catwoman sold more seats than The Punisher did.
Anyway, as far as the story goes, this is similar to all comic book movies made recently. If you're a fan of the genre, you will have noticed that typically the first sequels are the best. As in Spiderman 2, X2, Superman 2, and arguably Batman Returns. (Although I prefer the original.) It's for good reason. In the first movie, the lead character must be introduced to the non-comic book fan/nerd, and so they sort of have to break it in slow, and easily. They're not going to be able to tell the origins of the character and get too deep into a major supervillain all in one story — although X-Men came close. Anyway, back to The Punisher. The Punisher, story wise, is ok. The story is quite different from the comic books. Virgin fanboys have good reason to complain here.
Basically, Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), super FBI agent and a veteran of the Gulf War (instead of the Vietnam War) is involved in a drug bust gone awry, and, in the process, the youngest son of rich money launderer Howard Saint (John Travolta) is killed. In retaliation, Howard Saint has all of Frank Castle's family killed at a family reunion. Unfortunately, the Saints don't manage to kill Frank Castle. Castle, spurned by lost love, seeks to kill the Saint clan, by any means necessary. There's a little more to it than that, but I'm not going to spoil anything for you.
Acting wise, I'm fairly happy with this. Thomas Jane was born to play the part of the Punisher. At the beginning, he acts the emotional part of Frank Castle quite well, and then acts the unemotional, unwavering Punisher very well throughout, as well. Travolta turns in a decent villain (and I preferred his work here to his other work as villains, barring Castor Troy) in Howard Saint. Easily, worst actor of the picture is Frank Castle's wife. It was a hard part, but she sucked nuts. Plus, we get to see Kevin Nash go head to head with the Punisher. That was kind of fun.
Random Punisher Fact: If Kevin Nash's character is brought back in The Punisher 2 (and they should make one) his character (the Russian) will have to have gone through intensive hormone therapy, and will come back wearing a green dress. Oh, and he'll have breasts larger than Thomas Jane's head. That would be fucking hilarious. Admit it. [Editor's Note: That's if they follow comic book continuity, not Doran's perverse longing to see Kevin Nash in a dress.]
The DVD has a few neat little extras, too. The usual On The Set documentary (which, as it turns out, only took 50 days to make and had a very small — by Hollywood standards — budget. Color me impressed.) then there's an interview with Tim Bradstreet, who draws the cover art for The Punisher comic books. (He traces! Bastard.) Also included: The usual From Comics to the Movie Marvel feature. It's kinda neat. Throw in a sneak peek at the video game and a whole subplot of deleted scenes, and it's money.
Overall, The Punisher falls below The Hulk but above Daredevil in the scale of recent Marvel movies. I grade comic movies on two scales, one by the Comic Scale and one on a Movie Scale. As a movie, it ranks about a 7. As a comic book movie, it's 3 or 4. At the very least, it's worth a rent. So, go watch it. Now.