Super Hero
The Punisher
.
Dir: Jonathan Hensleigh
Star: Tom Jane, Laura Harring, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Will Patton
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 2004
Format: DVD R1
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Former Special Forces soldier and undercover FBI agent Frank Castle (Tom Jane) has had enough and is retiring from that life. On his final undercover mission, the son of prominent Tampa businessman Howard Saint (John Travolta) is killed while resisting arrest. Not thinking anything of it, Castle retires and heads off to a family reunion in Puerto Rico with his wife and young son. Unfortunately for Castle, Howard Saint and his wife Livia (Laura Harring) want revenge for the death of their son, and after 'acquiring' Castle's file from unknown sources they now know exactly where to find him. Left for dead, Castle is taken in by an old friend and witch doctor who nurses him back to health. It isn't long before Castle heads back to Miami to prepare for the battle ahead using his 20 years special ops training. He will track down and PUNISH those responsible.....

Director Jonathan Hensleigh delivers a dark and gritty adaptation of one of Marvel comics' most controversial characters, with the anti-hero you just can't help rooting for... The Punisher. Surprisingly, The Punisher was only shot over 50 days and for a relatively meagre budget of $28 Million, so the film is quite an accomplishment all things considered. There is plenty of action, some big explosions and stunts aplenty all relating a rather cool tale of revenge. Hensleigh has brought a very Sergio Leone feel to the film, and his influence can be felt in many of the action set pieces. Hensleigh's direction is both stylish and slick, although in places he does let the pacing slip, which could be attributable to his inexperience. The horrendous travesty that was the Dolph Lundgren Punisher film should be best forgotten, buried in and unmarked grave and blotted totally from memory. Not just because it was a terrible film, but because it had nothing to do with the comic or the character. The Punisher is in a similar vein to Batman, and this more accurate incarnation retains its original dark and broody atmosphere and feel, so don't go expecting to see brightly coloured spandex garbed heroes here!

The Punisher isn't your usual comic book hero, he has no superpowers, isn't invincible or impervious to pain and he isn't infallible or perfect, he is just a man (albeit with Special Forces training). This is the film to see if you want to see the Punisher in all his badass glory. Basically the filmmakers have understood that 'it ain't broke, so don't fix it' and have retained and stuck close to the original format and characterization of the comic book Punisher and this is where the film works so well. This is an honest character, no super powers or anything like that, just a man who loses everything and is pushed to his breaking point where he decides to fight back and makes a stand for the innocent and the weak in the process. The Punisher was Judge, Jury and Executioner all in one, long before Judge Dredd . There was a 'Special Forces' prologue / opening sequence which was cut due to budgetary constraints, which is a pity as it helps explain some of Castle's past and set the stage for later on in the film. The original Central Park picnic massacre of Castle's family has been replaced by something much more bleak and grim, creating a far more potent catalyst to his vendetta against crime and his transition as the Punisher. The death of Castle's wife and child is very much a homage to Mad Max, right down to Castle's clothing and works nicely as a reverential nod of the head to George Miller's classic tale of revenge.

There is some superb and well choreographed action, which is always good to see. There are one or two slightly cheesy set pieces but they are easily overlooked as you can't escape the iconography in this piece as it is very much a comic book movie so BACK OFF!! There are a couple of awkward, attempts at tender moments, which slow down the pacing and spoil the dynamic a little. These moments do try and evoke a certain feel and atmosphere to the piece, but this is a guy with a singular mindset and that is revenge and he only has room in his life for his hatred and his arsenal of weaponry (of which there is plenty, and the custom 45's are very cool) and not for smooches with former supermodels. Personally, I can't wait to see a sequel, hopefully this time we'll get to see his 'Battle Truck' and of course a more established 'Punisher' character, as the ground work has now been done and the stage is well and truly set for a vigilante action fest. This is a brilliant start to a franchise, a very cool and slick film and thankfully NOT a messy CGI flick, which we are all too often subjected to. There is No CGI action or invasive effects here, all the action is good old-fashioned stunts and live effect work and it shows. The film maintains a degree of realism, which contributes to the edgy action movie feel that you used to be able to get excited about, and is so well put together. The script may have a few sticky points, but thankfully they kept true to the character and portrayed Castle as the intelligent vigilante and not just a bloke running round spraying everything with lead which was what he was. Castle's mind game with the Saints works well and lets face it, an intelligent mind game never goes amiss in any anti-terrorist / organized crime scenario, especially with such a cool payoff.

Tom Jane heads a good cast as the titular anti-hero. Jane has obviously worked hard at this role and made the effort to get into a good shape for it, not to mention taking 'specialist' weapons training, and it shows in his performance which is quite impressive. I'm pleased that Hugh Jackman didn't end up playing the Punisher, as there are only so many of your favourite comic book heroes you can stand him playing, and one more would have been too many to be honest, and lets face it Tom Jane could have been born to play this role. Facially he has that look and the eyes are spot on, physically he has worked hard to get into shape and has come a long way since Deep Blue Sea and Face / Off. John (not quite so tubby) Travolta is surprisingly good and not the gurning hammy loon that you have come to expect when he portrays a villain, this time he seems to have got it pretty well sewn up and enjoys some memorable moments. I have to point out that Travolta really doesn't suit smoking a pipe, and I'm glad they he didn't use it more than once as it was too funny. James Carpinello gets the dual role of the Saint twins, one with a bad moustache and the other looking rather 'fruity' as a mother's boy, but he gives a passable performance. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos has a small supporting role, which she carries off rather well, but she must be pleased to have an acting role in a comic book flick, which doesn't involve her being painted blue. Will Patton ( Armageddon) is quite a menacing and sadistic henchman and a surprising talent for this role, not really what you expect. The remaining ensemble cast all provide some good supporting performances, especially Roy Scheider as Castle's dad and the delightful Samantha Mathis as Castle's wife, always good to see Scheider on screen again even if it is short lived.

Hensleigh embraces the artistic comic aspects and brings them to the screen with some impressive direction, well designed set pieces, breathtaking stunts and cool photography. The iconic visuals play an important part to the story, and character and I am certain that anyone who has read a Punisher publication will see many of the original comic elements here and will see many of the scenes are framed in a very distinct Punisher style which, you have to admit is a major plus point when making a film of such an established comic book character. Having been in print since the mid-seventies, I think it is safe to say that the Punisher is an established character. I have no doubt, that there will be some viewers out there who have probably never read a Punisher comic, and they probably won't enjoy the film quite as much as the rest of us who have, but either way this is a cool, gritty and dark action movie but an even better comic movie. This is not your average mindless action, gunfights, explosions, gadgets and CGI effect driven offering The Punisher is something more. It might not be flawless and certainly not perfect, but it is uber-cool, likeable and very entertaining, a very tidy action hero flick marginally better than Hellboy in many respects, roll on Punisher 2.

Quotes

Candelaria: 'Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God'.
Frank Castle : 'God's going to sit this one out'.

Frank Castle : 'Sic vic pacum para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war'.

Frank Castle : In certain... extreme situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law. To pursue... natural justice. This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it's an emotional response. No. Not vengeance. This, is Punishment.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Glitz's say:

There is no doubt that The Punisher is a throwback to the eighties revenge flick. Ok so this is a comic book comic book conversion but due to the style of the hero this proves to be immaterial. The Punisher is not a superhero with magical powers so any comparisons with the likes of Spiderman would be inappropriate. This film is much closer to Death Wish movies. In fact this is a the second crack at bring the character to the screen, the first was the rather less than successful Dolph Lundgren version which turned out to be rather poor, and compared to Death Wish's more gritty basis is rather silly. So which one of the films does this take after?

Well initial impressions are not good. The movie opens as a deal is going down in a dockyard a setting of mind numbing unoriginality, and first hints of a directorial style that would be more at home on the A Team. Moving swiftly on we get to meet Frank Castle's family and they prove to be universally annoying (what was Roy Scheider thinking). It comes as a blessed release then when they are all massacred. However again the A Team like direction rears its ugly head, with bad guys who stand up to be shot, and a pointless jeep chase. This culminates with the big mistake of killing Castle's wife and kid (who was the most abysmal actor) off screen thus losing impact. Luckily the attempt to kill Castle is shown in its whole stupid glory, including him surviving a beating, getting shot four times (thankfully the bad guys think that his heart is in the center of his chest) and being blown up. This Darkman like escape is very far fetched, and it is this sort of situation that is the main problem with the film.

It is the sad truth that the film has no idea whether is aiming for gritty realism or comic book high jinks and so it veers like a drunken man wildly between the two. One minute we are watching badly wounded Frank getting stitched up after a deep stab wound, the next minute he makes a remarkable recovery so that he can kill a man with a handily placed guillotine. This lack of continuity leads to some good moments and some unintentionally hilarious ones. Overall though it is a dichotomy from which the film never truly recovers.

When the film can make its mind up like for example the final shootout it can be very effect and quite entertaining. However just as you begin to like it something ridiculous happens whether it is a singing hitman, some lame comedy relief neighbors, or an exploding car lot that is done to look like at shirt logo and the poor screenplay goes and spoils everything. This is a shame as if the movie had played things straight and been helmed by a much better director then this could have indeed been a pretty good movie.

The star of the original movie was Dolph Lundgren and while he was no great talent he was a pretty successful action hero. Tom (or Thomas or whatever the hell he wants to call himself) Jane manages to improve on Dolph's performance yet still manages to be pretty wooden. If it gruff monotone sulking then he is your man, fortunately he handles the action very well. The best performance in the film is from the ever-reliable John Travolta who is on autopilot as he turns out another one of his evil bad guys (just like in Broken Arrow, Face Off, Swordfish, etc). It may not be his best crack at this type of character but he still out acts everyone else. The biggest crime is the complete waste of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in a role that is pathetically underdeveloped and totally superfluous.

As the start of this review said The Punisher is a throwback to the eighties revenge flick, however times have moved on with the likes of The Bourne identity and Man on Fire and now this old fashioned sort of action now seems rather lame. If this has been released at the same time as the original it would have had a much better reception and wins hands down in a one on one comparison. The problem is even then it cannot match Death Wish for grittiness and doesn't beat Darkman in the comic book stakes. In today’s superhero and action movie filled market this film will garner a few fans, but for most it will probably be quickly forgotten.

Rating: 2 out of 5

DVD
Picture 2:35.1 Clean crisp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Excellent soundtrack - plenty of big bassy effects
Features Cool semi animated menus
'Keepin it real' - Interesting stunt documentary
'Army of One: The Punisher origins' - cool featurette about the Punisher comic
Audio Comentary by Director Jonathan Hensleigh
Deleted Scenes
'War Journal: On the set of the Punisher' - Cool behind the scenes documentary
'Step Up' - Music video by Drowning Pool
Sneak Peek trailer of the Punisher video game
'Drawing Blood: Bradstreet style' - Interview with The Punisher cover artist
Verdict A pretty good release with a few decent extras. A nice presentation overall but the music video stinks.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Link Back Top Home