With the recent release of Marvel’s latest film, “Punisher: War Zone”, I decided to check out the second film Marvel made focusing on their killer anti-hero with 2004’s “The Punisher”. Apparently, after amassing a considerable string of blockbuster hits, Marvel decided to dust off their not-so well known character of The Punisher to see if they could finally make a movie about him that audiences would respond to, not to mention make up for the dismal performance of their previous attempt starring Dolph Lungdren (also simply titled “The Punisher”).
“The Punisher” is the story of Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), a federal agent who desperately wants a quiet, peaceful life for his family. After his latest mission results in some unexpected casualties, namely the son of a mobster named Howard Saint (John Travolta), Frank finds his life all but destroyed as Saint exacts bloodthirsty vengeance upon him. Due to the horrible events that tore his family apart, Frank returns a changed man, once he was a loving family man, now he is consumed by an irrepressible rage and a desire to punish those responsible for his family’s demise.
I was very pleased with this movie for its fairly faithful interpretation of the comic book source material. I thought it captured the character of Frank Castle very well. This newest incarnation allows the viewer to forget all about the previous attempt way back in 1992. This movie features a much stronger cast that does an excellent job of bringing one of Marvel Comics’ most unlikable characters to life on the big screen. Thomas Jane (“Original Sin”) is great as Frank Castle; his performance perfectly captures the devastation and depression his character feels over his family’s murder, along with the subsequent channeling of those emotions into a bloody quest for punishment. John Travolta (“Swordfish”) gives another entertaining turn in the villainous role, something he seems to revel in portraying more and more these days, and you can tell he’s enjoying his role in this film as well. The rest of the cast delivers strong supporting performances, especially Rebecca Romijn (the “X-Men” trilogy), who is playing against type as a downtrodden and homely waitress, it is her kindness and compassion that assist Frank in beginning to mend his emotional wounds. Chameleon-like actor Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma”) brings Frank’s eccentric, and excessively pierced neighbor Dave to life; portraying him as someone who wishes he could be more than he is, and one who will do whatever it takes to help his friends.
The story for “The Punisher”, as written by first-time director, and long-time screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh (“The Saint”), wisely takes the time to show the audience that Frank’s quest is not hastily thrown together, but is perfectly and precisely planned for a near flawless execution. So many revenge/payback types of movies just try to rush through the preparations the avenging person goes through, if they even cover that aspect at all; whereas in this film, the story helped you to understand the methods and means behind the mayhem. I also enjoyed that the script took some moments out of the action set pieces to show the audience bits of Frank’s humanity slowly coming back to the surface, while at the same time showing the grief and anguish he still feels regardless of his vengeful acts. As for the violence within the film (an element that some gripe about in movies of this genre), a wise decision on the part of the writer and director was in keeping the violence at an appropriate level. Sure, it’s present in over half the film’s duration, but the bloodshed never goes over-the-top to become gratuitous in any way. Regarding the character depictions within the story, everything was near perfect (in my opinion); especially the adaptations of the characters Mr. Bumpo, Dave, and Joan from the Garth Ennis comic book storyline “Welcome Back, Frank”. I also liked the way the story brought in the skull T-shirt that Frank frequently wears in his role as the Punisher, plus giving us a reason for why he chose it as his symbol. It’s these little tidbits of information and details that I welcome from screenwriters, especially within a comic book movie, because it shows that they are taking the material seriously and hoping to gain more respect for the genre.
Even though most of the story elements within this movie rank from good to great, there were a couple of points that I have some minor problems with. First, is the fact that not one single aspect of the story occurs in or even mentions the city of New York, the location in which the majority of Marvel Comics’ famed characters reside, this includes the Punisher. Secondly, they altered Frank Castle from being a veteran of the Vietnam War into an undercover agent, which is fine, generally speaking. I understand taking some license with certain elements of the character for the sake of the story, not to mention by setting the story in the modern day, as it should be, Frank would have to be in his 50’s at least, were he still a Vietnam veteran. As I said, the gripes are minor, and the second one I completely understand and agree with the reasoning for, but I felt the need to mention it because it technically is an omission of the Punisher’s classic origin. To be fair, they did mention that he served time during Desert Storm (I believe), before becoming a federal agent, so at the very least they kept him as a soldier at heart.
Overall, “The Punisher” is a very well done action film and comic book adaptation, despite what the critics say about it. With very few problems, great action scenes, and solid acting, “The Punisher” is about as ideal an adaptation of Marvel’s cold-blooded anti-hero as one can expect. In my humble opinion, this is the kind of film Punisher fans were waiting for.
“The Punisher” is rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.