Worth A Look: 12.5%
Pretty Bad: 20.59%
Total Crap: 41.91%
6 reviews, 100 user ratings
|Punisher, The (2004)
by Marc Kandel
I gave in because I love revenge and vigilante films. I gave in because I’m a Marvel fan. I gave in because I was bored. I gave in and it happened yet again- hit below the belt on not one but TWO genres. Howdy Comic and Action fans! Here’s another celluloid cattle prod to your taint- and no, that’s not supposed to feel good. SonofaBITCH Must. PAY.Is there anyone who can’t grasp the concept of “The Punisher” out there? No? Oh. You in the back. In the dress. Okay- real quick- in the old traditions of a revenge movie, character loses something he/she loves and avenges it by killing the party or parties responsible, or killing something they love in return- comprende? Ser gut. The story fits in any permutation, in any era- Hamlet in Medieval Denmark, Toshiro Mifune in Feudal Japan, Lee Van Cleef in the 1860 Italian Plains, Charles Bronson on the 70’s Subway, Guy Pierce in wherever the hell “Memento” took place.
"Tommy Jayne, The T-Shirted Terror of Tampa. God Dammit."
Now if you put a logo on their chests and change killing to severely pummelling about the headchestbreast area, you could call it a superhero film. You could, but with both genres, unless you do the story and characters justice, you could just call it corn-riddled ass swab. Okay, I would call it corn-riddled ass swab, you can use whatever scatological terms you wish. But make no mistake- With “The Punisher,” Scat is the word (thank you Frankie Valli).
Don’t believe me? Think my obvious comic-book geekdom compromises my ability to be fair? Here- a non-HBS civilian’s brief thought- my girlfriend who has the sainted patience to indulge me such a film on a late Friday evening (and only after I agreed to watch 50 First Dates first):
“please inform all those who don't already know what a turd the punisher is”
See? I give you the Word of Doctor Grandma Von Dynamite that I had written that entire last paragraph before I told her I was doing a Punisher review. Okay. Enough Foreplay. This film blew- if you don’t like long reviews, click your back button now- that was my encapsulation for you. You want the backhand across the face this movie deserves, read on.
You will not care about anyone in this film- not only has much of the plot already been done better in a host of movies, but it is done so bereft of sense and style that you will FEEL the moments of your life bleeding away. I watched the Orange-Man scene of “Unbreakable” just to get a transfusion of real, moving street justice in me before going to bed. Some folks out there probably wonder why I would do that since they didn’t like “Unbreakable.” Well fuck them and their families.
Since this is indeed another revenge movie AND superhero movie amongst hundreds of films on the same subjects, many good, many more bad, each successor tries to up the ante on the wrongs done to the protagonist and the extremes undertaken by the characters. Just in the Superhero genre for example, since we have Uncle Ben/Jack Murdock/Tom and Martha Wayne getting shot in “Spider-Man/Douchedevil/Batman,” Brandon Lee himself and his fiancé getting shot in “The Crow,” and tons of others right back through Swamp Thing, the Flash TV show, etc., each and every superhero/revenge film with an “Origin” mired in tragedy must now get over the hump of relating a terrible yet, VERY familiar event to audiences in a way that still makes them care, despite the formula having been used so many times.
So what does this film do? In a move as heavy-handed as a boxing glove filled with titanium anvils, the villains, in retaliation for what has to be the stupidest, overkill arms-dealing bust in the history of creation, have Every. Single. Relative. of Frank Castle’s (the aforementioned Punisher for you in the dress) collectively shredded at a family reunion. Christ, I think we get the point. Personally I find the actual comic origin much more moving and believable- Frank’s wife and kids stumble into a mafia hit in Central Park while on a picnic and are gunned down- random, senseless, and impersonal. Simple stuff, but at the same time, a fantastic commentary on how shit happens- which is the core of the Punisher- a man unwilling to accept said shit happening, ready to give it all back in lead.
I’ll say this- the hit on Frank’s family is about the most interesting part of the film. But this too, disappoints- you see, I wanted to see Roy Scheider, who plays Frank’s father, live and become the Punisher instead of Thomas Jayne. Watching the two of them try and figure out what is going on and then try and survive the ordeal is interesting, and Scheider buying his son whatever time he can is about the highest emotional point in the film- Thank you, Roy Schieder, for providing me with the four or so minutes of truth and dignity in the film. The rest of the movie is not just downhill, it careens off into the abyss.
The setting is in Tampa, Florida of all places- Punisher is a New York character- I don’t give a shit how nice Times Square is now- This character is pure Manhattan- yes, you can transplant him to different locales, but why fuck with this one concept? Film it in Canada and call it NY, I don’t care. That I can take. Tampa? Why? The Punisher belongs in a twisted urban Jungle. All the shots of the city in this movie feature about one building that could barely kiss a skyscraper’s lobby level. What the fuck is that? Nonsensical and distracting- yet still the least of this movie’s sins.
The interesting characterization that the current writer of the comic, Garth Ennis explores, is how Frank has gotten a taste for killing bad people over the years, and really, really enjoys it- he loves his work, he does not have a death wish, and he isn’t fighting back for the common man or the kiddies- he wants to survive so he can kill more scum because he loves it: truly, a chilling revelation for a protagonist we are supposed to relate with. At the same time, Ennis brings a completely over the top comedic zaniness to Frank’s bleak world while never making a joke out of the central character, precisely because Ennis keeps Frank the coiled, motivated center of the maelstrom, who can appreciate a good joke, but never becomes one himself. Why do I bring this up when we are talking about a film and a cardinal rule about realistically reviewing a comic book movie is never to confuse what happens in the comic with what happens on screen because never the twain shall meet?
Because this movie, both in previews and throughout the running time tries to convince the comic fans out in the audience that this is an adaptation not just of the Punisher comic, but specifically Ennis' Punisher. This movie lies. This film systematically boils every rich idea from the source material to flavorless, uninspired aesthetics. Gone is the punishing zealot who has rewritten this horrible world’s rules until he has a task in life he can do with a grin in his heart. This Punisher is a brooding automation even more exhausted than the tired, arthritic Paul Kersey of Death Wish V. In fact I will go so far as to say he’s not even in Dolph Lundgren’s class from an earlier and far more interesting “Punisher” film by comparison. Now them’s some fighting words, but I’ll be happy to back them up in a separate review- there’s just too much bad movie to rip apart here, and this review is going to be long enough.
There is no catharsis or satisfaction for the audience in Frank Castle’s vengeance- it is connect-the-dot destruction and cliche- exactly what Ennis was trying to get away from in the books- no moping, no brooding, no boring retread of ideas long ago gutted. Wanna feel better about your family? Go kill lots and lots of bad people- don’t manipulate them, don’t play them against each other, don’t have that stupid stacking and preparing of weapons scene, just take a gun a knife, and maybe two other guns, and go kill kill kill. Be brutal, not subtle. Thin the herd. Take pride in your work. This will make you feel better. Not a Jack Daniels bottle, which Thomas Jayne suckles on between uneventful Punisher outings- evidently this is supposed to round out the character for me by giving him a “weak” moment- maybe if he chugged it, but no, he milks his bottles through the film like the Daniels distilleries have been bought out by Sunny Delight leaving him in possession with the last case of hooch on Earth. This whole film is a two hour weak moment.
So a big beef for me, as I just mentioned, is that Frank spends a good third of the movie not killing, but manipulating events Iago-style to bring about the Tampa Mafia’s (oh Lord- just say it- speak it aloud- you won’t believe it came out of your mouth) ruin through engendering distrust and paranoia. This is reflected by John Travolta clenching his jaw repeatedly from different camera angles- I really do like the guy, but man, the bulk of the films he says “Yes” to, Christ.
Again, the Punisher most people coming to see this film know and love is never so tedious in his methodology- he wants his prey removed quickly and with great violence and perforation. He doesn’t dick around making you think your wife is cheating on you with your gay consigliere- he puts a gun to your head and empties the clip. I can see where the filmmakers might believe that by having Travolta fall victim to his excessive paranoia and jealously, and basically doing Frank Castle’s job for him, might be more interesting to watch from a plot standpoint, but the execution (or lack thereof) is tedious and plodding, even for non-comic fans, and too reminiscent of better films using the same angle more adeptly. And no, I would NEVER call this movie a cousin to masters of manipulation like “Ran,” “Yojimbo,” or “A Fistful of Dollars.” Even the secondary superhero revenge films like “Darkman” trump it. Hell, I wouldn’t even put it over “She-Devil.”
This pattern of blatantly ignoring the wealth found in the source material in favor of soulless aping of formula is repeated over and over. A character from the book, a hilarious Russian hit man whose childlike zeal for conflict, rapine and murder combined with a formidable resistance (but not immunity) to pain providing for one of the most entertaining fights and coup de graces on the printed page, becomes a mute, no-pain killing machine with all the standard traits we have already seen in everything from “The Terminator” to “Silent Rage” to the shitty bad guy in “Cobra.” All the joyful dialogue and fun that made the character memorable in the book is gone- the only thing left is his name and his bright red striped shirt – the rest is all gay-bouncer with fight choreography. The comic fans in the audience are disappointed- the promise of the interesting story brought to screen remains unfulfilled- the regular audience member out for an action flick merely gets treated to a fight he/she has seen enacted literally hundreds of times in better and worse movies from the past 50 some odd years.
Another massacre from book to film- a dumpy female shut-in who rejoins the world due to Frank’s impact on her life living down the hall from her is magically transformed into ridiculously hot Marvel Movie poster girl Rebecca Romjin-No Longer Stamos, who is pretty much there to lick her lips and give the Punisher some neighbors and see how he reacts to a Thanksgiving dinner! Cuz that’s funny. Heh. You see, he’s very grim and everybody is very happy and jokey and friendly and fuck you filmgoers- that’s all the depth to be found here. The other two neighbors living in Frank’s apparently very easy to find apartment hideout are equally stupid and pointless, both of their colorful characterizations from the books neutered to Mutt and Jeff comic relief slop.
This square-wheeled unicycle trundles along like this until the end, where we are treated to yet another grim voiceover sendoff that gives the character a chance to tell us his name a la every superhero movie good and back throughout time immemorial. I liked it better in “Darkman,” and that dude wasn’t even a thirty year old comic character. That was a one shot. Why then, does that film offer so much more than a character with a thirty year history?So go see "Darkman." Turn on TBS and watch the old Dolph Lundgren “Punisher” that actually has an interesting plot, dulled only by the shuffling zombie that is the title character. Just don’t waste one second of your life with this grey pudding.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9242&reviewer=358
originally posted: 12/09/04 03:36:55
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