Punisher, The (2004)

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 05/26/04 09:01:38

"How could they miss the point - again?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The first Punisher movie was awful. Cheap. Incompetent. Forgettable. Tedious. That always really pissed me off, because (I'll admit it) back in the day, I was a mad collector of The Punisher comics. I had boxes of the things, and not because I was one of those geeky teen-art collectors who was under the misguided notion that one day my hobby would be worth something, but just because The Punisher was a great dark character who seemed rooted in reality... kinda. Unfortunately, people who make movies about The Punisher seem to do so without ever having read the freaking thing, and in turn their movies are the same old crap without even a different smell. Ergo, the latest cinematic incarnation of The Punisher, once again, sucks ass.

Frank Castle was a law man with incredible skills in armed, unarmed and tactical combat. An ex-soldier melding of Batman and McGyver, he could build you a weapon out of knitting needles and a dead horse, then use that weapon to launch an attack on an army base, using nothing more than know-how, surprise, and a grim determination to succeed, no matter what. Why would he do such a thing? Because his family were wiped out by mobsters in Central Park. Enraged and swearing vengeance against every bad guy on the planet, Frank Castle became The Punisher, a lone vigilante engaging in a one-man war against bad, using high tech weaponry, low tech guts, and the innate ability to find a way out of any situation, no matter how bad he was beaten up.

At least, that was the ORIGINAL Punisher. The one with the fanbase. This new Punisher is Thomas Jane in a bad T-shirt, having had his entire family gunned down one by one during a remote island reunion. And when I say entire family, I mean what I say. Pity the third cousin of Frank Castle if he managed to scrape together the airfare to turn up at this shindig.

Luckily, Castle survives the attack, despite being shot in the chest, point blank. He's dragged off by a friendly fisherman and brought back to full health, whereby he begins his plan to repay the deaths of his family to the man responsible - played in this part by John "thinks he's an action hero" Travolta.

This should have been where it gets great. Instead, this is where Frank Castle takes out an apartment in a crappy building, befriends some wacky neighbors, including the requisite superhot waitress who has always been beaten by bad guys and just wants to help, the fat guy who makes stupid jokes, and the bad kid with plenty of face metal who would die for a guy he met last Tuesday.

Why are these people here? Comic relief, and a little romantic tension. Or you could say they're there to fill time without expensive action sequences. Or you could say they're there because it would have been too hard for the hacks writing this screenplay to work such things into the actual plot. Or you could say they're establishing characters for use in a sequel. Whatever.

It all amounts to dick. Just as Joel Schumacher didn't realize that the core of Batman is a reluctant hero trying to deal with his own demons while exorcising those of the citizens around him, so too does first time director (and screenwriter) Jonathan Hensleigh in this film. Castle has no personality, no real remorse, and quite frankly no reason to cheer him on. Gone is the issue of Castle fighting the reality that he has become what he hates. Gone are the moments of real reflection on how the world has become so messed up. Gone are the gunfights and military tactics that allow Castle to take on forces far stronger than he.

In fact, gone is any pretension that reality is an issue. When Castle goes to take on the bad guys, there are no alarms, no guards, no watchtowers, no dogs, no barriers of any kind stopping him from walking in the front door. And even when he does walk in the front door, the only guy on the bottom floor of the bad guy's mansion is taken out with one swish of a small knife.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is too stupid to believe. I'm not saying Castle should have to gun down 900 men without changing a magazine, but I am saying that if I'm at war with a man who won't die, I'll be damned if I'm going to have my entire force of henchmen in my living room drinking champagne, rather than patrolling the perimeter. The few actual moments of action in this film revolve around a massive Russian manbeast who gets stabbed in the heart and smile (Yeah, there's some reality for you) and a kid getting his facial piercings ripped out. The rest is utter toss of the lowest order.

And for God's sake, will someone please put an end to the practice of giving first time filmmakers $50m to experiment with? Writers - if you want to direct, go make a fucking short and prove yourself first.

Read the comics and enjoy. Watch the movie and yawn.

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