100 Days of Superheroes- Day 48: The Punisher (2004)
Is it a bad thing I was rooting for the Punisher to kill his neighbors more than Travolta?
“This isn’t revenge…it’s punishment.”
With recent successes (like Spider-Man and X-Men), Marvel was up to bat and ready to give the Punisher another go. After the first film back in 1989 came off as a mediocre action film with an uninteresting lead, this film attempts to correct that by going in depth into how the Punisher came to be. There is just one problem. Virtually no one knows who the punisher is anyways…so why would they care where he came from.
One of the things the first film did right (actually probably the only thing) was that they started off with the Punisher already in action and fighting the forces of evil . The cops call him a murderer and vigilante and try to catch him while to the underworld he is the boogyman. At least this starts off sort of a mystery and gets the audience wondering who this person is. This remake however needs to take it all the way back to the beginning. The problem is that the Punisher doesn’t really need an origin story because it is so simple that it works better as a quick flashback or exposition rather than lengthy scenes of nothingness.
Now some of you out there might be saying, “you heartless bastard! Didn’t you find the death of the wife and son tearful?” No. It’s obvious what is going to happen, meaning no tension during these scenes and Thomas Jane’s performance is so underwhelming that it’s pretty much emotionless. To add on top of that the film builds up to this tragic moment….then kills them off screen. So much for the hard R rating.
Speaking of that, the film doesn’t really utilize it’s R rating to the fullest, showing none of the gritty, brutal and bloody fight scenes. In fact it shy’s away from them entirely. Instead the R rating is used for a couple F bombs being dropped and one titty shot. It’s almost like they threw them in an attempt to make the film seem more true to the source by being R rated. Take out three scenes and you would have a modest PG-13 film.
Lets get to the plot though. Frank Castle works as a special super secret agent who accidentally gets the mob boss, Howard Saint’s son killed. As a result Saint sends his men to kill his entire family at a reunion. This departs tremendously from the source where the family was part of an almost random gang execution. It turns The Punisher’s war on the mobs into a war on just one man and more of a revenge tale. This makes it a little harder to believe he would go on to become a superhero after his vengeance has been sated.
And that’s really what the film is, a revenge tale. The movie is best within those boundaries. When Castle is building new weapons and plotting against Saint, the film is almost fun. Some of his gadgets are actually pretty cool and easily believable that he could create them. So where does it go wrong? Well the easy answer is every time The Punisher stops killing people. But the real culprits are Dumb, Dumber, and Dumberer. Castle’s three neighbors living in his beat up apartment complex.
Let’s face it. These three people are idiots who act irrationally and make everything 1000X cornier. They hear Castle torturing someone in his room and what do they do? They invite him over for dinner. To top this off mobsters are constantly coming to kill Castle and they defend him without much of a reason and after only knowing him for about a day. I’m not exaggerating when I say every scene they were a part of dragged the film down to such a mediocre level that even Howard the Duck would be face palming at.
Then there is the main actor. Jane just doesn’t seem to have the acting chops to pull off the character. It seems like they just cast him to scowl and deliver generic dialogue in a gravely voice. So maybe it wasn’t so much his part as the direction. But every time the film tries to get emotional between Castle and another character there is Jane to fumble the ball and make me wish bullets start flying again.
John Travolta actually does a decent job as the main villain Howard Saint. He really doesn’t have to do much besides act angry every time The Punisher foils his plans, but he pulls it off believably and he’s fun to watch when on screen. Yet the Punisher’s entire convoluted revenge scheme really isn’t true to the character. In the comics he was never a very manipulative guy. He’s more the kind of person to casually stroll into your house and put a bullet in your head. No fancy funny business. Yet here his plans to “get back” at Saint are so very complicated they make it feel ridiculous and improbably.
Also in the film, no cops are even trying to find Castle despite him walking up to his old boss and practically saying, “You haven’t caught Saint! Well let me kill him and his entire family then!” But instead everyone is clueless and stupid, unaware of the obvious culprit.
So the film has a lot of logic flaws, poor performances and downright annoying supporting characters. The films only real fun comes from Castle scheming his ridiculously complex revenge. Yet even after that the film still is just a generic bang-em-shoot-em-up film that has been better done a million times over. It may be the best Punisher film yet…but is that really much of a complement?
FINAL RATING: 3/10- (30%)
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