PaulRom Reviews: The Punisher (2004)

PaulRom Reviews: <I>The Punisher</i> (2004)

In the first of my Punisher reviews, I take on what many can agree is the best incarnation of Frank Castle so far. Is it as mediocre as critics suggest? Click here for my take...

My last film review was for Jonah Hex, a film that I didn't get to see until a year after its release. Now, I decide to review another film I'm late in reviewing. That's right, I haven't seen any Punisher films until the other day, when I finally got around to watching the Thomas Jane film released in 2004. I've seen chunks of it in the past, but never in its entirety. I was originally turned off by all the Punisher films due to the mediocre reviews for all three, but after some consideration, I decided to give the '04 film a go, for the heck of it. And I'll admit it was better than I expected.

The Punisher features former US soldier Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) seeing his family brutally murdered by the henchmen of Howard Saint (John Travolta), who blamed Castle for his son's death and wanting revenge. Enraged by the murders, Castle dedicated himself to bringing vengeance on those who murdered his loved ones, and ends up 'punishing' other criminals as well, thus marking his rise as 'The Punisher'.

One of the biggest problems with The Punisher is that it's too slow at times. Sure, there's plenty of violence - shootings, stabbings, boilings, etc. - but the violence isn't as graphic as it could be (especially for a character like The Punisher). The film seems to aim at more character development than character elimination - and the end result is almost the same problem that plagues films such as Superman Returns and Ang Lee's Hulk: focusing too much too much on character development and not enough action. The Punisher obviously has more violence than the aforementioned CBMs, however, just not as much as it could. In fact, if they removed the f-bombs and toned down the violence some, it probably could've squeezed in a PG-13 rating.

Another problem is that the film is sometimes cheesy. In Castle's fight scene with The Russian, the opera singing in the background...yeah, the music wasn't appropriate. Also, the whole ordeal of Quentin Glass (Will Patton) and Livia Saint (Laura Harring) having an affair wasn't at all necessary, IMO.

The acting in The Punisher is mostly solid. Thomas Jane (who many believe to be the best Frank Castle we've had yet) is seriously perfect in the title role, and I honestly wouldn't mind if they brought him back to reprise the role (whether it's in a TV show or Marvel Studios' pending reboot). John Travolta's good as Howard Saint, though not quite as menacing as he could. Samantha Mathis is pretty good as Maria Castle, it's a shame that the character was killed off early in the film (although it's inevitable). Rebecca Romijn, Ben Foster, and John Pinette are all good as Castle's roommates, while Kevin Nash is decent as The Russian in the short time he's in the film.

This is a minor complaint, but I couldn't help but notice that they didn't put a lot of money into this project. At a budget of merely $15.5 million, they could've put much, much more into the project. I know Punisher isn't really a well known character, but look at films like Thor ($140 mil), Blade ($48 mil), and Ghost Rider ($110 mil) - all centering on characters as unknown as The Punisher. So they could've put at least a bit more in the project. However, as I said, this is for the most part a minor complaint, and it doesn't affect the story much.

Regarding the actual script for The Punisher, it offers plenty of room for characters to breathe, for viewers to get to know them, etc. However, it feels like the overall storytelling is missing something - hard to place my finger on it, but the overall film just seems to be lacking. I don't know if it's the lack of more violence or having better production, but the final product feels like there can be much more added.

In the end, The Punisher isn't all that it could be, but it definitely isn't a bad attempt at bringing Frank Castle to life. It offers enough character development to care about the characters, and the stories displayed here are certainly worth telling. I can't wait to see what Marvel Studios does with the film, however. I think they're the ones to give us the Punisher film that we would all love and respect.

While not as heavy on violence as the comics' version, The Punisher succeeds in developing the main characters and is overall a decent take on Frank Castle's tragic story.

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