There's something wrong with John Travolta's career on a very deep level. He's one of our greatest actors, and I say
That's not to say it's not a worthy Project! Quite the contrary, for all the simplicity of the set up, over the years since The Amazing Spider-Man number 129, our boy Francis Castiglione (AKA Frank Castle), the former Marine who witnessed Gangsters gunning down his wife, Maria and two kids, Christie and Frank Jr. has become one of Marvel's most complex and interesting characters! The Comics are especially compelling when written by the likes of Garth Ennis, or drawn in full Ian Astbury as a Vigilante mode by Tim Bradstreet!
But how about the Movie? Does it kick the Boo-tay of the previous attempt starring Dolph "He-Man" Lundgren? Definitely! Is it a great, great film? No, not really! It's fun to watch, action packed and interesting, but it's not quite the sum of its parts.
Aside from turning Frank Castle (played here by Thomas Jane looking much more like Christopher Lambert than Ian Astbury) into a career Donnie Brascoe clone, eliminating Castle's daughter and moving the setting from New York to Miami, director Jonathan Hensleigh gets The Punisher right on a lot of levels. He and co-writer Michael France have crafted a script that shows a pretty respectable knowledge of the character and an interest in showcasing a lot of what makes the Comic Book great. They also attempt to pack in as much story (not to mention violence, blood, drawn out fight scenes and near misses) into The Punisher's running time that the whole thing gets a little Top Heavy and occasionally difficult to follow.
By nature, this is an Episodic story, and like any Episodic entertainment, some episodes can be better than others. The plot here centers around retiring FBI Agent Frank Castle's last mission going hopelessly wrong and leading to the Gangland Execution of his entire family (and presumably him too) at the hands of businessman and career criminal Howard Saint (Travolta) and his wife Livia (the still so pretty it hurts Laura Harring)!
The surviving Castle skips months of rehab and springs fully formed onto the streets of Miami with adapted weapons and the world's most tricked out Pontiac GTO. Back from the Comic is the White Skull on the Black T-Shirt (thankfully, like the Comic, they dispense with the Superhero Spandex he debuted in) and Leather trench coat. Also back is a collection of more weapons than NATO and Warsaw Pact had ever envisioned being housed in one crappy apartment! I mean, this guy could fight the Taliban with this Weaponry! And, like the Comic Book, here, the newly Christened Punisher cuts a swath of creative death through the Criminal Underworld while appearing on more Hit Lists than Justin Timberlake!
It's cool to see Jane play the Punisher not as some invincible Super Hero, but as a Vulnerable and Angry man. He has more than a few close shaves, and gets his fair share of Ass Bootings! There are really a few Frigidaire moments surrounding the threat to Frank Castle, and even more moments surrounding the Threat he offers to Howard Saint and the boys (and girls) of his ilk.
What isn't so cool is the multiplicity of inconsistency that tends to weigh down the plot. The audience is invited to buy in to some of the more implausible plot points here that are ultimately not flattering to Hensleigh's movie. In fact, the main problem with this film is the uneven intelligence here. In some points The Punisher seems smart and well-paced, and at others Hensleigh opts for the Big Dumb Action of films like Bad Boys II and the like. Where subtlety once reigned, blood and sadism take over. Granted, Superhero film meets Gangster film meets Revenge Tragedy meets Desperado isn't easy to juggle, but when the fruit falls to the floor it's not exactly Oscar time.
The Acting here isn't bad. Jane has the Brooding Castle down pat, and is just about perfectly cast as the role. Travolta can be a tad over the top at times, but he's still a good actor. Aside from those principal players we have a veritable who's who of recognizable (and good), but not top-of-the-heap-famous faces including everyone from Roy Scheider to Rebecca Romijn-Stamos to Samantha Mathis to Ben Foster just to name a few.
It's not the acting or the characters that are really so much the problem here as the over-inflated plot and overall simplicity of the film as a whole. It's easy to root for the Punisher in his scourge of the Mob, but it's also easy to forget to take him seriously at times. In essence, this is a pretty good time passer, and somewhat fun as a no-brainer, but it's also an experiment in violence and sadism (though not to the level of Kill Bill Volume 1 or Dawn of the Dead) without enough of the great film making that can elevate the film past that level. It's great for Fans of the Comic (willing to overlook the minor Gregory Benford Moments) and of the Genre. All others should apply elsewhere!
Revenge Dramas! They're some of the classics of Literature, and on April 16, 2004 we got two in one day. Either as a Cash In or by coincidence, The Punisher has to compete with the far superior Kill Bill Volume 2, and fair or not, that gets The Punisher Three Stars out of Five! You might like it if you can't get enough of the old Revenge Quest after Kill Bill Volume 2, or you're just heels over head about seeing Marvel on the Big Screen! You might want to avoid it if you're spoiled by the quality of Kill Bill Volume 2, or you hate violent films like Kill Bill Volume 2 anyway! Now if you'll excuse me... I have to go write some Fan Mail to Bernie Wrightson!
And clicking here, you'll read some too!
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