Eric D. Snider

The Punisher

Who wants to see a movie about a guy who takes it upon himself to punish people? Fighting for justice and capturing bad guys is one thing; that's what superheroes are supposed to do. But actually PUNISHING them? That's for the courts, dude. LEARN YOUR CHECKS AND BALANCES, MR. PUNISHER!

The punisher in "The Punisher," a relentlessly dark and unintentionally funny movie, is Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), a tightly abbed, often shirtless man who has just retired from the FBI despite being, what, 35? On his last bust, a screwed-up punk got killed, and now the kid's father -- powerful underworld boss and nightclub owner Howard Saint (John Travolta) -- wants revenge.

Saint's idea of revenge is not to kill Castle, however. It's to kill Castle and his family. But it's not just the wife and son who get axed, like it usually is in revenge movies. It's his ENTIRE FAMILY -- parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone. This is easily accomplished because the Castle family has conveniently scheduled a reunion in Puerto Rico on the very weekend that Saint decides he wants them all dead. (If family reunions weren't already a bad idea, here's another reason to avoid them.)

Frank Castle survives, though, and now HE wants revenge. He's gonna take down the whole operation, every part of the Saint crime organization. He'll hatch elaborate plots to turn the Saints and their associates against one another, plant evidence and manipulate facts to get them where he wants them, and spend weeks training, planning and scheming. And yet still, as it always does in these movies, it will all come down to two men shooting at each other.

The film is directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, a film writer ("Armageddon," "Die Hard: With a Vengeance") making his debut in this capacity, and written by Hensleigh and Michael France ("Hulk," GoldenEye"). It is based on a Marvel comic book, one of the more unusual titles, as it deals with a character who has neither super powers nor a particularly good motive: Once he's avenged his family's death, why does he need to go around killing OTHER people who have wronged someone? Again, fight the crime if you want, but QUIT KILLING PEOPLE!

The dialogue is frequently laughable, and the supporting characters -- including a trio of misfits who live in the apartment next to Castle's -- are cartoonish. It's all kind of diverting, in a big, dumb way, but it doesn't come close to connecting on the level that the good comic book films have done, and it's too dark and occasionally gruesomely violent to feel very "fun" anyway.

Travolta's insane, fey villain, Jane's steely-eyed avenger, the henchmen and goons and lackeys -- shouldn't Steven Seagal be starring in this? And if he were, would I even have wasted THIS much space writing about it?

Grade: C-

Rated R, some harsh profanity, a lot of violence, some torture, some nudity

2 hrs., 4 min.

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This item has 7 comments

  1. Chris Altobelli says:

    Seriously do you think our legal system works. The Punisher is a character who knows it doesn't so he gives final justice to the scum who deserve it like rapists, child molestors, people who torture others, and murderers. I personally think the movie was great despite what a bunch of limp wristed "oh people change in prison" thinking idiots think. The fact of the matter is scum will always be scum and the legal system lets them get away with it so killing is necessary

  2. Huzzak says:

    (Hey everybody, Chris Altobelli is CRAZY. FOR REALS!)

  3. Slash says:

    He also missed the only thing that really mattered about this film.

    Laura Harring is as hot as the core of the sun. The real problem with this movie is that the entire movie wasn't just about her walking around in a tight dress.

  4. Slash says:

    Also, the irony in this sentence, "The Punisher is a character who knows it doesn't so he gives final justice to the scum who deserve it like rapists, child molestors, people who torture others, and murderers," is wonderful.

    It's made even better by the sure knowledge that Chris doesn't see it.

  5. Dave the Slave says:

    I dont understand how the Punisher can be considered a superhero, like the X-Men, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, etc. Any joe-bloe can grab a gun and start killing people. It's gotta be because not everyone can do it with a big skull on their shirt.

    yeah, thats superhero material. You know a bunch of loser comic book people got together and had a big massive collective brain-fart, couldn't come up with anything clever, so resorted to just some guy going around killing bad guys. clever.

    (and for that matter, why is the Hulk considered a superhero? His super-powers consist entirely of doing millions of dollars worth of property damage, and constantly kill people or send them to the emergency room with a plethera of ailments...)

  6. Tobias Drake says:

    That's just it, actually; the Punisher is not a superhero. When the character was first introduced, he was, in fact, a villain. The farthest he's ever gone from that point is a point of neutrality; nobody supports what he does directly, but he's tolerated by the fact that he accomplishes things, and even then, the nobler superheroes like Spider-Man still have a number of encounters trying to shut him down. Most recently, he got his ass punched out by Captain America during the Civil War arc.

    Yeah, I'm geek. Sue me. :P

    The unintentional irony in comment 1 by Chris Altobelli and then pointed out by Slash in comment 4 is an important part of the character; one thing the Punisher has never done is justify his actions. The distinction, that what Frank Castle does is every bit as bad as the people he Punishes, is one that's brought up a number of times in his story. The Punisher knows that he's no better than the criminals he's after. This is why he pushes people out of his life, and why he leaves the apartment at the end; he doesn't want anyone else caught up in what he's doing, he doesn't want sidekicks, he doesn't want romantic interests (in fact, I can't recall a single time the Punisher has ever had a girlfriend; a stark contrast to most comic book protagonists), and he especially doesn't want anyone to follow in his footsteps; he doesn't want anyone else to do what he does, and has actively gone after people for doing so.

    So, going back to the point, the Punisher is not a superhero and never has been. At his best, he is "not a supervillain". Just wanted to clarify for anyone who's never followed the Punisher and was confused. ^.^

  7. Dave the Slave says:

    Wow Tobias, that actually really cleared it up for me! Makes a certain kind of sense I guess. The brooding anti-hero could be kinda fun to watch.

    And geeks are cool! (as long as they have the basic hygene practices down pat- I go to an art college and there are definately cool geeks and smelly emberassed-for-them-type geeks!)

    So thanks for the coment! I haven't really followed the Punisher at all, I'm more of a comic-card collector. Speaking of which, I just found out the utterly depressing news that comic cards are worthless nowadays, even the old ones, and the glittery hologram-y ones too. *sigh*

    I STILL refuse to let my wife throw em out tho... :-P

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