The Punisher (2004)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
This film version of the Marvel comic, co-written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, is probably the best film version we’re going to get of “The Punisher.” It’s still not very good. The problem with The Punisher as a comicbook character, is that he is completely immoral, yet still presented as a superhero. Most superheroes fight for truth and justice because it seems like a good idea (Superman), because they feel they have to (Spider-Man, and indeed most of the Marvel superheroes), or because they must prove themselves (The X-Men). The Punisher has no moral code and no superpowers. He’s just an ordinary guy with a helluvalotta guns, and an irrational, sociopathic hatred of criminals. He’s mad and he likes to shoot. So we have a dark, bitter, violent film about a dark, bitter, violent man. And he’s our hero. An antihero like The Punisher would have worked in the 1970s (Dirty Harry! And there’s Charles Bronson!), but doesn’t quite pull it off anymore. We are treated, however, to a cute and oddly wacky entertainment on the way down.
The story: Frank Castle (Tom Jane), a newly retired cop, so pisses off Howard Saint (John Travolta) with his good police work, that Saint guns down his family (like, all of it, like aunts and cousins and all), and blows him up. He lives. He turns to drink, guns and revenge. He manipulates Saints’ underlings and confidants (Will Patton as a closeted gay thug, Eddie Jemison as a sniveling rat, Laura Harring as one sexy mama). He fights off some rather bizarre assassins: one sveltely plays a Johnny Cash-type tune before the chase scene, the other is an indestructible brute who throws Castle through walls to the strains of Italian opera in the film’s weirdest and funniest scene. He finally, of course, gets revenge. The film is also kept lightly afloat by a trio of misfits living in Castle’s building, played by Ben Foster, John Pinette, and the comely Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. They save a lot.
There are two kinds of bad: the kind that offends you, and the kind which is low-quality, but harmless and a little fun to giggle at. “The Punisher” is the second type.