Lionsgate // 2004 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // October 12th, 2011
He has a plan. He has an enemy. He will execute them both.
Since the turn of the 21st century we have been inundated with films based on Marvel comic books. Most of the films feature the most popular characters, like Spider-man and the ubiquitous Wolverine, but in 2004 a less well-known character got a big screen adaptation. The Punisher grossed just a tad more than it cost, which was not enough to warrant the myriad of sequels that its brethren enjoyed.
Frank Castle (Thomas Jane, Hung) just finished his last job as an FBI undercover agent and can't wait to spend time with his family. Alas, a powerful crimelord's son was killed during that job, and a vengeful Howard Saint (John Travolta, From Paris With Love) takes advantage of a reunion to destroy everyone in Frank's family. This being a movie based on a comic book, Castle himself survives multiple gunshot wounds and an exploding dock and goes looking for payback.
The Punisher in the comics is the most badass of heroes you will ever see. He is a bloody killing machine with little remorse, and he doesn't hesitate to kidnap and torture people to get what he wants. The film version isn't as relentlessly dark as its source material -- the torture scene involves popsicles -- but there is plenty of action, from car chases, to gun fights, to several instances of people getting stabbed in unique ways. The action sequences are all done very well and, as a bonus, there is a minimal of pithy lines.
Unfortunately, sometimes The Punisher remembers it's a film and decides to let the actors talk to each other. On the surface this might not seem like a bad thing. After all, the cast is fairly good and everyone seems invested in the film, so all the characters are reasonably believable (you know, for a comic book film). It's the script that causes most of the difficulties. It can't resist making dramatic statements ("Call me...The Punisher.") and relies too much on unnecessary exposition. Travolta brings a nice duality to his role; Saint is a good friend and a loving father, yet he can turn granite-cold and kill someone without a second thought. Jane doesn't bring anything to his role except scowling, but then Frank has a lot of negative emotions running through him, so perhaps that's all the role really required.
The storyline is a bit choppy as well, beginning with Frank's survival and the fact that he goes from needing a crutch to walking just fine in, literally, ten seconds. Here are samples of the thoughts you might have while viewing this film:
* How do the bad guys know where Frank is living? And why don't they just blow the place up instead of sending oddball contract killers?
* Why did we spend ten minutes watching Frank turn his car into a poor man's version of the Batmobile if it's only going to be used in one brief, ultimately inconsequential scene?
* Same question for the booby traps and guns hidden around the apartment, which actually get no use whatsoever?
The list goes on, but there's really little point in questioning every plot hole; they're almost to be expected in today's action movies. That being said, there's no excuse for the moments of poor cinematography. There are multiple examples of short cutscenes that interrupt the flow of the story. An early example is the shot of the bow of a motorboat approaching the family reunion. It's on the screen for a couple of seconds and is meant to build suspense, but it's too short to accomplish anything; by the time the snippet has registered, it's already gone, jarring the viewer right out of the scene.
The Blu-ray treatment is made for films like this, and the disc doesn't disappoint. Colors are bright, everything is crisp, the black levels are nice and deep. The 5.1 Dolby surround is a bit disappointing; the surrounds could be utilized better and the subwoofer is criminally neglected. For those with the uber-sound systems, there is a DTS-ES 6.1 option available as well. The extras have diminished with every release, which is the opposite of how these things usually work. The standard DVD came with a ton of extras, then the extended cut had only a few. Now the Blu-ray, which usually is chock-full of them, has none.
The Punisher would be better if it trimmed about a third of its 121 minute running time. It takes too long for Castle to become the Punisher and there are too many unnecessary bits spread throughout, which saps the film of the persistent energy it needs to really excel. But the action scenes are done very well. In the realm of Marvel comic films, I would put it a touch above the other 2004 Marvel film, Spider-man 2.
In case a certain homicidal vigilante with a skull on his shirt happens to
read this: not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Josh Rode; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R