Retro Review: The Punisher (2004)

What happens when a man is pushed past the edge? What does he do when he has lost everything he has ever cared about? Well in the 1970s, he would have been Charles Bronson playing his infamous “Death Wish” anti-hero Paul Kersey, who returns to seek vengeance for the death of his wife and the rape of his daughter. Sound familiar?

In “The Punisher”, FBI Agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) becomes the target of a ruthless drug kingpin named Howard Saint (John Travolta) after Saint’s son dies during a drug sting.

Taking out just Castle isn’t good enough for Saint’s wife (Laura Harring) who instead wants his wife, young son and extended family wiped out at a giant family reunion.

After the word of the Saints is carried out, Castle resurrects himself as a skull adorning vigilante, The Punisher whose main purpose is to bring down the Saints at all costs.

When the comic version of the Punisher was conceived in the 70s, he was envisioned as a villain of the week for your friendly neighborhood web-slinger, Spider-man. But the power and draw of the anti-hero with the help of cinematic hits like the “Death Wish” series and the iconic “Dirty Harry” series helped boost the appeal of this skull-bond vigilante.

People loved grittier heroes who would become “judge, jury and executioner”. Many comic book heroes under-went darkened changes in the 1970s to embrace the new grittier anti-hero. In the 1980s, The Punisher became one of the biggest comic books at Marvel Studios.

As I watched the new version of the Punisher on the silver screen, I kept flashing back to those seemingly countless “Death Wish” sequels and how I used to laugh at how people would make fun each entry. “This time it is personal, they killed his dog. Everyone must die,” I heard in my head. Five films emerged from that series and “The Punisher” seems to have a throw back to them all.

Embracing the grit, grime and pugilism of those 70s anti-heroes is exactly what movie goers wanted from this film and they get it in spades.

I loved the fight sequence between Castle and the hitman known as the Russian.

I also enjoyed the goofy guitar-wielding hitman (who must be a throwback to “El Mariachi”).

I also really liked Harring as the Mafioso wife. She was perfect as the “evil-to-the-core” beauty. I did find Travolta a little wasted as the mob boss. He seemed very restrained in his performance.

What can one say about Thomas Jane’s portrayal of the anti-hero? He is the Punisher. There are no qualms about it. He is a perfect casting. I loved him once more as an action hero. (Anyone else remember him in “Deep Blue Sea”?)

I also liked the comedic characters back in Castle’s apartment building. They are direct from their comic incarnations and as priceless. I also liked that the filmmakers weren’t afraid of getting brutal with the violence. In a comic-adaptation there is always the worry about losing the PG-13 crowd. This goes to show why I am still waiting for my “director’s cut” of “Daredevil” to finally arrive.

The whole anti-hero may have been done to death but this incarnation is kind of fun. My only problems with the film were some of the really short and abrupt scene cuts. The beginning also had some problems where there is an exterior, cut, set piece, exterior, and then 2nd set. The cutting here almost reminded me of the goofy cutting in “Return of Swamp Thing”. There were some signs that the film was made by a first-time director. Let me know if you know what I mean.

On the upside is that I am sure that no one will be muttering, “Where’s Dolph?” at the end of
this one.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: The Punisher (2004)

  1. Thomas Jane always struck me as an actor who was too subtle for movies, but that works to his advantage here because he plays a man who represses all his emotions or channels them into kick-ass fight scenes. His tussle with the Russian managed to be horrific and funny and … positively operatic all at the same time.

    Ben Foster continues to amaze me. Has he ever given a BAD performance?

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