Does Good always have to be virtuous? Can it (good) stoop to the level of Evil perpetrating unflinching violence in order to vanquish the former? Is it ever right to take the law into your own hands when the law fails to deliver justice? This is the over-riding theme of the Marvel Comic Book classic, The Punisher, a variation of a tale first told in the pages of a 1974 Spider-Man comic, wherein The Punisher a.k.a. Frank Castle was introduced as a villain; a New York City detective who is gunned down with his wife and children during a picnic in Central Park.
Then Stan Lee the legionary mentor of Marvel Comics changed his mind and a year later, decided to give him a sympathetic back-story making him a marketable, franchise-able hero; a hero without superpowers, one of few in the Marvel stable of heroes. He relies instead on his military training, street smarts, and thirst to rid the streets of New York of evil, as his weapons; not to mention a large variety of weaponry. Fast forward to today and the story shifts to Tampa(?) Florida, out hero(?), is now an ex-counterterrorism operative, turned undercover FBI agent.
Directed and co-written by Jonathan Hensleigh (Con Air, Armageddon, Gone in 60 Seconds) with additional scripting duties by Michael France, The Punisher is the story of how a man who played within the law became a vigilante, and avenging angel, with a big skull on his chest.
Frank Castle portrayed by relative newcomer Thomas Jane (The Sweetest Thing, Dreamcatcher) is an undercover FBI agent in Tampa, Florida who, when the movie opens, is about to retire and spend more time with his family. On his last case however, a sting to purchase a shipment of illegal firearms goes south and the FBI ends up shooting the son of local crime lord Howard Saint portrayed by gusto by John Travolta (Perfect, Pulp Fiction, White Mans Burden).
Saint of course wants revenge on the person responsible for his son's death, so he and his wife portrayed by former Miss USA Laura Elena Harring (Exit to Eden, Mulholland Drive, John Q) orders the extermination of Castle's entire familyand I do mean his entire family while they are gathered for a family reunion in Puerto Rico. His mother, his fatherportrayed by Roy Scheider (Jaws, Still of the Night, The Russia House) his wifeportrayed by Samantha Mathis (Little Women, The American President, American Psyco), his son, his uncles, etc. The hitmen are successful, but Castle remarkably survives, even after a gunshot to the chest. Now he is very angry and he wants revenge. In his mind, Frank Castle is dead; he has becomes The Punisher, complete with arsenal of nasty weapons to carry out his plan of very bloody revenge.
I am not sure what to think of this one. On one hand I do enjoy the theme: good verse evil, and in the end evil looses. But the strings of the story are thin, and the holes in the plot are far too large to make the move truly enjoyable. For instance how does a man who gets shot point plank in the chest live to breathe another breath let alone become an avenger? And after making no attempt to hide his true identity why didnt Saint immediately seek to dispatch Castle? And then there is the violence; the squeamish need not apply. Some may complain that The Punisher is overly violent, but anyone familiar with the comic book version would not voice such a concern. Marvel comics are frequently violent affairs and The Punisher came of age in the amoral 1980s when taking the law into ones own hands by larger then life quasi-heros was in vogue.
The Punisher is not an actors film, there are no great speeches, no grant moments to be etched in history, carnage is the speaker, and revenge the voice. Janes portrayal of the vengeful Punisher is almost nondescript; indeed any number of men could have donned the skull and the results would have been the same. Jane doe not inhabit the role, does not make it his own. And in fairness to him, he was given very little to work with.
Travolta portrayal of Saint is no better. He is yet again playing another slimy caricature; indeed he seems to prefer portraying the evil cult of personality type; they type audience's love to hate. And he has the habit of portraying each part with the same slimy zeal. Poor Laura Elena Harring is given little to do except look sexy; her character has no depth, and one has to wonder why she has not done better for herself since her breakout role in Mulholland Falls along side Naomi Watts.
Other forgettable parts: Will Patton (Desperately Seeking Susan, Inventing the Abbots, Armageddon) is once more cast in the role of the gay villain (Saints right hand man) who's forced to come out of the closet just so someone can kill him; Rebecca Romijn (X-Men, Femme Fatal, X2) portrays the ubiquitous woman who saves the hero from himself caricature. The portrayal left little to be desired.
In the final analysis, The Punisher is a movie for a rainy night, a snowy afternoon without the kids, and evening in with the boys. As far as my opening question is concerned; hat is one youll have to answer for yourself, after seeing the movie of course.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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