out of Five
Running time: 118
Not great, but nowhere near as bad as it could have been, thanks to an occasionally witty script and strong performances from Jane and Travolta.
Marvel Comics are on something of a roll at the moment – still high on the success of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, they are rapidly churning out as many projects as they can get green-lit while superhero movies are still “hot”. Strictly speaking, The Punisher isn’t exactly a superhero, more of a gun-toting psychopath with a moralistic streak, but he’s one of Marvel’s most popular characters.
Luckily, everyone seems to have forgotten the 1989 Dolph Lundgren version, in which The Punisher saved a bus-full of schoolkids. Bless.
Family Wiped Out
Tom Jane plays FBI Agent Frank Castle, who’s looking forward to spending his retirement with his family after an extensive undercover operation. Unfortunately, during the bust, the son of evil crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) gets killed, so Saint sends a team of hired goons to wipe out Castle’s nearest and dearest (including poor, POOR Samantha Mathis and Roy Scheider).
Unsurprisingly, this makes Castle mad, so he goes, “Grrr! Frank smash!” arms himself to the teeth, dons a t-shirt with a skull on it and sets off to blow away as many aforementioned goons as he can.
Tom Jane is well cast as the titular hero and he has a good line in Brooding Intensity while also managing to retain a bit of humanity. Travolta is surprisingly good too, ditching the pantomime villain theatrics that have worked for him before (Broken Arrow, Swordfish) and instead downplaying it, with the result that you actually feel sorry for him in places. He’s also lost a lot of weight, unless he’s had it digitally removed or something.
In addition, there’s strong support from Will Patton, as Saint’s loyal right hand man and Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and John Pinette as Frank’s trio of geeky neighbours, who provide much of the film’s humour. Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) is also good as the equally evil Mrs Saint, though she is almost as wasted as poor, POOR Samantha Mathis.
Applaud Acts Of Immense Brutality?
The film does have its inventive moments, such as when Castle’s apartment gets trashed during a particularly brutal fight and the Geek Neighbours are all in different rooms but visible in the same shot because of the holes in the walls. There's also a hilarious bit of utterly pointless forward-planning near the end, where he rigs all the cars to explode so that they make a flaming skull shape when seen from above by...er...no-one.
The script is actually pretty good and the characters are given depth as opposed to being caricatures. It also has a decent stock of amusingly cheesy lines, such as Castle muttering, “God’s gonna sit this one out” as he heads out on a revenge mission.
The main problem with the film is the same one that afflicts most vigilante movies (see also Walking Tall and the upcoming Man On Fire), in that we are asked to applaud acts of extreme brutality just because the film’s hero is committing them. Still, if you accept that as a given, then The Punisher is a reasonably entertaining Friday night thriller that should please its fanboy audience.