Comic book adaptations are all the rage these days,
so it’s inevitable that someone would try
to bring Marvel Comics’ antihero The Punisher
to the big screen. The Punisher concept seems simple
enough: He’s a sociopath who has no regard
for the life of the criminals over whom he considers
himself to be judge, jury, and executioner. The
Punisher has no superpowers, only an arsenal of
military grade weapons and a bag full of dirty tricks.
The villains, like The Punisher, are just everyday
people, so no fancy special effects would be needed
in the making of this film. How could Hollywood
screw up such a straightforward idea?
Thomas Jane plays Frank Castle, a special
operations veteran and a government agent about
to retire to his wife and son. Of course no one
ever gets to retire peaceably in movieland and,
during a family reunion, a mob hit squad arrives
and executes his entire family in an unbelievably
over-the-top massacre. Despite being shot point
blank in the chest and then being at ground zero
of an explosion, Frank Castle survives to begin
a new career as The Punisher.
In a movie called The Punisher one could
easily be lead to expect some, well, punishment.
That is where the movie makes its first mistake.
It takes too long for Frank Castle to begin his
transformation to The Punisher and when it does
happen it’s not entirely convincing. This
could be because Thomas Jane was a relative newcomer
and they wanted to get their money’s worth
out of villain Howard Saint (Travolta) so
they gave him a bunch of needless scenes to fill
the movie. Well at least when The Punisher is on
screen he could be unleashing the hate on crime,
but he seems to sit around brood and contemplate
new, convoluted ways to attack his enemies.
Since The Punisher’s primary weapons are
modern technology, the few scenes where he goes
into action are rather uninspired shoot-outs. It
didn’t have to be that way. Part of The Punisher’s
appeal is the unabashed glee with which he dispatches
his enemies. He never has any sort of inner conflict;
he just hates criminals and wants to kill them.
Also the movie forgets The Punisher’s secret
weapon: dirty tricks. In the movie, The Punisher
battles it out with his enemies face to face in
contests of strength. This may sound cool, but in
reality it’s just a stupid way to get killed.
In the comics he surprises enemies and readers alike
by hitting below the belt time and time again.
The Punisher’s plot has more holes
than his gunshot victims. At two hours running time
one of the movie’s many plot elements would
be entertaining, but they all fail to connect. The
Punisher’s neighbors are all walking clichés.
There’s the fat kid, the computer nerd, and
let’s not forget the supermodel-turned-waitress
(Romijn-Stamos). Howard Saint’s jealous
nature concerning his wife Olivia (Harring)
feels more like a plot device than a character attribute.
No part of this movie is done right. The music
is heavy-handed and the lighting would be much more
appropriate for a more dramatic hero such as Batman.
Even the few special effects shots look terrible.
The half-star this movie garnered was for its two
torture scenes, both of which got the response the
filmmaker desired from the audience, but every other
time the best this movie could achieve were sighs
of disappointment or jeers of derision. Unfortunately
this movie did have plenty of punishment and it
is inflicting that punishment on unsuspecting audience
members two hours at a time.