|Eve Of The War
|Review: The Punisher (2004)
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|Author:||Fenris [ Sat Jan 15, 2005 6:51 pm ]|
With The Punisher about to be released on Region 2 DVD, here's my review;<br /><br />My experience of watching The Punisher last year was thus: I sat down in the cinema, the movie unrolled in front of me, I stayed consious, it ended, I left. Rarely have I seen such a decidedly average motion picture. We're presented with unexciting action sequences, clumsily handled product placement (Wild Turkey, anyone?), too much misjudged comic relief (when the key fight scene with uberheavy The Russian is played for laughs, then you know the film's in trouble), and subdued performances.<br /><br />As principal villain Howard Saint, John Travolta spends the entire movie on autopilot. Saint is completely lacking the menace and flair that Travolta bought to his bad guy roles in Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Swordfish, and it's fairly obvious that he took this role purely for the money. <br /><br />Thomas Jane does okay as title character Frank Castle, portraying him as a man who has shut down his emotions so completely that he no longer knows how to react when in the company of people who aren't trying to kill him. The rest of the cast provide adequate support, but Laura Harring is sadly wasted in a nothing role that isn't going to enhance her post-Mulholland Drive career.<br /><br />The biggest change to Castle's established comic book continunity is the overkill concerning the event that propels him into becoming The Punisher. I can almost imagine the script conference;<br />"What, he had his wife and kids killed in front of him? Hell, every movie hero these days has had that happen to them. We need this to be something really brutal."<br />"I know - how about his parents as well? And his entire extended family? Aunts, uncles, cousins, about thirty or so people in total, all blown away?"<br />"Genius!"<br /><br />Oddly, the film later wimps out when it comes to the death of Howard Saint's wife. In Marvel's comic adaptation of the movie (presumably based on the original shooting script), Saint kicks her out of the limo where a gang of thugs are waiting. It's implied that he's paid them to gang-rape and torture her to death. In the movie itself, he merely throws her off a bridge in front of an approaching train (I can't comment on her fate in the novelisation).<br /><br />Interestingly, despite all the money and A-list talent thrown at this film, it remains inferior in almost every way to the low budget 1989 Punisher movie starring Dolph Lundgren. In fact, if you so wished, you could regard this latest version as a prequel to the earlier film: Punisher 2004 is set a few months after Castle's family were killed. Rather than suicidally attacking head-on those responsible, he slowly, cautiously and carefully takes their criminal empire apart by brewing trouble between Howard Saint and his backers, and then placing suspicion and doubt in the man's mind, tricking Saint into killing those most loyal to him.<br />Compare with Punisher 1989, set several years after Castle's family died. Frank Castle has become a hollow, burnt-out shell of a man, whose campaign against organised crime has degraded into a meaningless series of pointless killing. He keeps whacking wiseguys not out of revenge, but because he's no longer capable of doing anything else. Lundgren's Castle isn't interested in complex or elaborate sabotage schemes, prefering instead to wade, vastly outnumbered, into entire armies of opponents, blazing way with a machine-gun, because he just doesn't care anymore.<br />I believe it could be argued that Jane's Punisher, several years down the road, could easily metamorphose into Lundgren's.<br /><br />Ultimately, the only time that The Punisher 2004 rises above the banal is the climactic demise of Howard Saint, which is suitably spectacular. Even then, it's partly ruined by a misjudged - and rather stupid - overhead CGI shot.
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