The Punisher (2004)

There’s several movie versions of Marvel’s The Punisher, which these days are pretty much eclipsed by Netflix’s take-no-prisoners, balls out long form adaptation, but the film ones are still out there, if only for variety. By several I mean three, which some might not be aware of. Dolph Lundgren made an effort back in the 90’s which looks cool, but I’ve yet to see. Ray Stevenson most recently took up the mantle for a jagged edged, jarringly violent and dismal toned entry, which is worth a look. My favourite has to be the Thomas Jane one though, by far the most ‘hollywood’, high profile stab at the mythology, slightly silly in places, dementedly weird in others, a well casted, oddly pitched vehicle that is somehow the most fun of the trio of flicks. Jane, at least in the looks department, is the closest you’ll find to the Frank Castle of the comics, a rock-jawed, all American tragic antihero turned mass murderer. The story he finds himself in… well, it’s a little stuffed with itself, subplots dangling from it like entrails and far too many characters running about, but oh well. Jane’s Castle watches his wife (sadly short lived Samantha Mathis) and family massacred in the film’s opening, at the hands of melodramatic mobster Howard Saint, played by John Travolta, who’s determined to steal every scene whether anyone likes it or not. Forced into hiding, Frank eventually becomes the angry Punisher, a vigilante dressed like a jock in a school shooter Halloween costume, now on a path to wipe out Saint and his whole freaky entourage, which includes consigliere Will Patton, sporting some icky extra curricular activities. He also shacks up with sexy Rebecca Romjin and her two apparent roommates Ben Foster and comedian John Pinette, when he needs to dodge Travolta’s onslaught of colourful assassins. Well, he only *literally* shacks up with Romjin, but you get the idea. Speaking of assassins, there’s some really cool supporting villains dispatched by Saint. Castle is unprepared when an eight foot tall, mute Russian goon in Where’s Waldo inspired attire busts down his door looking for blood. My favourite has to be Harry Heck though, a contract killer so similar to Johnny Cash that for years after watching this I legit thought they somehow convinced the man in black himself to do an epic cameo. It’s actually a country singer named Mark Collie, but oh well, the guy composes a twangy guitar accompanied vocal for every target he’s assigned, which he croons out to them before getting violent, and that’s a fuckin wicked comic book villain in anyone’s books, whether or not the character actually appeared in the ones this film is based on (I’m guilty of never reading them). This film is fun because of it’s arch, broad strokes approach, especially with Travolta’s over the top take, Laura Harring as his emotional wife, whose fault it is that the whole massacre in the opening happens to begin with. That opening is ruthless, exploitive and doesn’t hold most of anything off camera, a good setup for revenge (or,sorry, ‘punishment’) in any pulp comic book scenario. Jane holds his own, and even popped up again years later to do a pseudo sequel in short film form called ‘Punisher: Dirty Laundry’, which is so good it almost blows this one out of the water. Here you’ll find a movie that’s not quite as resigned to it’s unpleasantness as the Warzone one (which really gets messed up), but still knows how to pack a mean punch, when it’s not too tied up with itself.

-Nate Hill

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