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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Retro Review: The Punisher (2004)

The Punisher
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn, Samantha Mathis, Will Patton, Ben Foster, Kevin Nash
Genre: Action 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $54 million

Plot: An undercover FBI agent becomes a vigilante assassin & sets out to unleash his wrath upon the corrupt businessman who slaughtered his entire family at a reunion

'Bleak Superhero Effort That Was Punishing To Endure'

A spiritless and unimpressive R-rated superhero telling of a Marvel Comics character whereby character development is moot and the film doesn't attempt to delve into any of the characters properly. The Punisher marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Hensleigh, screenwriter of Die Hard With A Vengeance; with its low-rent look, it has a particularly nasty streak going for it, that whilst it is not a completely bad thing, it's just too morbid for one to fully enjoy.

Even with its mainstream feel, The Punisher has no intention of exploring and delving into Frank's mindset and the trauma of his wife and child's death and the agony it has caused. Any attempts of emotional resonance with Frank is absent as the film does away with that and it just gives us bland action, insipid dialogue and characters no one should care about.

Based on the Marvel Comics line of comics, FBI agent Frank Castle returns home to his wife and child during a family reunion, all happy and blissful - only to lose them when they are mowed down in cold blood by Howard Saint's cronies. You see, Howard's eldest son died and Howard seeks revenge by murdering Frank's loved ones. Frank is killed but manages to survive and he too wants his revenge. Fast forward several months later, he dons a skull T-shirt, wields a large rifle and goes on a rampage of sorts. I guess the theme here is retribution; unfortunately, the way it is all handled is rather dispiriting and not very entertaining.  

Unlike Broken Arrow, John Travolta mugs the camera whenever possible, yet in every scene, he is in, through his turn, he says little and does little, making his role meagre and almost meaningless. It is so lifeless, his villain, Howard spends the majority of the film worrying whether or not his wife is being unfaithful to him and he never poses a genuine threat to Frank, up until the last 20 mins or so where he turns on the nasty, with a plot twist that veers on the ridiculous. When he eventually comes to life, it all becomes fruitless. 

Samantha Mathis seems to be miscast as Frank's wife, and showing very little in the way of emotions and in place is the lack of depth, through her uninspired turn and the family aspect with Frank's son and wife, just never really clicked with me. I know I am supposed to go along with it, but not once did I buy into their relationship. Thomas Jane does his best, yet the real problem is that Frank is a character we hardly know anything about, and because of that, it sort of became difficult for me to root for him. It's not it has to do with him being a vigilante, but Jane's Frank lacks any emotional traits for me to care for that character. He just never felt believable as Frank and didn't really do him much justice, as he also lacks and doesn't provide the intensity that The Punisher generally exudes. Rebecca Romijn did okay, although, in truth, the film could have easily have functioned without her character and her two male roommates. The performances, in general, are middling and with lots of tinkering and recasting, it might have turned out better. 

The film's biggest issue is that is it is devoid of identity and is so baseless that besides the kills, hits and murders of which some of them feel all too routine, all it is left with is a desensitised, empty and apathetic tone that takes away from the film and one's enjoyment from it. Also, there is this strange dissonance in which it alternates between the fight involving the Punisher and the Russian (played by Wrestler, Kevin Nash) & Romijn & her roommates cooking, dancing and lip-synching to opera. The Russian character looked like someone out of a Streetfighter video game. 

What should have been an entertaining romp turns out to be so exceedingly bleak that it has absolutely little to show for it.

Final Verdict:

A comic book version of what is Death Wish, 2004's The Punisher is another Marvel comics-based bomb before Marvel films became popular and multi-million dollar sellers, that follows in the footsteps of another bad adaptation in Daredevil. Additionally, we are supposed to care for the protagonists, as there should be a concern or some interest shown towards them, but because of their lack of character development throughout, I ended up not caring that much, or be it at all. 

By the end when the film loses its sense of who Frank is as a character and what drives and motivates him to do the things he does, besides getting his vengeance after losing his family, was when The Punisher has little to no sense of intention as a movie. 

Mainly cold, bland, derivative and uninspired, as action and comic book films go, this is one effort that goes punished


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