Newest Review: ... No-one would have minded too much if The Punisher had been big, dumb and spectacular, but there is absolutely no excuse for making it bor... more
Certainly lives up to its name
The Punisher (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Punisher (DVD)
Advantages: Interesting opening credits
Disadvantages: Pedestrian pace, poor acting and lack of excitement kills any prospect of a good film
There was a time, pre-Spider-man, when Marvel couldn't release a decent superhero film. The Punisher fits neatly into that mould... except that it was brought out in the same year as Spider-man 2 - after Marvel had supposedly found its Midas Touch.
The Punisher is probably one of Marvel's lesser known properties, but in many ways is ideal for film treatment as it is, essentially, Marvel's Batman. An ex-undercover cop, Frank Castle, sees his family wiped out by criminals and turns to vigilantism to exact his revenge. The basic plot is so straightforward it can be set up quickly and efficiently, leaving plenty of time for lots of explosions, gunfights, car chases and all the other staples of the superhero blockbuster.
This is where Punisher delivers its second surprise by proceeding at an incredibly pedestrian pace. It takes around 40 minutes before Castle's family is killed, then another 20-30 minutes to establish that yes, indeed, he is going to use his skills to hunt down the men responsible. Clearly, Marvel doesn't think its audience is terribly intelligent and needs lots of time process these "complex" plot details. Still, if nothing else, The Punisher offers plenty of opportunities to catch up on lost sleep. If you do happen to doze off for the odd ten minutes (or even hour), you can wake up secure in the knowledge that you will have missed nothing of note.
It's this slow pace that cripples The Punisher right from the start. This needs to be an action film, full of running, explosions, gunshots and tense situations. It needs to constantly assault the audiences with spectacular set-pieces, interspersed with the odd bit of character development. No-one would have minded too much if The Punisher had been big, dumb and spectacular, but there is absolutely no excuse for making it boring. It crawls along with over-extended, dull scenes which supposedly are there to build up characters and relationships but which actually just contribute to the film's bloated running time.
It's clear that most of Marvel's budget went on Spider-man 2 and any loose change left over was chucked in the direction of The Punisher. The film's only car chase features a grand total of, erm, 2 cars. The gun battles usually feature about 5 guns and 7 bullets, whilst explosions are pretty much limited to the final 10 minutes or so. Bereft of budget, Punisher simply cannot deliver the punch which the original comic book character promises. Instead, it has to rely on a dull, pedestrian plot and boring, predictable characters.
Frank Castle/The Punisher is played by Thomas Jane, who doesn't seem quite sure where to pitch his performance. Sometimes he tries for brooding, sometimes for knowing looks to camera, sometimes for badly delivered comedy. Whatever he tries, he does badly. And the one thing he never manages is emotional depth. You never believe that this character is so stricken with grief that he has nothing left to lose; and so you never sympathise with him or condone what he does. Like Batman, The Punisher is an anti-hero, someone you shouldn't cheer for, but secretly do, someone who can do the things you would like to, but daren't. Thomas Jane's Punisher never comes even close to gaining the anti-hero status. You have to worry when an actor normally known as Thomas Jane is billed in the end credits as Tom Jane: it smacks of someone trying to deny they are in it.
The rest of the cast is similarly lost. John Travolta - a man who veers from the sublime to the ridiculous when it comes to his acting gigs - is here in his "will work for food" mode. As money-laundering banker Howard Saint, he sleepwalks his way through the scenes, mumbling lines, ambling along and seemingly paying very little attention to anything that is going on around him.
In a shocking piece of writing, Castle is given a trio of sidekicks. Potential love interest Joan is played by X-Men outcast Rebecca Romijn who must yearn for the days when she was being painted blue. Completing this trio of unnecessary characters are "comic relief" Spacker Dave and Bumpo, two misfits who "hilariously" are heavily pierced and fat respectively. Oooh. My aching sides. The blatantly obvious and clunky sub-plot are an attempt to give Castle a "surrogate" family of people who, like him, are social outcasts. It's badly written tosh and the scenes between them are excruciating and cheesy at the same time.
And here's the real problem. The Punisher never quite seems able to settle on a tone and stick to it. It wants to be (and should be) dark and gritty, a world away from the day-glo colours of certain Spider beings. Yet it makes the horrible mistake of trying to introduce some badly-judged, horribly unfunny humour. Used well, black humour can often add a lot to a film, providing a welcome break from the tense atmosphere.. The Punisher has no truck with that. One minute Frank Castle is (supposedly) looking mean and moody, the next minute, he's uttering sub-Roger Moore style Bond quip, ruining an already bad scene with an appalling pun.
The dialogue is so cheesy I'm surprised Kraft haven't given up their pursuit of Cadbury's and come after this instead. Again, it seems all the best scriptwriters were hired to work on Spider-man 2, so Marvel asked the Work Experience Boy Tea Boy to come up with the script for The Punisher. As such, it contains every cliché known to mankind and each scene is accompanied by sphincter-clenchingly bad dialogue which MAKES SURE THE VIEWER KNOWS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING. It's like being shouted at for two hours by an idiot who thinks they are a genius.
So, is there ANYTHING good to say about The Punisher? Well, the opening credits are interesting and deserve to be on a much better film. Capturing the comic book's style, with an appropriate theme tune playing over them, they immediately grab your interest and make you think for a few brief seconds that this could be something special. Sadly, the credits are pretty short (less than a minute) and after that it's all downhill.
Crippled by a pedestrian pace, cheesy dialogue, sub-standard acting, poor script and a lack of action, The Punisher was always going to be up against it. When you factor in that the character lacks the immediate recognition factor of Spider-man or X-Men, I would estimate that the number of people who like this film is about three. And that's four more than it deserves.
Unless you're a masochist attracted by the title (in which case you'll probably find it unexpectedly wonderful) you should avoid this at all costs and on no account be tempted to spend any of your hard earned cash on it. Watching it once is punishment enough.
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Running time: approx. 124 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Summary: What happens when all the good people are working on Spider-man