Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Movie Review: The Punisher

Well, I know I said I wasn't going to start reviewing movies I'd seen on TV, but after seeing this on Sky Movies I just had to comment.

Released in 2004, The Punisher stars Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea) as the titular character out for revenge when crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) has his entire family killed. The is the Punisher's second big screen outing after 1989's attempt starring Dolph Lundrgren was a fairly big flop.

This more recent effort didn't exactly set the box office alight either, but it has obviously raked in enough money to justify a sequel, as IMDB lists Punisher 2 as currently being in pre-production.

I didn't really know what to expect from this film. It certainly wasn't very heavily promoted in the UK, and the buzz surrounding the film at the time of its release was generally poor. Indeed, Sky Movies gave it one star out of five, which prompted my wife to comment , "Are you sure you want to watch this?"

What followed was a very strange, very flawed but very watchable movie.

As is fairly obvious, I'm a big comic book fan, and a fan of Marvel Comics in particular. However, The Punisher is a character I've never been particularly familiar with. I know his origin story, his look, I've read a few comics with him in them, but that's it. So I can't comment too much on how true to the comics this was, or whether the supporting cast from the movie were drawn from the comic.

Firstly this film is very dark, very violent, and very, very graphic. We're talking multiple, graphic stabbing, beatings and shootings. Lots of blood.

Secondly, this film is very funny. We're talking a comedy, fat neighbour here.

Occasionally the violence and humour are mixed...those moments are particularly strange.

Thomas Jane fits the role of Frank Castle very well, but this movie does commit one of the cardinal sins of comic-book movies. This film is The Punisher's origin story. Pick up the first issue of just about any comic book, it's highly unlikely that it will be the character's origin story, at best you'll get glimpses of the character's origin in flash backs. For me, The Punisher in particular would work much better this way. His origin is so intense...that...for me...introducing us to the happy, likeable Frank Castle and his perfect family, and then killing them all and destroying him before our eyes is a little bit too intense. My personal view is that it would have been more interesting to introduce us to The Punisher first, and then explore what made him that way. That also saves us from the "Crumbs, I've been watching The Punisher for half an hour now and there's still no sign of The Punisher..." effect. That would also give you the option of starting the movie with a big, set-piece action sequence starring your title character, which is always a plus point.

I guess I should mention John Travolta, who is in this movie. I can't stand John Travolta. I liked Pulp Fiction, but that was more in spite of him rather than because of him. He's ok in this film, but, well, check out this article on Scientology from the Conspiracy Archive to see why I have a general dislike of him.

So, a flawed but watchable film. I'll be interested to see what they do with the sequel.

Rating: 6/10

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