Marvel goes dark with The Punisher, easily the most serious of the many comic book adaptations that have hit theaters in recent times. Thomas Jane plays Frank Castle, a man whose entire family (including cousins, grandparents, wife and son) is assassinated by a ruthless mogul. He snaps and goes on a calculated revenge spree.
The movie is simple - the bad guy kills his family so Castle kills his. For those of you that are not into simple action movies, or comic book adaptations, stay clear of The Punisher. There are no superheroes here, but you can't expect a deep, moving action-drama to come from the pages of a comic book. There are some big, nasty thugs, a surprisingly decent dose of dark humor and plenty of shooting.
The Punisher succeeds where expected - in the action department. There are plenty of great scenes, none specifically memorable (other than his entire family getting slaughtered - I was just expecting his wife and son to die) but entertaining regardless. Furthermore, the addition of several pointless but funny supporting characters, in the form of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, John Pinette and Ben Foster, help the film avoid being too dark and gritty. Romijn-Stamos's character is absolutely useless, but the two guys provide good comic relief (heck, one of them is named Bumpo).
Unfortunately, there are some flaws that really don't take away from the entertainment value but do detract from the overall quality of the film. Specifically, the direction is just terrible. This is Jonathan Hensleigh's first movie and he doesn't impressive. The movie just looks stale, with little in the way of creativity or dynamics. To add salt to the wound, the music is also God-awful. The score does not match the movie at all.
To top everything off, the last couple minutes - the last thing people remember when leaving a theater or getting up from the couch to go to the bathroom - are really corny. The Punisher, a.k.a. Castle, lights a whole bunch of cars on fire to resemble his skull logo - how cheesy can you get?
The Punisher is a simple, fast-paced plot that has good action, some suspense and comic relief from its supporting cast. It is very entertaining, but ultimately nothing special.
As far as the DVD goes, a few deleted scenes are hardly noteworthy, but the chance to get a 28-page limited edition comic book that serves as a prequel story (and hence an alternate origin story) might appeal to diehard fans.
DVD Review (C)
2004's The Punisher didn't do much at theaters and was shrugged off as a low-budget Marvel Comics movie that didn't have much going for it. Surprisingly, the movie wasn't nearly as bad as one expected it to be, and in fact it was a quite entertaining and shockingly brutal anti-hero film. Not perfect by any means, it certainly was good enough to warrant some respect.
Two years later, the movie has been re-released with 17 extra minutes of footage. While I have to question whether The Punisher was good enough to warrant the investment in making a director's cut, it is here nonetheless, and here I am reviewing it. The rest of the DVD package isn't very exciting, unfortunately, as it only contains two features: an alternate opening and a comic book gallery. Both features are decent, but if you can get through all the special features in ten minutes, you know you're in trouble. The comic book gallery is sort of interesting, though it'd be cool if Marvel pumped some full comic books onto the DVD to let those who never got into the character on paper to see what he's all about. As for the alternate opening, this one is quite interesting; since the director lacked the budget to film the sequence, which takes place in Kuwait, has recreated it for this DVD through crude animation. The artwork looks good, but the animation is choppy at best, and plays out more like a quick-take storyboard. It's sort of interesting to see, but not nearly as cool as the director thought it would be (as discussed in a short feature about the creation of this animation sequence).
Fans of The Punisher will probably want to check out this longer version. More than likely, the average person won't have much demand to see a longer version of a film that was probably good enough as a one-time watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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