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Film Review: The Punisher (2004)

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After his wife and family are killed, G-Man Frank Castle takes it upon himself to distribute punishment to those responsible for the vendetta.


After the rather failed attempt of kick starting “The Punisher” under the 1989 release (of same name), Artisan and Lions Gate stepped in to fire-up the “potential” franchise in a new direction (and cast). This new realization would feature actor Thomas Jane in the role of Frank Castle (aka The Punisher). Those who know the story know that it begins with the same motive behind it. Frank is working undercover to sting an arms operation. Frank bearing the name Otto Krieg is in fact an acting FBI agent who brings the enforcements down on a covert European ring. Shortly after, he retires and heads for Puerto Rico for a well deserved family reunion. Though during the sting, local crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) loses a son due to his son’s botched half-ass attempt.

Upon hearing the news, Howard orders a hit on Castle (he is also given Franks whereabouts thru an FBI mole). Howard’s wife Livia (Laura Harring) demands that Howard’s boys execute the “entire family” as appropriate payback. Well, you probably know the story from here as Frank’s family is completely shot down ending in the “assumed” execution of Frank himself.

He survives and spends 6 months recuperating before returning to the states.

Frank proceeds to take residence in an old broken down tenement building using the location as his “retribution” workshop of sort. He also is befriended by his co-tenants: “Spacker Dave”, “Bumpo” and the lovely (Rebecca Romijn) Joan. As Castle builds an armored car, weaponry, and an apartment that is equipped with hideaway arsenal, he begins his plotting to take down the entire Saint operation. Castle does so in a calculating way that positions Saint’s own wife and best friend Quentin Glass (Will Patton) against him in a framed affair. Glass has been Saint’s acting right arm man for several years helming most of the dirty work. So as you might say..revenge is sweet.

The roll out of the film works in a sequential delivery like most from this genre or subject matter. In short, Castle returns, plots, fights, and emerges a feared vigilante who lets nothing stand in his way.

The film (while I quite enjoyed it) sometimes incorporated things that made me ask why???. For instance, when Castle returns…. instead of keeping a low profile, he makes it known “to the news” that he is still alive. Or better yet, we have the Saint operation who never know where Castle is, but yet Saint’s a hired assassins seem to find him pretty easily (couldn’t they text Saint his address?). The 2nd assassin of which actually shows up on Castle’s doorstep. Castle of course is successful in taking every opponent down due to his background as a U.S. Army Delta Force operative. To the respect of the viewers though, he has to fight for his life against these thugs. I was happy to see that things didn’t come “too easily” to Castle despite his bad-ass attitude and training background.

While I’ll admit that I really liked the follow up film of “The Punisher” (aka Warzone), I particularly thought that “this” version was the closest thing to what horror fans would like to see. “The Punisher” (2002) is a much darker and sometimes brutal execution of the Punisher story line (sort of how we evolved “Batman”). Directed under Jonathan Hensleigh, “The Punisher” is less a superhero and more a vigilante killing machine. Frank Castle shows no mercy when it comes to taking down the Saint posses, which cinematically is a good thing. For reference, we get a full knife to the head, one up the throat of another and plenty of burning and shooting revenge segments. Though if you ask Castle he would state that it’s not a revenge streak but a “punishment”. I loved the role that John Travolta played, bringing a subdued intensity packaged with an evil underplaying, cold and confident demeanor (only losing his cool when necessary). As you know, the story goes that Castle defeats the crime ring taking down Saint and everything he has. The finale features a great retribution round-up that not only satisfies Castle revenge, but does it in a plotting and entirely dark-seated way. The film sets the mark for future sequels (of which actor Thomas Jane never returned to). It was reported that Jane and the director left after “creative differences”….ah such is Hollywood….

The Punisher franchise has now seen 3 actors playing the role, all in slightly different ways. My advice for horror and super hero fans is to check out this version before going onto “Warzone”. Dolf Lundgren’s Punisher could be skipped in this case leaving the only the 2. Warzone is quite different and also fun. Hopefully we’ll at least see more on that end.

The Punisher (2004)

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