[box cover]

The Punisher

With a gun-toting, anti-hero protagonist, The Punisher (2004) would seem to be a prime candidate in the current push to adapt each and every comic book property to the screen. However, Jonathan Hensleigh's vision of the dark character lacks the tone and development of other recent Marvel entries, placing it next to Daredevil (2003) on the list of good ideas gone bad. The story itself is so common in the annals of cinema that very little sets it apart from an entire genre that has nothing to do with four-color adaptations. While the spate of mutations and other heroic origin-stories have become entirely too commonplace, the tale of a protagonist who has lost his family and seeks revenge on the culprit has seen the big screen in so many pictures (Bronson's Death Wish franchises being the most obvious example), and in 2004 alone the idea of revenge saw a rebirth in style (Kill Bill) as well as form (Chan-wook Park's Oldboy) that makes this simple blow-em-up seem minor at best. Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an undercover cop, and on his last operation before retirement, things turn sour as Johnny Saint, son of money launderer Howard Saint (John Travolta), is killed during a shootout. Upon learning the identity of the man responsible for her son's death, Livia Saint (Laura Herring) demands that not only should he pay, but his entire family needs to go as well. The bad guys, armed to the gills, find the whole gang at a family reunion in Puerto Rico, and destroy man, woman, and child alike in a furious bloodbath. Castle is left for dead, shot in the chest and supposedly set on fire, but with the help of a local fisherman he recovers. Shacking up in a battered down old house on the outskirts of Miami with a group of losers and drifters, he collects his massive arsenal of weaponry and sets about "punishing" those responsible for his family's destruction. Barring an upgrade in budget, there is little separation between this latest effort to bring The Punisher to the screen and its immediate predecessor starring Dolph Lundgren in 1989. While Thomas Jane certainly brings more talent to the screen than Lundgren, we wouldn't know it — the character of Frank Castle is a quiet man, prone to long brooding and monosyllabic grunting. Travolta chews up scenery as the bad guy, essentially giving his Swordfish role another shakedown, but even his best performance would be hard-pressed to overcome writing that makes the character of Howard Saint an impotent pawn to more powerful forces — hardly a worthy opponent. There are moments of intense violence that set the movie apart from its contemporary peers. Unfortunately, the filmmakers have settled for a standard collection of action scenes (some of which are admittedly fun), and there is nothing to help the film rise above its origins as a plot-free action blockbuster. It's clear that the filmmakers hoped to deliver an old-school experience; as it stands, it's an unfortunate waste of a property with potential to dull it down to this level. Lions Gate presents The Punisher in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Included on the disc are a full-length commentary with director/writer Jonathan Hensleigh, as well as two deleted scenes, also with available commentary. A series of featurettes are included: "Keepin' it Real" documents a few of the films stunts, "War Journal" presents life on the set, "Army of One" delves into the graphic-novel origins of the character, and "Drawing Blood Bradstreet Style" shows Tim Bradstreet's creation of the posters, utilizing his style he made famous on covers of the Ennis run of the book. A music video and trailer for the Punisher video game are also included. Keep case.
—Scott Anderson

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