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 The Punisher
 Critic's Rating
   [C-]
 Date Posted
   3rd May, 2004
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Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh

I really, wanted to like this movie, I did. I've been a firm advocate of Marvel Entertainment's recent comic to movie adaptations, including the inglorious 'Daredevil', but the Punisher left me baffled and bored.

The opening plays 'connect the dots' with the familiar steps usually enacted in a revenge movie. Undercover FBI agent, Frank Castle (a despondent Thomas Jane) participates in his final mission, involving busting an arms deal, where one of the casualties is the son of criminal boss Howard Saint (John Travolta, stiff and ineffective). Castle's post retirement plans revolve around relocating to London with his family, which includes his wife, son and parents, presently in Puerto Rico. There, at a quite family reunion, Saint's well dressed thugs attack, led by fanciful sadist and Saint's best friend, Quentin Glass (Will Patton). A massacre of epic proportions occurs, with Frank Castle the only survivor, despite being beaten up, shot and doused with petrol. Frank is after all trained for this kind of work, and this must feel like another day on the job.

With vengeance on his mind, Castle moves into a regular Florida neighborhood, puts on his famed white skull shirt, packs an array of weaponry and would you believe, performs a stakeout in an attempt to extract his revenge in the most labored and Machiavellian way. His secretly tails Saint's wife Livia (Laura Harring), studies the moves of Glass, schemes and plots his revenge against Saint, until we start to shuffle our feet. Elaborate mind games are played with his nemesis, when a simple gun fight would have been more adequate and effective, given the source material.

The origin of any superhero -and in the Marvel universe, The Punisher rightfully is a superhero is worth pondering over when it is unique and unfamiliar. The Punisher was created out of the more human traits of retribution, family honor and reprisal, and none of the other extraordinary circumstances in which heroes such as Spiderman were given birth to. The first act thus does not deserve the attention it gets; simple flashbacks would have worked just as well, in fact better. While Jane is an adequate performer and does his very best to capture the single minded purpose of the titular character, the result is simply a mockery of other similar tales much better told.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, sans blue body makeup, plays Joan, the friendly, courteous neighbor trying to provide Frank a shoulder of support. She forms a fraternity with others in her block and helps him deal with moving on, hardly the kind of material you'd expect to see covered in a movie about The Punisher. What does intrigue, if only for awhile, is the initial buildup to the exacting payoff, which barely features any thing action fans would look forward to. There is one elongated sequence where a Russian heavy, sent by Saint, thrashes Castle, and the movie seems to find, for a moment at least, the right kind of balance at this point. Missing for the most part however are the familiar deadpan humor, cynicism, self destructive demeanor and lack of disregard familiar to fans of the comic book, instead replaced here by a drinking, self indulgent caricature of denouncement. - Faizan Rashid

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