|The Punisher is a violent and graphic revenge saga that will probably appeal most to fans of the Marvel comic book series upon which the story and characters are based. As one of the only R-Rated films to come out of the Marvel factory of films, The Punisher represents a growing trend of the Hollywood machine to take any comic book that's ever been printed and throw it up on screen. This despite the proof from various films that comic books don't always translate well to feature film form. And although this comic book series is known for its pervasive violence and The Punisher has rather impressive fight scenes (graphic!), the film as a whole actually spends a lot of down-time time in "The Punisher's" apartment.|
An action-heavy film, on a strictly visceral level, can be an appealing experience if the energy is kept to a fever pitch. But strangely, in The Punisher, director Jonathan Hensleigh takes a more leisurely route to the finish in his film and makes The Punisher's journey to the credits a much more plodding and long-winded revenge fantasy. It's difficult to appreciate the impressive action sequences when the film tops two hours in length and there are moments where the characters go too deep into thought. In some films brains could be considered a virtue, but in this one, the down-time only drags the energy of the film down.
This film is not a thinking person's film. It's a "you killed my [family], prepare to die" film. The movie literally could have had about a half hour cut out of various scenes to bring it to a more tidy length. At its core, The Punisher is a revenge film. A film whose plot is dependent on a revenge story is usually a safe bet since the scenes can revolve completely on the main character's quest for revenge. Solitary and singular in focus, the entire film can exist, in essence, as one long action sequence. But the creators of The Punisher don't do that. The film is just too methodical and slowly paced (seemingly ironic given the graphic intensity of the various explosions, gunshots, and carnage filled scenes).
Despite the failings in length and execution, Thomas Jane, taking on the role as The Punisher, "Frank Castle," exacts his revenge in impressive action sequences and owns the most impressive performance in the film. While many of the scenes contain the standard dopey action dialogue found in this type of film (John Travolta is the unfortunate recipient of much of this dialogue), Jane delivers the requisite comedic one-liners with ease while toting around giant knives and guns. Jane also handles the role of action "hero" (he's quite a dark hero) well, seeming to have spent at least five thousand hours in the gym before the start of filming.
John Travolta seems to have been cast decently, but like many other dialogue-laden villains, he's forced to pontificate rather extensively about what he's going to do and how he's going to do it and why, and where, and who cares after a while...it's like the bad guys in nearly all the "James Bond" movies. They have to outline all the points of their mischievous "plan" before they enact it. These sequences are always so obvious, but perhaps they're simply a required element of the standard action film. The antagonist must explain his evil plan before the protagonist offs him. Perhaps if Travolta and his cronies weren't so horribly cliché. The suits, the sunglasses, all of it is enough to make you chuckle.
The ancillary and sub-plot characters that follow The Punisher around seem like they could have been the most obvious thing to be tossed from the film in order to bring its running time down. The time spent around the characters The Punisher hangs with at the apartment (one of them played by Rebecca Romijn in a decent performance) could have been siphoned off at some points. There definitely could have been less Wild Turkey consumption by The Punisher (drinking himself into depressed oblivion) and more scenes of revenge. Because when you don't pay attention to the dialogue, the action sequences should really pull you into the film.
Although the trailer might have you thinking otherwise, the film really isn't simply one long chase scene. Neither is it filled to the brim with bodies dropping to the floor. Comic books (or "graphic novels," as they're sometimes called) have huge followings and whenever a film from Marvel comes out, there are a wide variety of positive and negative comments based solely on whether the film follows the comic book's plot exactly. While The Punisher is based on the beginnings of the Punisher's "career," fans should be pleased with Jane's casting in the lead role. The film is the sort of experience worth watching on the big screen only if you're a fan of the original series. The film has nothing in it to distinguish it from any other action film except for its lazy editing and excessive length.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.