Even though Hellboy got some rave reviews, for some reason, it didn't instill my faith in the comic-book genre. I thought the character was wonderful, but the story put behind it wasn't. That and Selma Blair just bugs me... Anyway, the faith I lost with Hellboy, I gained with The Punisher, the latest in the ever-expanding comic book franchise. It's probably the darkest comic book movie out there, and proves that the "good guy" doesn't always have to be so good after all, in this very entertaining movie.
The movie starts out in Tampa Florida with FBI agent Frank Castle (Jane) in deep cover as a Russian who wants to sell some guns. The bad guys get busted and Castle is shot and is dead, or that's what he wanted the bad guys to think. But this is his last assignment and he goes off to Puerto Rico, on the way to London to start a new life. But Howard Saint (Travolta), whose son was killed in the bust, wants vengance for his son's death, sending some hitmen to take out his entire family. When Castle is the last man standing, he goes off in search of the man who took his family from him.
The movie has kind of a Robin Hood sort of feel to it. No, he doesn't rob from the rich and give to the poor, but he's basically a crusader for all that are good, and just bad news for all that are evil. But what I liked the most about The Punisher character is that he's an anti-hero, instead of a straight-up hero. He's pissed off all the time, he drinks too much and he's not what you'd call a "personable" fellow. Basically, he's not the kind of guy that any girl would want to bring home to Mom...unless your Mom is a Navy SEAL, or something. But one thing I felt the movie didn't handle so well is The Punisher's character "transformation." He starts out going after Saint and his baddies to avenge his families death, but then he starts helping out others in need, and we don't really see how he is changed, or how it affects him. The character is great, but there isn't really an arc or transformation of the character.
There are some very nice performances here, especially from Thomas Jane as The Punisher. This is definitely his breakthrough performance, and he plays the working-class good guy incredibly well. We've never really see him play this dark of a character before, but he pulls it off sensationally. John Travolta is fairly decent as Howard Saint. I was a little worried with him being a bad guy, after the debacle that was Swordfish, but he doesn't do too bad here. I think he fit the character fairly well, but he kind of annoyed me at times because it didn't feel that authentic in some parts. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is pretty good here as The Punisher's neighbor Joan, and Ben Foster and John Pinette turn in very nice performances as Dave and Bumpo, which is a great name, by the way. We don't really know how they are related to Joan, but we assume that they're her brothers. I don't really know, though. But Will Patton just isn't very convincing as Saint's right-hand man, Quentin Glass. We've seen him play the gentle type so much (See: Remember the Titans, Armageddon) that he just didn't really vibe with me as a bad guy. And if you're a professional wrestling fan, look for a Kevin Nash, as The Russian, in a fabulous fight scene with The Punisher
The script, written by Michael France and director Jonathan Hensleigh, is very good, although it kind of takes awhile to get going, and there are some parts that are just unnecessary. For instance, there is this part where Punisher is eating at the diner that Joan works at, and this mysterious El Mariachi kind of guy comes in with a guitar case and sings him a song, that, he says he will sing at his funeral. We just didn't need this part here at all, because right after that he chases after him in his car. They could've just, pardon the pun, "cut to the chase", as they say. But there is some wonderful dialogue here, with a very nice storyline. It may be a tad predictable, and maybe a bit unrealistic (he probably should've died about 5 different times in the movie). But it's nothing that you will probably spend too much time thinking about.
Director Jonathan Hensleigh, a very prolific action screenwriter who makes his directorial debut here, does a very nice job at the helm here. His sets are really great, and he brought out the best in Jane, more than anyone else ever had. He uses some great, long, sweeping shots that are just wonderful. I think he definitely has a future in the directors chair, after this great debut.
The Punisher is a movie about vengance and, yes, punishment. It's very dark and a little disturbing, but you probably won't see a cooler character at the movies for awhile this year. We don't see a lot of true anti-hero's at the movies much anymore, but with this very entertaining movie with a character as intriguing as The Punisher, maybe we should...