The Punisher stars Thomas Jane (The Mist) as Frank Castle, a man who is seeking revenge against the crime lord that killed his family. He doesn’t have superhuman strength or any exceptional abilities but he does have a taste for revenge and a large arsenal of weaponry. Relying on experience he gained as a police officer and his seemingly endless supply of guns and ammo, Frank Castle sets out to take on the underworld kingpin Howard Saint.
The Punisher isn’t a proper horror film. It is a comic book adaptation with an undercurrent of revenge and strong horror overtones. The story of The Punisher is exceptionally brutal and he is one of the more violent heroes in the Marvel Universe. He isn’t so much fighting for justice as he is revenge and he isn’t so much of a hero as an antihero. The 2004 film The Punisher is very R-rated and that is thanks mostly to the exceptional amount of violence that transpires in the film.
Jonathan Hensleigh co-writes and directs this second big screen adaptation of The Punisher. This 2004 film marks his feature film directorial debut but he shows a high level of capability for a first time director. He sets a dark and menacing tone that is appropriate to the source material and elicits a solid performance from Thomas Jane.
Thomas Jane is well cast as The Punisher. He is dark, brooding, and brings the character to life very effectively. He is arguably the best of the three actors to take on the role in the last twenty-five years. None of the adaptations get it quite right but this is my favorite of the three.
Rebecca Romijn (Rollerball) isn’t bad as the female lead. She plays the emotionally damaged Joan effectively. She has sufficient onscreen chemistry with Jane and was ultimately a good casting choice.
John Travolta overacts a bit as Howard Saint but that’s not unexpected from Travolta. He overacts in a lot of his roles.
Where this picture gets off course is with some of the supporting characters like Dave and Bumpo. The film tries to insert too much comic relief. Neither Dave nor Bunko succeeds at being funny in the film, though. The attempt at comedy also clashes with the film’s otherwise dark tone.
The Punisher uses a mixture of CGI and practical effects to pull off its ample death scenes. The result is surprisingly good. I’m usually not a big proponent of CG but this film uses it sparingly enough and as an accent to the effects rather than the exclusive means of creating the film’s special effects. Even ten years later, the effects in this film still look good.
The Punisher is a fast paced film with an ample amount of action, well choreographed fight scenes and intense shootouts. The action unfolds quickly and without any significant downtime between the epic action sequences. It’s over two hours longs but nearly every minute of the film’s running time is laden with action.
If you haven’t seen The Punisher, it is the kind of comic book adaptation that horror fans will appreciate: It is dark, violent, and offers an unusually high body count for a film of its kind. The Punisher is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Artisan Entertainment. The home video release features some great special features. There are interviews with the creative team behind the Punisher comics, a behind the scenes featurette, director commentary, deleted scenes, and more.