A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 456 – The Punisher (2004)

The Punisher (2004) – May 30th, 2011

Somehow I have seen a particular series of scenes from this movie about ten times. This is a phenomenon I don’t quite know how to explain but it seems to happen to me with certain movies and shows. For example, no matter when I’ve happened upon My So-Called Life it has always been the last episode. Always. Every time. It doesn’t matter when I’ve happened upon it, I always end up seeing the same exact scene too. It happens with a few different shows and movies and I’m not sure if anyone else experiences it but that’s what happens with this movie. There are two scenes in this movie and I have seen them many times and I find that kind of hilarious.

We’ve already watched a movie about this character. We watched the 1980s version with Dolph Lundgren a few months back and it was a cheesy action-fest. And I knew this would be an action-fest too, but I figured not so much with the cheese since the two scenes I’ve seen a bunch of times were both pretty gritty and not very cheesy. Both torture scenes, oddly enough. There’s a bit where Frank Castle terrorizes a man by convincing him he’s using a blowtorch on his back when he’s actually cooking a steak and then poking him with a popsicle. Then there’s another where some thugs employed by our villain rip out the facial piercings of one of Castle’s neighbors to get him to talk. Neither of these scenes is particularly pleasant, though the first of the two does succeed in its dark humor goal and it has Eddie Jemison and that’s always a plus in my book. And I have seen them many times. They are what I knew of this movie going in, so I expected it to be somewhat brutal and full of gore and violence and nastiness. And yeah. Pretty much.

This is a brutal movie. There is scene after scene of violence, both with gun fights and explosions and one-on-one fist fights. The movie begins with a shootout during an illegal gun deal/sting, leading to the death of kingpin Howard Saint’s son, Robert. His wife demands revenge on Agent Frank Castle, who helped to set up the sting. So the movie then gives us some sweet scenes between Castle and his wife and his son and then more at a family reunion so we’ll all be emotionally invested and affected when the entire family is inevitably killed off by a band of goons. Really, it was good luck for the goons that there was a reunion going on so they could do some one stop shooting. It’s part of the essential backstory for the character of the Punisher, so it’s not unexpected that this happens here. But it also establishes that this movie is not pulling punches. And from there on the brutal violence is only interrupted by short periods of violent scenes being set up and a thoroughly awkward Thanksgiving dinner.

After his whole family is killed, Frank Castle goes back to Tampa and vows to punish Saint. So he moves into a crappy tenement and starts building an arsenal of weapons, an armored car and a plan to crush Saint’s entire life and everyone around him. He first gets one of Saint’s lackeys, Mickey (Eddie Jemison), tortures him (psychologically), then uses him to do things like learn Saint’s routine and those of his family and associates so he can set everyone up. He learns that Saint’s right hand man is gay and hiding it from Saint, giving him some prime blackmail fodder. He learns that Saint’s wife goes to the movies every Thursday night giving him time and opportunity to set her car up to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the end of the movie Saint thinks the two are going behind his back together, so he kills them himself. Castle also messes with Saint’s dealings with a couple of gangsters whose money he launders, or maybe they launder his money? I don’t know. I don’t care. Money is laundered and Castle goes in and destroys the whole operation.

Of course, Castle isn’t subtle about this campaign against Saint. He knows damn well who’s responsible for the slaughter of his family and starts off by carting his headstone out to Saint’s golfcourse and planting it by one of the flags. He walks up to city hall and asks the police chief and mayor (I assume) why no one has yet figured out anything about the slaughter. No one has any good answers for him, and he’s wearing a shirt with a big white skull on it so, you know, I’m thinking it’s pretty obvious what’s going to go down here. But no one stops him. Or tries. That’s pretty much the last we hear of the police or anyone in any position of authority. I guess it’s just less messy that way. So Castle goes about his business, pissing off Saint and getting beaten up whenever Saint sends someone to try and take him down. And here we come to my major issue with the movie.

It’s not necessarily the relentless violence that bothers me. I mean, look at last night’s movie. I enjoy a decent action movie and when a movie is wall to wall violence I don’t get fussed by it just because of that. It’s just what some movies are. And last night’s is a good example of a very silly movie with some absolutely gorgeous action sequences. Are they violent? Yes. Are they amazingly choreographed and enjoyable to watch? Yes. Tonight? Not so much. It’s all just beefy guys smacking each other around. There’s nothing inventive or interesting about them. Castle gets his ass kicked on a regular basis and then he bashes up the guy who’s kicking his ass. It’s just not fun. It’s messy and clunky and starts to feel repetitive, which is bad, considering this isn’t even the extended director’s cut edition. I can only imagine that the longer version has more slabs of muscle punching each other for longer periods of time.

By the time the final scene rolls around and we watch Frank wade into Saint’s club and shoot up the place, along with every hit man Saint has just hired to take Castle down, I was just weary of the action. The breaks in it are all so depressing that they don’t really give much of a reprieve from it all. Frank gets to know his neighbors, who are a trio of outcasts who’ve banded together, and they’ve all got hard luck stories. He drinks a lot of Wild Turkey and he gets his weapons ready. When we see Saint he’s getting increasingly pissed off about losing money and whatnot and he gets all ragey at his goons. And then there’s more violence. It’s exhausting to watch instead of exhilarating. And I get that the character of the Punisher is a dark and gritty character, but a comic book action movie shouldn’t make me this tired.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Punisher (2004)

May 30, 2011

The Punisher (2004)

We’ve already watched one Punisher movie for our movie a day project, and frankly I think I preferred that version of the story. This movie is just so needlessly bloody and violent. I know that the whole point of the story is that it’s a tale of gory vengeance, but it’s also supposed to be a thrilling comic book adventure movie. My recollection from the first time I watched this movie is that by the end it’s too full of blood and death to really be enjoyable. Paradoxically it’s mixed in with some dreadfully unfunny comic relief, which is also not terribly enjoyable.

In the eighties Dolph Lundgren version of this same story part of what made it so much fun was that it got right to the punishment without having to go through the pain of watching his origin story. Ludgren’s Frank Castle was the Punisher right from the very beginning. Thomas Jane’s Frank Castle has to go through the entire ordeal of having his whole family wiped out by machine gun toting goons.

In this adaptation of the Punisher comic books Frank Castle is an elite undercover FBI agent. He’s just completed a gun-running case and is set to retire, but unfortunately the son of a powerful gangster gets killed in the crossfire during the final sting. Howard Saint is not a forgiving man, so he sends his hit squad to kill Frank. Not just Frank, though, they kill his wife, his son, his parents, and his entire extended family – thirty people in all. The problem is that although they shoot Frank in both legs, in the solder and in the chest and blow up the pier he’s bleeding to death on he doesn’t die.

Instead Castle comes back to Florida and goes about killing every member of Saint’s gang and family. The problem is that although clearly Frank has been wronged and has some right to vengeance the brutal cat and mouse game of killing as Frank hunts Saint’s people and Saint in turn unleashes more and more deadly killers in attempts to eliminate him – well it just never feels justified. I know what this movie is trying to be. It’s trying to make us, the audience, cheer at Frank Castle’s victories as he takes down the evil mastermind behind his family’s death. Instead however I feel like I’m watching Castle sinking into evil himself. The punishment he doles out never feels appropriate, and at times it seems absolutely cruel. By the time we see a weeping and broken Howard Saint being dragged through fire behind a car with explosives stuck on its trunk I almost feel sorry for him.

This is a movie that revels in violence. It’s an R-Rated bloodbath filled with brutality from beginning to end. Now in some cases that would not be a detriment. The same could be said for example of Robocop, which is still one of my favorite movies of all time. Extreme brutal violence is not particularly my cup of tea, but in some cases it can make a move a more visceral experience. In this case, however, it just doesn’t work for me.

Then there’s the comic relief. In the tenement house where Frank sets up his base of operations there are a trio of disenfranchised loners who appear to have formed a kind of loose family amongst each other. There’s a be-piersed and angry young man, a chubby dim fellow who loves food, and a hard working waitress with an abusive ex-boyfriend. These bits of incongruous humor do not fit at all with the dark feel of the rest of the movie. They feel like they must be part of some other movie stuck in here to make it clear that this is a comic book movie.

It wasn’t until I went to read the trivia on IMDB while writing this review that I saw that many of the plot lines and characters involved in this movie come from a series of Punisher books written by Garth Ennis. I have never read the “Welcome Back Frank” arc in question, but it explains so much about this movie that some of its inspiration comes from Ennis. He has a particular style of writing which blends humor with gruesome gore, which in general I have really enjoyed. I loved Preacher for example. Perhaps this is simply a case of something that works in comic form not translating very well to the screen. Whatever the case, I have to simply say that I don’t enjoy this movie. It isn’t fun to watch. Which is kind of sad, really.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment