A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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May 30, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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