Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Punisher

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
9 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: R

Starring:
Tom Jane as Frank Castle aka Punisher
John Travolta as Howard Saint
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Joan 'The Mouse'
Ben Foster as Spacker Dave
John Pinette as Mr. Bumpo
Will Patton as Quentin Glass
A. Russell Andrews as Jimmy Weeks
James Carpinello as John Saint
Mark Collie as Harry 'Heck' Thornton
Russ Comegys as Tattooed Mike
Laura Harring as Livia Saint
Eddie Jemison as Micky Ducka
Marcus Johns as Will Castle
Terry Loughlin as Spoon
Marc Macaulay as Dante
Samantha Mathis as Maria Castle
Kevin Nash as The Russian
Brett Rice as T.J.
Roy Scheider as Mr. Castle

Special Features:
Keepin' It Real The Punisher Stunts

Army Of One: The Punisher Origins

War Journal: On the Set of The Punisher

Music Video

Punisher Video Game Trailer

Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style

Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Hensleigh

Deleted Scenes

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround EX
Running Time: 123 Minutes

Synopsis:
The Punisher is based comic series from Marvel Comics. It is primarily based on issues written by Garth Ennis.

Frank Castle is an undercover agent for the FBI. After years of service, he is finally on his last bust. Unfortunately, a young criminal is shot and killed during the arrest. Thinking little of it, Frank goes into retirement and joins his family for celebrations in Puerto Rico. However, the young man turns out to be the son of Tampa crime lord Howard Saint. Devastated by the loss of his son, Saint orders his men to kill Frank and the entire Castle family.

By sheer luck, Frank survives the slaughter of his family. He is driven to despair by the loss of his wife and child. With nothing left to live for, Frank returns to Tampa to exact revenge on Howard Saint and his thugs. Thus begins a war between the two men as Saint sends various eccentric assassins after Castle while he in turn hatches his elaborate plan for revenge.

Despite turning his back on the world, Frank still manages to find a surrogate family in the slum he uses as his base. There's Joan, a recovering drug addict who repeatedly hooks up with abusive men. There's also the overweight Bumpo and the geeky, pierced Spacker Dave. This group of misfits eventually forms a friendship with Frank, but what will happen to them when Saint's war comes to their front doorstep?

The Punisher is rated R for pervasive brutal violence, language and brief nudity.

The Movie:
I should probably begin by describing my mindset going into this movie. I'm a long time Punisher fan. I've been reading the comics since the mid 80's. My favorite Punisher stories were the War Journal tales featuring art by Jim Lee. I've read the Garth Ennis stories that the movie is based on, but I've never been crazy for them. The characters are a little bizarre for my tastes. I also wasn't crazy about the movie moving the location from New York to sunny Tampa. I was terrified that John Travolta would steal the show. I liked Tom Jane as Frank Castle, but wasn't sure if he could deliver. In general, I had low expectations for the film.

All that being said, after viewing it I enjoyed the movie. It's not the best Marvel Comic movie ever made, but it's not a bad one (i.e. Dolph Lundgren's 1989 version) either. In fact, it was better than I was expecting and most of my fears were unfounded. It ends up being a solid action flick.

Tom Jane is excellent as Frank Castle, aka the Punisher. He's tough, he handles the action well, and he more than looks the part. He's a great choice for the role. In his first scene, though, I had my doubts. We first see him undercover as a Eurotrash arms dealer with blonde hair, a pastel suit, sandals, and a bad accent. It wasn't encouraging. However, as soon as he turns to the Dark Side he totally becomes the character. I think Punisher fans will be pleased with him. [SPOILER AHEAD] I also liked the fact that after Frank inevitably gets his revenge, they show his character contemplating suicide. After all, what does he have left to live for once he has his revenge? [SPOILER ENDS] I'm glad they covered it, not only because it justifies a sequel but also because it is an important step in developing the character.

I was afraid that John Travolta would steal the movie in the way that Jack Nicholson as the Joker stole Batman. That wasn't the case at all. He wasn't on the screen more than he needed to be, and when he is there he plays the bad guy well. He is supported by Will Patton as Quentin Glass. He's a rather surprising bad guy with a few secrets that are revealed along the way. Laura Harring plays Livia Saint, Travolta's beautiful wife with a shocking evil streak. There's one scene where she comes out of nowhere and delivers one of the most dramatic lines of the movie. You don't expect it to come from her. Then there are Saint's bizarre assassins. There's Mark Collie as Harry 'Heck' Thornton, a guitar-playing killer that ends up getting dispatched in a creative way. There's also wrestler Kevin Nash as The Russian. I have to say that I hate this character in the comics. The comic character is way over the top and in later issues they even show him with enormous breasts. No, I'm not kidding. But as much as I hate the comic character, I thought he was great in the film. He has a classic fight with Frank Castle that ends up being one of the highlights of the movie.

As far as the good guys go, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos leads them as Joan 'The Mouse'. She does a good job with the role and provides a conscience for Frank Castle. I was glad to see that they didn't have her become a love interest for Frank. It wouldn't have fit their characters at all. Providing comic relief in the otherwise dark tale are Ben Foster as Spacker Dave and John Pinette as Bumpo. In fact, I was quite surprised at just how much humor there really was in the movie. Great laughs are sprinkled here and there throughout and they give the characters heart and elevate the movie from a standard bloody action flick to something a little bit more.

But make no mistakes about it; it's a great action flick. Besides the awesome fight with the Russian, there's a cool car chase with Harry Heck. The final battle between Frank and Saint's men is also intense and impressive. What makes it additionally memorable is the fact that it is played out realistically. Frank Castle is not superhuman. He really only survives his deadly fights through dumb luck or good planning. He's probably the most realistic character from the Marvel Comics movies.

As for Tampa replacing New York, I ended up being OK with it. The location really becomes secondary during the story and you really hardly notice where the story takes place. Your main focus is on the characters. It also leaves New York as a possible location for the sequel. And that's the great thing. After seeing this film, I'm definitely ready for a sequel.

As much as I enjoyed The Punisher, it did have a few problems. First of all, there were some really cheesy moments in the movie. Besides the weak title cards opening the film, there were all sorts of terrible puns. Travolta delivers some of the worst and they really should have been cut out. Then there are moments where Tom Jane mugs for the camera while lightning flashes and thunders. Then there are moments where John Travolta also mugs for the camera while lightning flashes and thunders. It was a little much. One of the final scenes where Frank blows up a series of cars offers up maybe one of the cheesiest moments in an otherwise grim and gritty movie. I won't spoil it here, but you'll know it when you see it.

One of the problems with being a long time Punisher fan is that you develop in your mind what the ingredients of a perfect Punisher movie would be. One of the key elements I always wanted to see was how Frank, who is now a vigilante, deals with the cops and FBI agents he used to work with. What do they think of him? How does he deal with them if they get in his crosshairs? None of this is dealt with in the movie. In fact, that cops aren't even seen for the last half of the film. They become a complete non-factor in the story. Maybe it is material to be covered in the sequel, but I think it's important to deal with for the character.

The other thing I wished there had been was more of a feeling of loss in Frank Castle after his family dies. We really only know he's upset when we see him brooding and drinking. There's not a sense of complete rage and anarchy when he unloads on the criminals. I think Gladiator almost captured the lust for revenge better than The Punisher did. That being said, maybe that wasn't where they wanted the story to dwell on. The Punisher has had so many incarnations and every one deals with that aspect of him differently.

My only other gripe was a brief bit of gratuitous nudity. While I think The Punisher should be an R-rated movie, it seems the half-second flash of breasts served no purpose whatsoever other than to secure the R-rating. It should have been ditched. Speaking of the R-rating, there are a few bloody moments in the film where you say, "Ah, so that's why it's R." Needless to say, Frank Castle kills a few people in shocking and unique ways. You have been warned.

The Punisher ended up being a much better movie than I was anticipating. I think it will please comic fans and action fans alike. I also think it will be accessible to mainstream audiences. Definitely check it out.

The Extras:
The extras on this DVD are surprisingly thorough in covering the making of the film. Here are the highlights:

Keepin' It Real The Punisher Stunts This feature covers how the stunts were accomplished in the film. Rather than using computer effects or outlandish stunts, they went old school with their look and execution. You see shots of the cars doing stunts, fight choreography, explosions, and more. One thing that really comes across in this film is just how much Tom Jane trained for the role. You get a look at him practicing shooting and fighting. The scenes where he rehearses the fight scene with Kevin Nash are also interesting since they each take turns with a camera attached to them. You get a firsthand view of what they see. Overall it's a great look at this aspect of making the film.

Army Of One: The Punisher Origins This is an incredibly thorough look at the creation of the Punisher comic character. They cover everything from his first appearance in Spider-Man to the recent Garth Ennis issues. Many of the key comic artists and writers are interviewed. As a comic fan, I found this to be quite a treat. Even people who aren't fans of the comic will be well educated after viewing this featurette.

War Journal: On the Set of the Punisher In this "making of" feature, the cast and crew are followed through the earliest stages of making the movie all the way to the premiere. You really learn about how they had to work with a tight budget. It made me appreciate more what they were able to accomplish with limited resources. This follows them through location scouting, casting, shooting in Tampa, and more. This also highlights some deleted scenes. Hensleigh had to cut out an early scene in the film set in Kuwait. He also cut out a significant sub-plot between Frank and one of his old army and police buddies. This documentary is the main place that those cut scenes are discussed. If you liked the film, this is required viewing.

Music Video This is the video for "Step Up" by Drowning Pool. They are a hard rock band and this video features them playing various crime lords and drug dealers while being surrounded by scantily clad (and occasionally naked) women. The video has almost no relationship with The Punisher and I have to say the music wasn't to my tastes.

Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style Tim Bradstreet is one of the hottest comic artists around these days and his distinctive comic covers definitely helped bring the Punisher back into the spotlight. His style also influenced the look of the film and he ended up doing the movie posters and promotional items, too. This shows how he accomplishes his photographic effect and you learn how he worked with Tom Jane to bring the Punisher to life on the posters.

Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Hensleigh Unfortunately Tom Jane doesn't contribute to this commentary. But since Hensleigh was both director and writer, he has quite a bit to say on all aspects of the film. He talks about the deleted scenes, the challenges of filming, anecdotes about the actors, and more. It ends up being an interesting and informative commentary.

Deleted Scenes There are only two very brief deleted scenes included on this DVD. One features a new introduction of Howard Saint at the opening of his club. You also meet his two sons before the opening of the story. The second deleted scene features Livia Saint insulting Mickey Duka. That's about it. Considering that around 40 minutes were cut from this film, I expected more. This and the music video are the only disappointments on the DVD.

A prequel Punisher comic book is also included with this DVD. It's by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillon, and inked by Jimmy Palmiotti. Tim Bradstreet also provides a new cover for this exclusive. It talks about Frank Castle's military background, how he got in the FBI, and how his vigilante persona started surfacing even before his family was killed. It's good stuff for comic fans. There's also a preview DVD for the upcoming film "Saw" in here. It looks pretty freakin' twisted.

The Bottom Line:
The Punisher is a good adaptation of the comic and it stands well on its own as an action flick despite a few missteps. Tom Jane creates a memorable character and leads a cast of other bizarre characters in this bloody tale of revenge.

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