The Punisher is one of those films that I like, but only for different pieces of it. The film as a whole is not that great.
The Punisher follows retired undercover FBI agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) who is targeted by a ruthless criminal, Howard Saint (John Travolta) after Saint’s son is killed. When Castle’s whole family is brutally murdered, Castle turns into a vigilante (who is never actually called The Punisher in the film) and hunts down those responsible.
The Punisher has the feel of a low-budget B-grade film. There is not a lot of polish in the film and at times, some of it feels as if it were a direct-to-video movie. There are multiple problems with the film, but the biggest one is that John Travolta is not very good as the villain. Actually, Travolta is not that good at all. Travolta walks through each scene chewing scenery and his acting paired with the terrible writing for his character makes him a parody of villains. Laura Harring who plays Saint’s wife is cheesy. And the almost always reliable Will Patton is given a part that made me scratch my head. Patton makes due with the character he is given and he turns in a performance that makes his character genuinely scary. The bad guys were not just bad guys, but bad in general. Weirdly enough though, they are so bad that they are good to watch.
Minor issues with the film include the tenants of an apartment building where Castle lives. These tenants include Spacker Dave (Ben Foster), his friend (whose name I cannot recall) and Joan (Rebecca Romijn). Of the three, Dave is probably the one that has the most memorable moment in the film. The side story with the apartment tenants is not compelling enough for the amount of time spent on it.
The saving grace of this movie is Thomas Jane as Frank Castle/The Punisher. He brings a humanity to the alcoholic anti-hero. And of all the actors that have played the live-action Punisher, Jane continues to be the best. Ray Stevenson and Jon Bernthal are decent Punishers, but neither of them brought the sense of humanity to the character that Thomas Jane did. Stevenson and Bernthal’s Punishers were more true to the comic Punisher in that they were anti-heroes that people would never want to be, but may want those Punishers to be around. The Stevenson and Bernthal Punishers are killing machines that have little to no humanity left, and one could argue that Thomas Jane’s Punisher is a little… soft because of his humanity. We won’t even mention Dolph Lundgren.
For an action film, there is surprisingly little action in The Punisher. But, for what action there is in the film, the film definitely earns its R-rating with some graphic violence. I would have liked the movie to have explored the Castle character more, instead of using him as a paintbrush for violence.
There is a thread of dark humor that runs through the whole film that works and never feels out of place. It is hard to explain, but it works.
The film’s score by Carlo Siliotto is quite memorable and he creates a good theme for The Punisher character.
In the end, I can watch this movie over and over again. Yes, the movie is bad, the production values are quite low, the story is not the best and the action sequences are mediocre. But, there are some redeeming qualities. The badness of the bad guys adds a certain charm to the film. What makes it watchable is Thomas Jane as The Punisher. Your mileage will vary for this film, just set your expectations low and you should be entertained.
The end “boss level” fight between The Punisher and Howard Saint was a let down. I had expected more, but when one looks at Thomas Jane and then at John Travolta, there would have been no fight between the two. The Punisher logo in the parking lot was cool though.
All the work that was shown being done to The Punisher’s car was for not. The car chase scene and resulting gun battle was not great.