Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Movies That Suck: The Punsiher

*Warning: Contains Spoilers* 
 This weekend, against my better judgment, I decided to watch the 2004 motion picture adaptation of The Punisher starring Thomas Jane, John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn. Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of the comic book character as his only “superpower” was minimal body-fat and insatiable anger, and while this framework may not have appealed to me in a comic book setting, it was a perfectly adequate basis on which to stage a violent action film.
Like all revenge films, the protagonist must experience the violent death of an immediate family member(s) at the hands of an unredeemable villain. This act of violence serves two purposes: it untethers them from societal norms and rationalizes their callous disregard for human life. In this adaptation, director Jonathan Hensleigh (best known for directing Armageddon) takes the bar a little higher. Instead of the standard home invasion or drive-by, he stages a military assault on Frank Castle’s (played by Thomas Jane) annual family reunion killing all thirty members of his immediate and extended family using machine guns and explosives. As if this was not insulting enough the thugs proceed to beat him like a piñata, shoot him three times, then light him on fire before leaving him to drown in the ocean.

Castle, understandably dismayed at this turn of events, finds the criminal justice system too convoluted to properly administer his particular brand of justice. After being discovered in the water by a local who nurses him back to health, Castle returns to the city in order to announce his miraculous survival to the news media. He then rents a room in what appears to be a crack-den (presumably to lay low) and outlines his plans for retribution while befriending his neighbors. What follows is indeed punishment.

My biggest issue was the setup. I am onboard for senseless violence as a plot device, but are we expected to believe someone can mow down thirty American citizens in broad daylight without some kind of repercussion? Was it that necessary to ensure that every single attendee died? I really doubt that leaving a nephew or two breathing would have affected the story one way or the other. Quite frankly, I am surprised they didn’t have Travolta’s character put out a hit on Castle’s 3rd grade art teacher just to make sure he knew this was personal.

Even more ridiculous was the idea that a solitary local fisherman was able to nurse Frank Castle back to health. Setting aside the years of physical therapy normally required after being shot / beaten / burned / and drowned, this guy had Frank walking under his own power in six weeks. If an uneducated fisherman with no access to a hospital can produce these kinds of results, we need to reexamine how we approach healing in this country. Just think what this guy could do with an entire healthcare infrastructure at his command. Also, he did not charge Frank for his medical services so he may very well be a threat to the American way of life in general.

In addition to arming himself with guns, knives, and grenades; Frank is also packing clichéd one-liners that would make Michael Bay wince. For example, as Castle is leaving the care of his fisherman friend he is told to “Go with God.” His steely gaze piercing the horizon, Frank retorts “God’s gonna sit this one out.” Having sat through the next ninety minutes of the film, I cannot disagree.

Of course, what revenge vehicle would be complete without the villain getting his comeuppance? After  shooting, stabbing, or maiming the obligatory disposable henchmen, The Punisher finds himself face to face with John Travolta. After a merciful few seconds of cringe-worthy dialogue, Castle shoots Travolta, ties him to the bumper of a slow moving car, and then sets off a series of car bombs that resembles a skull from an aerial vantage point. Once this is completed, Travolta’s character is lit on fire. I was somewhat disappointed when Thomas Jane’s character did not spit on Travolta’s burning corpse just for good measure. He could have even thrown in a clichéd, “See you in Hell”.

Thomas Jane reportedly turned down several sequels because the scripts were not of the “quality” he expected. After seeing this film, I shudder to think of a screenplay that gives Thomas Jane pause. I can only speculate as to what would further anger a man who already had his entire family-tree whacked. Did someone change his federal income tax withholding so that he had to pay in? Did a new villain exhume the bodies of his family, defecate on the corpses, and then reinter them in his Jacuzzi? Alas, the world may never know….

This film has been rated “R” for genealogical-themed homicide and a scene of implied socialized healthcare.  


  1. "Also, he did not charge Frank for his medical services so he may very well be a threat to the American way of life in general."

    "...and a scene of implied socialized healthcare."

    You actually made me snort crystal light out of my nose...

    1. Exceptional MediocrityMarch 8, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      Glad to be of service.....


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