The Punisher (2004)

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A Punishing Watch

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Schneider, Ben Foster

Did the makers of this film understand The Punisher is meant to be a mortal man? Because the character brought to life here is seemingly near-immortal, withstanding close-up gunshot wounds and an explosion early on in the film. That's not even mentioning him being thrown through walls, and down stairs, during a battle with a hulking, Russian Waldo wannabe.

After criminal businessman Howard Saint (Travolta) orders the execution of his entire family, ex-FBI agent Frank Castle (Jane) sets out for vengeance, as a vigilante assassin named The Punisher.

Like many other comic-book films that were released during the early 2000s, there's an overpowering feel of little effort being put into the final product. The overall picture comes off as a generic vigilante film, only with The Punisher name attached and a few flashes of the iconic logo. In fact, it only feels like a Punisher film during the last act, when Castle truly lets loose.

We DEFINTELY sure this is meant to be The Punisherand not Hawkeye?

To his credit, Thomas Jane does great work as the tortured lead, it's just a shame he remains underserved by the poor proceedings. To their credit, screenwriters Hensleigh and France go out of their way to show Castle is more than a thug with many weapons. His human side is clearly shown, as Jane makes his character's pain believable whenever possible. They also manage to show his tactical prowess, through his final act plan, and the hidden weapons all over his apartment are a nice touch. But it's bewildering how this tactician throws the element of surprise out the window, by publicly revealing he's alive to the press and the police. Now both the police and Howard Saint will have an idea as to who's causing such mayhem and death to Saint's business.

It's not helped how evident here are the traditional problems found in half-assed hero films. The gratuitous shirtless scenes, one moment where the protagonist contemplates suicide, underdeveloped sidekicks whose only function appears to be failed moments of comedy, and a love interest, despite Castle being a widow for not too long. It's almost as though director/co-screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh intended these inclusions, so the viewers could play a game of bingo.

The Punisher is plagued with problems, relying on its comic-book namesake to set itself apart from other similar films. Thank goodness for the Dirty Laundry short, as Thomas Janes deserved the chance to have material which reflected his desire to correctly portray Frank Castle.