The Punisher (2004)

When I say I’m a comic book fan, I mostly mean—duh—superhero comics. Therefore, I didn’t run out and see The Punisher (or Elektra, for that matter) while it was in the theater. I’ve never been a huge Punisher fan, although during the years when I was buying most everything I did buy some of his books. And he was a very popular guest star around that same period, so I’m somewhat conversant with the character.

Basically, the Punisher always seemed to me a very direct rip-off of the Executioner, the lead character of a long series—eventually over three hundred of them—of pulp drugstore paperback books starting back in 1969. Mack Bolan was a Vietnam special forces vet, his family was killed by the Mafia, and used his combat skills to kill, ultimately, thousands upon thousands of mobsters. Frankly, I’m amazed there was any organized left in this country by the time he was done.

The Punisher was basically the Executioner, a murderous sorta-hero awkwardly inserted into the Comics Code-supervised Marvel Comics superhero universe back in a 1974 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. It wasn’t until later, when Wolverine of the X-Men confirmed a taste for anti-heroes, that the Punisher started getting his own series (and by now he’s had quite a few). In these the superhero aspects of the universe were downplayed in favor of often baroque but straighter killing-the-gangsters stuff. I’ve never really been sure why Marvel was never sued over the Punisher. Perhaps he floated around so long as a minor character that when he hit it big, it was too late to retroactively sue for copyright violation.

The Punisher was featured in a famously awful and cheap film starring Dolph Lundgren back in 1989. Of course, that should have meant that a remake would have no trouble being better than the first movie, and in fact, the new film is better (snarky reviews of it to the contrary), only not nearly better enough. Still, although the film did poorly at the box office, it should very well on DVD, and there remains talk of a sequel somewhere down the line.

Having now seen the movie, I can attest that the biggest problem is with the script. Some years ago, there became a vogue for screenwriting classes, which pushed a three-act template and formulized character arcs, etc., that were meant to make the results fall in line with the product Hollywood was making. These classes—along with the even more dehumanizing word processing script template, into which one mere poured some ‘content’—were all too successful. One of the reasons that movies are so unsatisfying now is because of this assembly line mentality.

The Punisher script features several elements all too woefully familiar to moviegoers. In a conceit all too popular with comic book movies, the villain is tied directly into the ‘origin’ of the hero (Batman, Fantastic Four, Batman Begins, Daredevil). This is meant to tie plot threads into a neat little bow, but the problem is that the bow is entirely too neat, in most cases, to be very credible. Here it does make sense that the villain would be the Punisher’s first target, but even if it weren’t, you get the idea that the script would go in that direction anyway.

Second, the villain and hero’s stories parallel each other. Yawn. Again, this is entirely too neat, too obviously artificial. In the comics, Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, sees him family murdered after they accidentally stumble across a Mafia hit. Of course, origin stories get tinkered with, and perhaps the later comics continuity is closer to what we see here, but frankly, the idea of out-of-control, random violence is more effective in explaining who a vigilante would consider his work than one who actually reaps revenge on those directly responsible for his travails. This is true with Batman, as well, and Tim Burton’s ‘retconning’ [retcon is geekspeak for ‘retroactive continuity’—revising and replacing a character’s ‘offical’ continuity] that the proto-Joker was the one to kill Wayne’s parents when he was a child was a hideously bad idea.

Here, however, we get the tale of two fathers who lose their sons, blah blah. This kind of pat, highly rote scripting just makes you want to scream.

Another typical Hollywood flaw is the tendency towards giganticism. As noted, in the books Castle’s wife and kid is killed. In the movie, the bad guys massacre an entire Castle family reunion, killing what must be like thirty people. Yes, that gives Castle even more reason to mourn, and makes his origin even more powerful.


Following the Plot-o-Maticâ„¢ scripting guidelines, Castle is then provided with a surrogate family of outcasts, so that we ‘get’ how he comes to live life again. This, of course, is so we ‘care’, because that’s what audiences want.

Well, you know what, no we don’t. The advantage of genre stuff, which is by its nature composed of tropes, is that you can just cut to the chase. Castle is a super-FBI undercover agent who on his last case oversees a bust in which a mobster’s son is killed. The mobster has Castle’s family killed in retaliation; Castle somehow survives the massacre, and seeks revenge. Who hasn’t seen that set-up a billion times? It could have been set up like that, in three or four sentences of narration, and we could have hit the ground running.

Instead, we spend a completely pointless (well, except for the cameo by the always welcome Roy Scheider as Castle’s pop) half hour or more going through all this. Frankly, I’d have preferred a stripped down, 90 minute ’70s style violence fest. I mean, damn, imagine a younger Robert Forester playing this part with a Larry Cohen script. Had the film been made back then, it would have bee a lot grittier. Here, they seem afraid to let the Punisher be the merciless killing machine that’s the character’s whole point.

Indeed, for an action flick, the script for the movie is strangely ponderous. Do we really need a two-hour plus Punisher movie? On the other hand, considering the film’s writer/director Jonathon Hensleigh had earlier worked on screenplays for braindead films like Armageddon, The Saint and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, you probably wouldn’t be that surprised.

One main problem, other than the pokiness, is that the movie showcases some of the worst tonal shifts I’ve ever scene. I don’t expect a movie heavy on violence to necessarily then forego comedy, but featuring a slapstick, bloodily violent fight scene in a movie containing the ruthless massacre of the protagonist’s family is more than a little odd, disconcertingly so. This is true even if one of the DVD documentaries reveals that the fight was adapted from a comic book issue. Basically, when a character is featured over the span of several decades, the various writers are probably going to bring a variety of sensibilities to the material. However, a film is a single piece of work, and they really should have decided on a general mood for the movie and stuck with it.

Also, while the screenplay retains the traditional three acts, they aren’t balanced correctly. The first part, featuring the death of the mobster’s son and ending with the massacre and Castle’s presumed demise, lasts a bit more than half an hour. The third act, featuring the inevitable slaying of the villain and his henchman by our righteous hero, takes up but about the final twenty minutes. Even if you count the bits previous, where Castle fools the villain into killing those near to him, that’s still but the last half hour.

As I’m sure you have figured out, that means the middle ‘act’ lasts slightly over an hour and thus is twice as long was the other acts. However, there’s no real reason for this to be so, other than they wanted to include several incidents—or I like to think of it, ‘stuff’—in the movie. The tempo of the film dies during this middle section, and I really am not sure how the script passed muster from the studio readers.

Like many films today, if they had cut out a half hour of stuff, the film would have been much stronger for it. Instead, way too many peripheral characters are introduced, and with a star villain (as played by the biggest name in the cast, John Travolta) requiring a certain amount of the screentime, the film just doesn’t keep its eye on the prize.

Note: Things I Learnedâ„¢ concept courtesy of Andrew Borntreger of

  • Sadly, the opening credits remain one of the coolest things in the movie, featuring some nice, comics-influenced animation and flying bullets and smoking shell casings. If only the rest of the movie had been as good.
  • Down in Florida, a nebbish (think Rob Sneider in Demolition Man; I’m sure the producers were) and Bobby, a slick and obviously well-to-do young man arrive at the docks to conduct an arms buy. The seller is Otto, a flamboyant blond German. The buy proves a sting operation, and Otto is apparently killed, but since he’s played by the film’s lead actor, we’re unsurprised when his demise proves an elaborate (and pretty pointless) scheme to fake his death, so that he can retire in his real-life identity of Frank Castle. And as we know, whenever a cop in a movie mentions retirement, tragedy is on the way.
  • Oh, and Bobby is killed, because that kicks off the plot. Bobby, we learn, is the son of Victor Saint, a prominent local crime lord. He runs a dance club called—are you ready?—Saints & Sinners. I assume that that ‘gag,’ along with the ‘irony’ factor of a murderous hood named Saint (wow!), were the reason he was so named.
  • One of the film’s oddities is the way it introduces tons of completely extraneous characters. For instance, when Frank retires, his FBI comrades throw him a party. Spotlighted here is the obligatory Partner/Best Friend (who’s black, of course), as well as Castle’s superior officer. These guys pop back up about halfway through the film, don’t do much of anything, and then just aren’t seen again. So…why? One possibility is that the original script was even longer, although if they cut down on stuff the various side characters were doing, the smart thing would have been to remove them entirely. Do people really complain about seeing movies that last less than two hours? Because Hollywood seems weirdly hesitant to release many.
  • Cut to Saint’s palatial estate, where he is informed of his son’s death. We also now meet wife Livia (played by Laura “Lambada: The Forbidden Dance” Harring!), their other son John, and Quentin, Saint’s right-hand man.
  • Saint orders Quentin to have Nebbish Guy, whose name is Mickey, bailed out so that they can deal with him. Yeah, right. Mickey was just arrested during a massive federal illegal weapons sting (and in the post-9/11 era, to boot—hello, RICO and Patriot Act), during which several people were killed. Also, it’s the middle of the night, so how would they arrange for bail in any case? Finally, in real life, the feds would be desperately trying to get Mickey to flip on Saint, and since it seems pretty likely that Saint would have Mickey killed, you’d have to think they would probably be successful in doing so.
  • Sure enough, after Mickey is brought to Saint’s estate, the mobster seems ready to kill him (which would make sense, after all). This is a movie, however, and Saint instead does that tired old Supervillain thing where he points his gun at Mickey but at the last minute turns and kills another guy. Seriously, could we stop seeing things that we’ve already seen hundreds of times before?
  • By the way, Travolta wisely underplays Saint, and avoids the sort of teeth-gratingly flamboyant villain turns he provided in Broken Arrow and Battlefield Earth. (On the other hand, it seems weird to hire Travolta and have him give a restrained performance.) Whatever problems the film has, none of them—to, I must admit, my general surprise—can be laid at Travolta’s door.
  • Credit where credit’s due: Saint is told that Bobby wanted in on the deal because he was trying to impress him. “My son didn’t need to impress me,” Saint bitterly hisses. Nice line and a nice ready by Travolta.
  • We meet Castle’s wife (more or less a cameo by Samantha Mathis, who once looked like she might be a star—show biz is a hard grind) and kid. They all love each other very, very much. In case you were wondering.
  • Castle has a heart-to-heart with his young son. Yes, we get it. They love each other. And now that Frank is retiring, they will always be together. (If only they knew! Shakespeare didn’t really tragedy this good!)
  • (Actually, he really didn’t.)
  • Meanwhile, we cut to Saint in the morgue, mourning his son. Wow, that parallel stuff is awesome!
  • Cut to Puerto Rico, where the Castle Family reunion is held at the improbably beautiful seaside house of Frank’s father (Scheider). Wow, the contrast between the beauty around them and the horror of what is to come. Plus, righting this location into the script got everyone working on the film a spiffy free vacation!
  • They also introduce from a distance one Candelaria, a local ‘witch doctor’ (oh, bru-ther), who will, like many other characters in the film, pop up later for about a minute and then disappear. Still, he’s around long enough to exactly steal Tonto’s first appearance in the Lone Ranger mythos.
  • By the way, after his initial appearance as a blond during the sting, Frank dies his hair back to its natural dark black color. When he does, actor Thomas Jane looks disconcertingly like Christopher Lambert. It’s actually kind of creepy.
  • Frank and the Mrs. have sex (because that’s the only way Hollywood knows how to convey the idea that two people are in love) under the stars on a beautiful Puerto Rico beach, and then we cut to the Saints at their son’s funeral. Again with the parallel family intercutting! Genius!
  • Afterward, Saint is informed of Castle’s true identity. Learning that the man she holds responsible for Bobby’s death is attending a family reunion, an operatically vengeful Livia demands that the entire family be wiped out. OK, as far as it goes. However, later on, when the Saints eventually learn that Castle is still alive, Livia never shows even a drop of concern about seeing Castle finally dead. In fact, she never even mentions him again (!) but spends the rest of the movie going to movies and shopping (!!). That’s just bad scripting.
  • So why have Livia give the order here? Because Castle engineers a particularly nasty fate for her, and the filmmakers wanted to make sure the audience would think it ‘justified.’ Again, the people who made this film are entirely too concerned about making Castle ‘sympathetic’ and ‘likable.’ Frankly, Castle works better if he’s a bit of a psychopath.
  • Castle’s son buys his a cool black T-Shirt, which “the guy in the shop said wards off evil spirits.” This features the white skull logo that’s the Punisher’s costume trademark. Since this movie isn’t apparently set in a superhero universe, I guess they thought they needed a rational for the skull design during Castle’s eventual rampage.
  • A big action scene as a team of assassins shows up and slaughters all of Castle’s relatives, including quite a few children. Charming. Meanwhile, Castle and his dad hole up with double barreled shotguns from Pop’s high-powered gun collection, which includes several high caliber pistols. Those would seem to be better weapons in this situation than guns that you have to stop and reload after firing twice (or once, actually, since the two tend to fire both barrels at the same time), but what do I know?
  • One killer, by the way, elects to hide behind Dad’s propane barbeque set-up, so three guesses what happens there.
  • Frank’s wife and son manage to drive off, leading to (yawn) an elaborate car chase, with Frank following after on a motorcycle. In the end, the wife and son are run down after fleeing their wrecked vehicle, in a manner that unfortunately calls to mind the far superior Mad Max. Yeah, that’s a good idea.
  • Frank is shot by remaining Saint son John, and left for dead. But he really isn’t!
  • Things I Learned: There’s not a real heavy police presence in Puerto Rico.
  • Tonto, er, Candelaria comes across the mostly dead John Reid, er, Frank Castle, and vows to nurse him back to life.
  • In a disheartening moment for Punisher fans, we learn that Castle’s first name is Francis.
  • Latin Flavored Disco Scene! I mean, you know, the film’s set in Florida.
  • Saint gets the Villain’s Reward, if you know what I mean, from Livia for having successfully killed all the Castles (as far as they know).
  • Cut to, I guess, weeks or months later as a mostly healed Castle covertly rows up to his Dad’s house and breaks in to steal some pistols that were spotlighted earlier. Yes, that’s right. The house was the scene of a massacre in which more than 30 people where murdered, but the police went off and left a large, unsecured gun collection in the now deserted abode.
  • He also just happens to find the skull T-shirt (did the police and FBI collect any evidence from this crime scene?) laying around on the beach, which although apparently having been periodically soaked in the saltwater tide and baking in the tropical sun, is entirely fine. That’s a good shirt. Finding this totem, Castle immediately throws away his crutch and ceases to limp. (!!!)
  • Candelaria is around in the background of this scene, but doesn’t do anything, and hereafter isn’t seen again. Starting to see a pattern? (I can only assume that Frank’s recovery at some point was meant to be portrayed, but presumably was later jettisoned due to time constraints. Too bad they stopped there.)
  • Cut to Castle with a gigantic mass of guns, explosives and equipment, ensconced in a ratty but huge apartment in a semi-deserted building back in Tampa. How the hell did he get there, and how did he rent an apartment, and so on and so forth when he’s supposed to be dead? Got me.
  • By the way, and I don’t want to surprise the heck out of you, but the apartment is pretty much solely lit by a smoky blue beam of light wafting through the slowly-moving blades of a large, wall-set industrial fan.
  • We’re now about 38 minutes in, with Castle presumably ready to start his war on the Saints. So why is there nearly an hour and a half of movie left? Good question.
  • The other denizens of the apartment building are Joan, the World’s Most Improbably Beauteous Slum Waitress (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos); Bumpo, a Fat Fearful Comic Relief Dork (think a more sympathetic Newman from Seinfeld); and Dave, a sort of redneck punk Dork with a lot of facial rings. The later guy also has elaborate banks of high-end computer equipment (??!!) in his slum apartment, with said electronics never playing into events at all. Presumably this fellow was meant as a surrogate for the Punisher’s computer/tech expert Microchip, although once more it’s something that’s barely introduced and then entirely ignored. Cripes, was this a six hour mini-series hacked down to two hours? And if it was, why are all these myriad stray threads left in the movie?
  • Castle has elaborate garage facilities somewhere (?!), and takes an old clunker muscle car and turns it into a sorta/kinda version of his famous comic book War Wagon, a heavily armored and armed van. Whatever. Since he doesn’t end up using it against the Saints—you know, the film’s villains—it seems to me this is yet another element that they could have held off on until a second film.
  • In a ‘comic’ scene, Castle captures Mickey and convinces him he’s being tortured. (Take my word for it.) He doesn’t really torture him, though, because obviously we in the audience who paid to see a Punisher movie wouldn’t want a protagonist who’s mean or brutal. After that, Castle effortlessly flips Mickey into working for him, in a bit that’s weakly motivated even for this film. This, I guess, was why Saint didn’t execute Mickey; so that Castle would have an inside man. Once more, that’s incredibly bad scripting. Stuff happens in this film merely for plot convenience, while internally making little or no sense whatsoever.
  • Mickey, of course, is an improbably well-informed low-level flunky. How convenient.
  • This leads to the introduction of the Toro Brothers, two Cuban gangsters who Saint launders money for, which (I guess) is the main source of his riches. Frank will put pressure on Saint by destroying shipments of millions of Toro Brothers’ money, which threatens to start a war between them and Saint…but which NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENS!! AFTER SPENDING LIKE HALF AN HOUR ON THIS PLOT THREAD!!
  • In a truly bizarre turn of events, Castle blows his element of surprise by informing Saint (although, admittedly, in a nifty fashion) that he’s still alive. Then he also reveals this to the world at large by appearing at a public press conference being held by, what are the odds?, both his one-time Partner and former Boss. (This is when those two appear for a second time, and then afterward disappear for good.) Our Hero attacks them for not finding the killers of his family, and I have to say, you’d think the massacre of thirty frickin’ family members of an FBI agent, including perhaps a dozen children, would have spurred a lot more action on their part.
  • On the other hand, Frank, I would like to point out that if your beef is that your fellow law enforcement brothers didn’t arrest your family’s killers, maybe you should consider the fact that you are a living witness to the crime and just maybe could help their investigation, since John Saint himself personally shot you and all, with Saint’s number one lieutenant standing there all the while.
  • Uhm, by the way, although Frank was apparently an FBI agent, the guy I thought was his boss is being asked by the reporters about “police layoffs.” So was Frank an FBI agent, or a cop? Actually, I don’t really care. And if the filmmakers had, they would have made this all less confusing.
  • Anyway, Dramatic Statement thus delivered, Castle bugs out to take things into his own hands.  Once he leaves the press conference, neither the cops nor the assembled press (kind of a big story here, you’d think) ever bother tracking him down, although the villains end up locating him without any effort at all.
  • Did I mention the fact that Castle revealing his continued existence is really, really weird? Because it is. And again, the fact that the cops and press functionally cease to exist at this point in the movie doesn’t exactly improve the movie’s Credibility Quotient.
  • Ripping off Othello (!), there’s a whole plot line where Castle sets the insanely jealous Saint up to believe that Livia is having an affair with Quentin. The ‘irony’ is that Quentin is hiding from Saint the fact that he’s gay. I guess the film is warning murderous gangsters about the dangers of homophobia. A valuable lesson for all of us, no doubt.
  • Anyway, the mechanism of Castle’s deception is a zillion dollar set of diamond earrings that Saint bought Livia (filling in for Desdemona’s scarf), which she carries unsecured in her purse (!) for weeks on end; a purse she leaves sitting in her car out on the street every week when she goes to the movies (!!). Cripes, was this script written by a flounder? Anyway, this plot point takes about an hour to pay off.
  • Frank finally does something, breaking into Saint’s money laundering operation and tossing the money out a skyscraper window to the crowd below, resulting in pandemonium. (Gee, that’s a fresh idea.) Then he kills a couple of guys in a silly, Western-styled quick draw shootout. For instance, all three of them are wearing duster-like long coats, like in a (really bad) Sergio Leone movie. Was this supposed to be funny, or cool? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.
  • OK, for what it’s worth, they just established that Castle was a FBI agent. So what’s the deal with his boss being asked about police layoffs? Got me.
  • Frank’s story is all over the news, although again no reporters bother seeking him out.  Still, the coverage informs the other people in his apartment building about who he is. Why wouldn’t these people go to the police, or conversely sell Castle out to Saint? Because it’s a movie.
  • Castle is hitting the booze pretty hard. Man, that really humanizes him, and now I find I really, really care.
  • Supposedly Frank had fifty million dollars of the Toro’s money tossed out that window. Uh, do they realize how much paper that is? Whatever. Saint points out to his angry clients that this is the “first time anything like this ever happened.” Wow, good point. The Toros, being jerks, continue to focus on the “fifty million dollars” part. However, since they eventually just go away later in the movie, it doesn’t really matter.
  • By the way, weren’t the cops interested in where the fifty million bucks came from? I guess not, since we never hear anything about it.
  • Waitress Joan’s violent lover—apparently she’s not very good at picking boyfriends, that’s her Primary Character Trait—shows up so that Castle can kick his ass and start the process of slowly coming to care for other people again. (Wow!) Afterward, TechnoPunk Dweeb Dave, who the guy was assaulting when Frank stepped in, notes in amazement, “No one ever stood up for me before.” Yes, that’s the sort of essential material that justified making the film last over two hours.
  • The Othello plot line is advanced.
  • Following this, the film enters its weird, ‘comic booky’ section. Again, for a film that earlier portrayed with utmost seriousness the massacre of thirty people, the clash of tones is hard to figure out. It’s like going from Tim Burton’s Batman to Joel Schumacher’s within the same movie.
  • Anyway, while eating in the dilapidated but bigass diner Joan works in (in which Frank, Dave and Bumpo are the sole customers), a guy with a big guitar case—he was earlier identified as a “pro from Memphis”; get it?—a teardrop tattoo by his eye and a black leather duster enters. He takes a guitar out of the case and sings Castle a song with Castle-specific lyrics, promises to play it again at Frank’s funeral, then leaves. The scene’s kind of interesting, but again, it’s just too surreal following what came before.
  • There follows an action scene where the guy tries to kill Castle, who survives due to the retractable steel shutters he installed in his muscle car.
  • And once more, we never find out how this hired killer from out of town learned where Castle lived. Admittedly, in the real world Frank would be leaving a hopelessly obvious trail.  But if that’s the case within the movie itself, why don’t the cops or the press ever show up on Castle’s doorstep, especially after the bodies start piling up or even following the car chase, public shootout and flipped car shown here?
  • Cut immediately to Castle committing a commando mission to destroy another shipment of Toro Brother money. This sets up the gangland war between…oh, wait. No it doesn’t. Instead, the Toro Brothers threaten Saint, Saint threatens them back, and…the Toros just go away forever. (Were they saving these guys for a possible sequel? That’s the only even somewhat sensible explanation for why they are featured here without really doing anything.)
  • Look! John Travolta has Shemp hair!
  • Saint orders Quentin to bring in “The Russian.” Oh, bru-ther.
  • Joan, Dave and Bumpo fool Frank into attending a friendly group dinner she’s whipped up. It’s all part of watching the dehumanized Frank coming out of his shell. Wow, this character stuff is dynamite.
  • Meanwhile, his three apartment mates give ‘thanks’ for things, so that we come to care for them even more. And it’s working!! Really!! (Gaak.)
  • Oh, Bumpo gives thanks for the dinner leftovers. Because he’s the Fat Comic Relief Guy, and all they love is food.
  • Then the guys leave so that Joan and Frank can have A Moment. Man, now I’m wishing this movie were even longer!
  • Turning down a Chance at Love, Frank returns to his apartment and whiskey bottle, whereupon a huge comic opera muscle man in a Where’s Waldo shirt smashes through his door. This is the Russian, of course, and seems a really lame example of the obligatory James Bond Gigantic Indestructible Henchman. For instance, when Frank sinks a knife into his shoulder, the guy just smiles.
  • A goofy, insanely long slapstick fight ensues—for instance, at one point the Russian tears out Frank’s toilet and hits him with it—which is ‘comically’ accompanied by the opera music Bumpo is loudly playing in his apartment. (Thus ‘explaining’ why his neighbors don’t hear the insanely protracted brawl. This holds true even after a grenade blows up a significant portion of Frank’s apartment.) This whole scene is apparently taken from an issue of one of the Punisher comic book series, but it’s just out of place here. Is this a ‘realistic’ movie or a ‘comic book’ one? Make up your mind.
  • And again, how did the Russian know where Castle lives?
  • Things I Learned: No matter how big you are, having your face scalded off sucks.
  • Blah blah. Castle is knocked out, and oh no!, Saint’s goons finally show up. (If they had just sent a guy to shoot Castle, the movie would be over by now.)
  • Man, that guy does not know how to hold a gun.
  • His neighbors hide him, and although Quentin tortures Dave by tearing out his facial rings with a pair of pliers—charming, and fun for the whole family—the hoods eventually leave satisfied that he doesn’t know anything. This all takes up nearly five minutes. This movie is two-plus hours of gold, baby!
  • By the way, why did Quentin ask Dave if he goes to school? Isn’t he, like, forty years-old or something? He looks it.
  • After the guys leave, Castle, who was hidden in an elevator platform that rises out of the floor (look, just go with it), rises up while lightning flashes in the background. As retarded as it sounds, I think they’re referencing the famous “It’s Alive!” scene from the 1931 Frankenstein. Whatever, dude. I guess the idea is that now that others care for him, really care, he is reborn. Or something.
  • So earlier Frank had dozens and dozens of guns, but now must remove the blade arm from a heavy paper cutter (?!)—and why does he even have one of those—for a weapon to kill the guard Quentin left behind?
  • Castle finally notices Dave’s wounds, and asks why he endured all that for him. “You’re one of us, now,” Dave replies. “You’re family.” Wow! My heartstrings!
  • Oh, there are all those guns I just wondered about. Whatever.
  • We got back to the overly elaborate Othello frame-up, and sure enough, Saint goes nuts and brutally kills both Quentin and then his wife. (You’d think they’ve have a scene where Saint tells his son about how he killed his mother, but apparently that wasn’t interesting enough to make the cut.)
  • Finally, with but twenty minutes left, Castle goes on his climatic kill spree. By the way, when did action heroes decide it was more ergonomic to carry a dozen guns and just dump them when they’re out of ammunition, rather than just bringing one or two and a mess of spare clips?
  • Hey, is that William “Big Bill” Smith? I think so. If so, cool.
  • Conveniently, most of Saint’s henchmen are all clustered in the penthouse at the Saints and Sinners club, allowing Frank to kill most of them with a single explosive device. The survivors get it in a subsequent gunfight (during which Frank shrugs off numerous bullet and shotgun blasts, supposedly due to his bulletproof vest, which…not so much).
  • Next Frank booby traps a pinned-down John with a claymore mine and leaves him up in the ruined penthouse. Hilariously, later on Castle and Saint, both of whom are at this point entirely outside the building and at ground level, hear the kid scream just before the bomb goes off. (Leading to this AWESOME EXCHANGE: Saint, just before the explosion: “You killed my son!” Scream. Explosion. Castle: “Both of them.”) That guy really had some pipes on him.
  • Saint, meanwhile, is treated to a ridiculously elaborate Supervillain demise, during which he is shot, then immolated (charming), dragged and finally blown up behind a flaming moving car. This ends when a series of explosions amongst a lot of parked cars results in (as a camera shift reveals) a giant flaming version of the stylized Punisher skull. Huh? How the hell would that work? And what, is the Punisher frickin’ Zorro now?
  • Frank returns home, symbolically removes his dog tags, and nearly commits suicide.  However, he then sees a vision of his wife in, I guess, Heaven or some damn thing. So he doesn’t kill himself. (Wow!)
  • Frank leaves to continue his mission, whereupon Joan, Dave and Bumpo learn that he left them a huge pile of Saint’s cash.
  • We last see Frank standing iconically in his Punisher skull shirt and black leather duster on a suspension bridge (which oddly nobody else is driving over) against the setting sun (wow!), as we hear his final narration: “Those who do evil, the killers, the rapists, psychos, sadists, will come to know me well. Frank Castle is dead. Call me…[Ishmael?]…The Punisher.” (Oh, yeah. Right.)

Immortal Dialogue:

Candelaria sees the newly healed Castle off on his mission of revenge: “Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” [Duu-uuh, thanks for the translation.]
: “God’s going to sit this one out!” (Wow!)

Super Innovative Dialogue!
: “I’m not saying nothing. I talk to you, they’ll kill me!”
: “You don’t help me, I’ll kill you now, Mick!”

Sensitive Joan [after spying an open whiskey bottle in Frank’s apartment]: “Don’t let your memories kill you.” (Wow!)

Want another opinion?  Try the review at Spandex Cinema.

  • Cavalier

    It sounds like a recycled TV pilot. You have the large cast, each with a character hook and minor role. Tragedy and redemption leading to a ‘great and noble cause.’ Dangling plot threads that could be picked up in later episodes. Instead they had to find a way to finish it off in two hours.

  • GUY! :D

    Would you prefer War Zone instead? I didn’t think so..

  • Actually, I liked War Zone a LOT better. I blogged to that effect recently.

  • ginbot

    Well, as far as reimaging of origin’s (Frank Castle’s in particular), I wasn’t a big fan of Garth Ennis’s Born. It felt like a rethread of a hundred different Vietnam stories/movies. Hell, Dolph Lundgren’s origin in Universal Solider was better. Apparently so good, I can’t remember the characters name (or Van Damme’s).

  • Foxxy

    I’m kinda the opposite of you Ken. I’m not much of a comics fan but I’m a big punisher fan. In addition I’ a Tom Jane fan. He’s one of the few manlier actors today. What disappoints me is Punisher films have never been given a major budget. I believe I read somewhere this one was given 10 million. As a result the original opening had to be scrapped. The film was written to open with Frank Castle fighing in the middle east however due to budget limitations the filmakers made alterations. I believe the film holds up well for such a meager budget. I believe Tom Jane is solid in his role and believable as a man with nothing left to lose. I also like the fact they didn’t make Saint a charactor who is evil just for the sake of being evil. In Saints mind he is doing what any loving father and family man would do in his situation. I will agree that whenever I watch the movie I feel as though something is off and that is of course the tonal shifts. I was hoping for something much grittier and violent. (However I was even more disappointed with the recent Expendables which had a huge budget) Whenever I watch this movie I always wonder what might have been if it had been given a bigger budget and if it had been made in the 70’s when it wasn’t mandatory action heros have a sensitive side or charactor arc.

  • Francis Castagnoli

    ‘Victor Saint’? I’m pretty sure it’s Howard Saint…..

  • Steven

    And your credibility goes out the window with that statement.

    While the 2004 film has it’s flaws, War Zone was an abomination in every possible way.

  • Wow. So much rancor over a film dealing with a third rate Spider-man villain. And not even a clever third rate villain, like Hypno Hustler.

  • The Rev.

    Why do I get the feeling Ken won’t be losing any sleep over the fact that some random person he doesn’t know wandered by to proclaim his credibility nonexistent because they don’t agree with his opinion on the Punisher movies?

    It never ceases to amaze me the movies people will come by to defend here. I can’t speak to War Zone, but the 2004 Punisher movie was pretty bad. I guess it’s more defensible than the people that tried to defend, say, Tomcats or Freddy Got Fingered (which have disappeared from the newer site, along with Sphere, for some reason)…or that one jackass who shat all over the Rocky IV comments.

  • What really bemuses me about the whole thing was that I thought conventional wisdom was that War Zone was the better of the two.