The trend of Marvel Superheroes being transponded to the silver screen continues with the cult favourite Frank Castle aka The Punisher being the latest. The Punisher is somewhat unique in the Superhero world as he doesn’t really have any super powers – no webs, no flying about and nary a mutant in sight – yet he remains one of the most popular characters around. Having already been the subject of one cinematic outing already in 1989 starring Dolph Lundgren, this time out it is the turn of Thomas Jane and unlike the first film the film makers negated the legal rambling that surrounded the first and managed to authorise the wearing of the trademark Punishers outfit – trench coat and black T-shirt with a white skull painted on the chest.
Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is that age old chestnut, a law enforcer about to retire, who is doing the proverbial one last job. Unfortunately during that one last job he and his team of FBI special agents manage to kill Bobby Saint (James Carpinello). No big lost one would think offing an underworld scuz-ball, but unfortunately Bobby was the son of Howard Saint (John Travolta) who is a shady drug kingpin who rules the Tampa underworld with a ruthless disregard for life.
Howard sends his goons lead by his other son John (also James Carpinello) and his top deputy Quentin Glass (Will Patton) to gatecrash a family reunion in Puerto Rico being held to celebrate Castles retirement. Suddenly Castles world comes crashing down as his entire family is brutally gunned down, blown up or run over including his father (a wasted Roy Scheider), his wife (Samantha Mathis) and his young son (Marcus Johns). Castle himself is shot and then blown up by the assassins who head back to Miami to report to Saint.
However, the gang did not count on one thing – the resilience of Frank Castle who was blown into the water by the blast of the explosion and survived. He is rescued and nursed back to health by a kindly old fisherman buddy Candelaria (Veryl Jones).
Once recovered Castle heads off to Tamps to revenge the death of everyone he ever loved and reinvents himself as the vigilante killer The Punisher vowing to punisher the guilty while the law remains helpless. With Howard Saint as the number one person on his list Castle begins to slowly disintegrate Saint’s life bit by bit while Saint sends assassins after assassins to finish the job that should have been done in Puerto Rico.
The Punisher is an above average action flick bearing in mind that in this age of overused CGI stunt people leaping from building to building, this film has almost no CGI work and instead relies on old fashioned film making techniques. Some of the stunts are very enjoyable with a hand to hand fight between Castle and a huge Russian (WWF star Kevin Nash) and some great shootouts being the highlights and all without a single skin tight leather outfit in sight. This may also prove to be the films Achilles’ heel as audiences nowadays may prove hard won over by a Marvel Superhero who at the end of the day is just a highly trained soldier and does not possess any real ‘super’ powers.
Fans of the comic books will enjoy some of the stories that have been used in the film such as the ‘blow torch scene’ and the interaction between Castle and his neighbours played by the gorgeous Rebecca Romijn, Ben Foster and John Pinette. Performances are good with Thomas Jane sounding and looking like the comic character. He does however take every opportunity to shed his shirt to show off his new buffed physique – thankfully Travolta keeps his on. Speaking of Travolta he is okay as well with a surprisingly limited screen time as the main villain. Will Patton is excellent as always as Howard Saint’s right hand man with just the right amount of vileness and malice.
There is enough action and gore to please most fans of the genre and even though without the T-shirt Castle could have been any guy out for revenge it really doesn’t matter. Whether The Punisher will ever challenge the mantel of the other Marvel comic franchises is doubtful, but that’s no reason to avoid it.
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