If Google serves me correctly, there have been to date three films based on the Marvel character The Punisher. All three of these films have been relatively abject failures. Part of the reason for this has been their lack of appeal in the broad market and also because of the critics who have panned the films mercilessly.
I can’t make a judgement on Punisher: War Zone as I have not watched it, and by all accounts I don’t have the inclination to watch it as there is nothing that appealing in its marketing, etc. The trailer doesn’t make it stand out from the rest of the low-rate action flicks and if you’ve seen one shot them up blood bath, you’ve seen them all. And quite frankly I’m not that impressed by shoot them up blood baths anyway. (So why would I like the Punisher? That’s a good question – wait, I’ll get to it.)
I have a very vague recollection of watching the first film released in 1989 starring Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett Jr. By very vague I mean I haven’t watched it in a while, but look at those headliners, hardly an encouragement to look for an opportunity to ‘enjoy’ one of the last gasps of the 1980’s.
This leaves us with the version that starred Thomas Jane and John Travolta back in 2004. (Sounds like such a long time ago now! Making the Lundgren effort almost prehistoric, right?) Now I get the impression quite a number of Punisher fans were really disappointed with this effort because of the addition of a top name in John Travolta. To be fair Travolta’s performance doesn’t really help matters as he’s not bringing in his A-game as a truly convincing bad guy. (He did that better in Broken Arrow and Face Off, but to be fair, they were better movies.)
Having said that I didn’t feel the film was that bad. Jane’s performance was a lot more true to the character of Frank Castle than Lundgren’s. (Stop sniggering, I know I could have put in a performance nearer Castle’s than Lundgren, with the greatest respect to a very good action star.) Beyond that though, the storyline is told in a fairly compelling manner, especially how they use the lesser actors to pull in the sympathy. There are some really touching scenes in the film and I’m glad they didn’t follow the typical line of having Castle go for the love of the many-times-jilted honest girl with the heart of gold. That was far too obvious and for us to see him keeping true to the trauma of losing his family was a good touch in the movies.
About the blood bath deal. What I like about The Punisher, is not so much the graphic violence, indeed I abhor it, but what I like is the story of what will happen when a man takes it upon himself to fill the gap that those who should enact justice leave for the sake of procedure and process. Castle as vigilante is the perfect realistic antidote to the sanitised efforts of the likes of The Equalizer and The A-Team. It not only highlights how messy things can get when you are looking to work out how to make right that which was wrong.
Justifying The Punisher? Well I’m not endorsing it as a film for the ages, but what I am saying is that the film does have very good qualities to it. It is not as bad as the those who have panned it would make out and if you haven’t got anything better to do, it is worth the watch for those good qualities. Honest.