Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea)
John Travolta (The Taking of Pelham 123)
Will Patton (November Man)
Roy Schneider (Seaquest)
Laura Harring (Exit To Eden)
Ben Foster (X-Men 3)
Rebecca Romijn (Ugly Betty)
John Pinette (Alf)
Samantha Mathis (Little Women)
Eddie Jemison (Izombie)
Kevin Nash (John Wick)
Marc Macauley (Swamp Thing: The Series)
Way back when a character named Frank Castle made his first appearance in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #129. Castle’s family was mowed down by the mob in New York City and he took it upon himself to ‘punish’ all criminals from then on and he became…insert dramatic pause here… The Punisher. The character developed a solid cult following with guest appearances in later issues of Spider-Man as well as Daredevil and he was eventually given his own five issue mini series by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck in the eighties. A regular series followed a few years after that as well as a spin off series or two and a goofy straight to video film starring Dolph Lundgren. Since then series’ have been cancelled, then rejuvenated and since injecting the character with some much needed fresh blood in the form of Preacher team Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, the comics seem to be back on track and thus, a new R-Rated big screen adaptation is born.
In this incarnation, Frank Castle (Thomas Jane – no relation to yours truly) is an undercover agent finishing his last job before he and his lovely wife and son are to go off to London to live happily ever after. When one of the hoods gets shot up and dies in the sting, he Castle finds out the hard way that he was the son of a prominent businessman, Howard Saint (John Travolta). Saint doesn’t take too kindly to the death of his son and decides to pay Castle back in spades by having his entire family killed during a party on the beach at his parent’s house.
His family’s death sends Castle into a downward spiral – he starts drinking heavily and becomes a man obsessed with vengeance. He uses his special forces training to trick out some weapons and build himself a small arsenal, which will come in handy when he begins to wage his one-man war on crime. He moves into a run down apartment and befriends three of the tenants there, then proceeds to take Saint and his small army of thugs down a few pegs, proving that revenge truly is a dish best served cold.
There aren’t a whole lot of plot twists or deep, original characters in The Punisher. There aren’t any intricate, meaningful discussions on the reasons we’re all on this Earth and it doesn’t really break any new ground in any way whatsoever. What it is though, is pure, unabashed entertainment.
Despite some very obvious moments where the comic strays from the source material the character does stay reasonably true to his comic book roots. Jane does a great job as a tough man of few words – playing the strong and silent type with a bit of style and a whole lot of cool. Travolta does a nice job as the heavy, going over the top as he’s prone to do in a few scenes that make him look and sound like a walking talking comic book villain. Throw in some fun cameos and bit parts for the lovely and talented Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men), Roy Scheider (Jaws), and even professional wrestler Kevin Nash and you’ve got a good cast that do a good job with the unashamedly popcorn material they have to work with.
Castle’s mission of vengeance is more or less a way to tie together a few different action set pieces in the film, giving the character a reason to kill. Director John Hensleigh ensures that the movie trucks along at a quick pace and that the action scenes are the focal point of the film, but still manages to work a simple but effective story into the shoot-outs and explosions we all want to see.