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Movie Review

The Punisher

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive brutal violence, language and brief nudity

Reviewed by: Zachary Winn
CONTRIBUTOR

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Action Adventure, Superhero, Crime/Gangster
Length:
2 hr. 04 min.
Year of Release:
2004
USA Release:
______
Copyright, Lions Gate Films
Featuring: Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher, The Sweetest Thing)
John Travolta (Basic, Swordfish, Battlefield Earth, Grease)
Rebecca Romijn (X2: X-Men United, Femme Fatale)
Laura Elena Harring (Willard)
Samantha Mathis (American Psycho)
Roy Scheider (Jaws)
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh (Gone in 60 Seconds, Armageddon, Con Air)
Producer: Avi Arad (Spider-Man 2, Daredevil, The Hulk, X2: X-Men United, Blade), Gale Anne Hurd (The Hulk, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Clockstoppers)
Distributor: Lions Gate Films

The premise of this movie is pretty simple. Bad guy drug dealer Howard Saint (John Travolta) loses a family member. He views the Punisher/Frank Castle as responsible. After deciding to take revenge, Saint’s wife decides they should get his whole family. Castle, the last of his family, barely survives. The rest pretty much writes itself.

The acting, for the most part, is well done. The glaring exception being the over the top villain played by Travolta. All of the characters are well fleshed out, and are not merely one dimensional players existing only to serve as plot devices.

The theme of revenge serves as both the basis for the story and the topic of much of the dialogue. Extreme violence and gore, including graphic torture, are prevalent throughout. People are stabbed, shot, run over, strangled, and burned. This is all presented graphically. / Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

Matthew 5:39—“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Copyright, Lions Gate Films

Eight uses of the f-word, six instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, as well as around 20 other various obscenities. There are sexual situations throughout the movie (some between married people), including nudity at a strip club. Women are dressed in revealing ways throughout. Two men kiss.

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Marvel’s unstoppable vigilante, THE PUNISHER, hits the screen in a new action thriller that introduces a comic book hero unlike any other. The Punisher brings to the screen one of Marvel’s top-selling solo comic books and a marquee character whose popularity parallels that of Marvel stars X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. The Punisher walks through the world we all know, a world darkened by war, crime, cruelty, and injustice. He has no superpowers to battle the evil he sees—only his fierce intelligence, his years of combat experience and, above all, his iron determination to avenge those wronged by society’s villains. A gritty tale of revenge and redemption, The Punisher is that rare thing—a work of entertainment that speaks powerfully to its times.

The Punisher marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Hensleigh, renowned screenwriter of genre blockbusters ‘The Rock,’ ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance.’ Tom Jane (‘Dreamcatcher,’ 61*, ‘Deep Blue Sea’) stars as Frank Castle, the Punisher, squaring off against superstar John Travolta (“Pulp Fiction,” “Face/Off”) as the story’s formidable villain, Howard Saint. Co-starring are Rebecca Romijn (X-Men, X-2: X-Men United) as Joan, a woman climbing back from a troubled past; Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) as Howard Saint’s vengeful wife, Livia; and Samantha Mathis (American Psycho) as Castle’s wife Maria. It is produced by Marvel Studios’ CEO Avi Arad (The Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men) and producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Hulk, Aliens, Terminator2).

Frank Castle (Tom Jane) is a man who has seen too much death in his life, first as a Delta Force Op and later as an FBI special agent. He has managed to beat considerable odds, and is finally moving out of the field and into a normal life with his wife, Maria (Samantha Mathis), and young son, Will (Marcus Johns). On his final assignment, Castle plays his undercover role perfectly, but the operation spins out of control and a young man, Bobby Saint (James Carpinello), is inadvertently killed. This places the FBI on the wrong side of Tampa businessman Howard Saint (John Travolta) and his glamorous wife, Livia (Laura Harring). Notwithstanding their glossy social profile, the Saints are no genteel Florida couple; behind their copious wealth are violent beginnings, underworld ties—and a chilling capacity for brutality. Inflamed by the death of their son, the Saints are willing to risk their newfound legitimacy on a wholesale mission of blood-vengeance. Castle’s worst nightmare is about to come true, as Howard Saint and his lieutenants unleash hell at the Castle family reunion.

But Castle, to his everlasting torment, survives. Until this moment, he has spent his entire life adhering strictly to the law. However, experience has taught him that the law cannot adequately penalize the people who murdered his family. Drawing upon all he has learned in 20 years, Castle sets in motion a plan to punish the murderers. He takes up residence in a dilapidated tenement building in Tampa’s industrial district, where his fellow tenants include Joan (Rebecca Romijn), a waitress at a nearby diner who is trying to put her life back on track; Dave (Ben Foster), a gangly twenty-something with a face full of piercings; and Mr. Bumpo (John Pinette), a rotund gourmand who rarely leaves his home.

In preparing his revenge, Castle thoroughly familiarizes himself with the habits and routines of the Saint family. He traces the movements not only of Howard and Livia, but also their surviving son, John (James Carpinello), and Howard’s second-in-command, lawyer Quentin Glass (Will Patton). Armed with this essential knowledge, Castle launches his first salvo against Saint’s business interests. Stunned that Castle is not only alive but causing him harm, Howard Saint marshals his forces in an attempt to shut Castle down. He soon turns to the underworld’s network of hired assassins, recruiting the laconic Memphis legend Harry Heck (Mark Collie) as well as the blonde behemoth known only as the Russian (Kevin Nash).

Castle’s plan is proceeding apace, but his mission has the unintended effect of placing his fellow tenement dwellers in danger. Yet Joan, Dave and Mr. Bumpo rally for their neighbor, even at great personal risk. This makeshift family—forgotten men and women with no one to protect them—brings Castle the one thing he least expects: redemption. His personal goal achieved, Castle realizes that his life’s work has just begun. As The Punisher, he will provide justice for ordinary people and exact retribution from society’s villains.”

Viewer Comments
Negative—Why do I like this movie so little? Not because of what it was, but because of what it wasn’t. So much could’ve been done with this movie that wasn’t, and all the makers had to do was put together the pieces of the puzzle that they already had. They had good acting done by John Travolta, Thomas Jane, Rebecca Romijn, and the two goofballs that lived next door to Castle’s apartment. They had the makings of a good revenge flick, that may not have been able to stand on its own two feet morally, but would’ve been at least worth the cost of admission. They had well-done action sequences. But with all of these good things that they had going for them, they just couldn’t put them together into one, cohesive whole. Thus the movie can’t decide whether to be amusing or darkly intriguing, and suffers greatly because of it. To top it off, some of the violence was completely unnecessary: did that poor guy really need to get all of his facial piercings ripped out, to the tune of his blood-curdling screams? I loved Kill Bill, but this movie did not have the goofy homage being paid to films of yore as an excuse for its violence. What a waste of talent.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/1½]
—Peter Jurmu, age 18
Positive—…the movie is extremely clear about the difference between its antagonist and protagonist. I’ll try to proceed revealing the smallest amount of the storyline as is possible. When the antagonist, “Saint,” is confronted with logic regarding his Son’s misbehavior that led to his death, he blots out this information emotionally, and rationalizing a retaliation. Our stoic Punisher, however, is very clear to himself that his former self is dead, that he has been “reborn” in a sense, as a judicator. He states that the difference between Justice and Vengeance is that Vengeance is emotional in nature.

By the end of the film, he has realized that he now has an entire calling waiting for him to fulfill, wandering the cities and helping those in need. The film is violent, but not to much for anyone 16 or 17 and up, but only you know how mature you or your child is, regardless of their age.

Christians need to take heed to a message like this, Learning to guard their hearts against the emotional jolts sent to them from within and without the Church; but it should be understood that our sense of justice comes from God, and that we rely on him to give it to us, whether or not we are instrument to it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4½]
—Joel Loukus, age 19
Negative—I happen to be a lover of violent B movies. No Apology. However, this movie is wrank. I mean the guy totally loses it, then at the end he has some type of epiphany and goes on killing criminals like it’s a game. What kind of epiphany is that? The 1980’s version is better, at least at the end of that movie they don’t portray the punisher as some insightful, balanced individual!
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/3]
—John Smith (non-Christian), age 21
Positive—This is one of the best films based on a comic book. The characters are interesting and the villains are not cardboard cut outs. Thomas Jane does a wonderful job as the Punisher. He’s a brutal killer, but you do feel for him, and John Travolta is wonderful as the bad guy. The film does contain some violence and a bit of swearing, but this is a fun ride.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4½]
—Trey Cooper, age 39
Negative[MyFaith: Non-Christian] I rated the film as morally offensive, but perhaps irrelevant would be a better choice. For those unfamiliar with the comic book, The Punisher is at heart a pulp version of the main character from Taxi Driver, an ostensibly good man broken by the murder of his family into a merciless killing machine whose motto is “The guilty will be punished.”

The Punisher was created and developed at a time (late 70s into the 80s) when people felt America was heading towards its nadir, its cities crumbling into violent and immoral abysses (this is the same sense that drives the first Robo-Cop film as well). He is the desire for vigilantism people may feel when they sense that the actual authorities no longer care or are unable to protect them from predators and psychopaths.

The problem with The Punisher in this film’s portrayal is that he has simply become a dated character. Given that, despite the current fears over Iraq, etc, the modern America is not as nihilistic as it was at the Punisher’s creation, it’s possible he could have been “updated” to reflect current issues, like 9/11 and the cycles of vengeance in the Middle East. But really, however, he is a morally corrupt character from a bygone era. His only attraction now is his weaponry, a merciless ability to use it, and a shallow and cheap ethic of vengeance that will likely confuse those who too easily mistake strict law (eye for an eye) as the proper way of living God’s law (such as in the parable of the Good Samaritan). Not that vengeance is wrong, persay, but only that in this movie its purpose is for an immoral sense of pleasure, not for any attempt at true justice.

While Christians shouldn’t shield themselves from the bad, I don’t think using the immorality of this movie’s version of the Punisher story to learn about evil is a valid strategy. Because this film isn’t about any attempt at a “thought-provoking” examination of man-made or man-executed justice in a fallen world; it’s about glorifying the same violence and dehumanized characters that fuels most recent Hollywood action films. You are meant to cheer for The Punisher not because he is right but because he was wronged.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/1]
—Jeffrey, age 26
Negative—First of all, this was not a movie that I watched for entertainment; I believe that “being in the world and not of it” requires us to “get our hands dirty” every now and then and to have a knowledge of what those around us are involved with. The overall theme of the movie, despite what the movie itself says, is revenge. Start with the comment made by the guy that heals Castle after he’s found almost dead: “Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” Castle’s response: “God’s gonna sit this one out.” He also drinks heavily throughout the movie, showing that he hasn’t properly mourned his loss, and he becomes a driven man/achiever (Wild at Heart reference). He makes a distinction between punishment (to subject to a penalty for an offense, sin, or fault) and revenge (to inflict punishment in return for injury or insult), but I don’t really see a difference between the two. There is no transcendant theme in this movie, and the overall attitude/spirit of the film has “rebellion” written all over it.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Jason Brightwell, age 22
Neutral—This film is not for children. It is a good action movie, but if kids do watch it, do not let them see the part where one of the bad guys rips a man’s lip rings off. Other than that, there is a lot of violence but, a pretty good story line. A man gets revenge on bad guys who kill his whole family.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Karen, age 23

Comments from young people
Positive—Let me start off by saying that this is the best “revenge” movie I have ever seen in my life. An example of a stupid and highly lame revenge movie was Kill Bill. I cannot stress enough how much I hated that movie. But with the Punisher, you have some absolutely amazing movie-making quality, a great plot, great acting, and a LOT of action. I like action movies so I took to this right away. I must say though that the film is violent, and a few times resulting in some blood. I feel I must also stress the unnecessary nudity. That bothered me a bit. Although very brief, it could have been taken out, and the movie would be even better.

Profanity consists of about 8 F-words and some others thrown in the mix throughout the film. All in all, I definitely recommend this film to anyone who likes action-packed movies with an ingenious ending. Very entertaining.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
—Ray Langridge, age 16
Positive—As a whole, this movie was very intense. From the very first scene, we are introduced to the main character and witness a shoot-out. Going into this movie, I have to say that I did not expect as much violence as there was. The Punisher’s whole family had been killed and he seeks justice, but it still does not justify his killing. The storyline of the movie was a tragic one, but it is almost as though the Punisher is no better than the people who killed his family. There was a medium to high amount of swearing in this film, but most every swear was used, and they were rash. I would definitely not recommend taking anyone under the appropriate age of 17 to this movie. I am not a person who enjoys seeing blood and gore, but I did still enjoy The Punisher.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/3½]
—Anne, age 17
Positive—Now, you could’ve approached this movie in a couple of ways. First you could have a total action just kill everyone. Second you could have a redemptive hero is born to defeat evil, and finds his purpose is to save those who are helpless. Third, you could’ve had the Punisher become a bad guy, which he does in the comics eventually I believe… This movie does all three. It is not the big action thriller you think it is, even though at the end the action really opens up. It is more the story of a man who just wants to torment or eat away at a man (think of The Scarlet Letter with Chillingworth), while slowly killing off his inner circle. Frank Castle in this movie eventually just wants to kill Howard Saint, then end his own life. But he doesn’t, and in the end you have him with this total stand up and scream speech to all the “murders, rapists, and psychos.” that “those who do evil to the good will know my name.” Frank is pretty lenient in his revenge, but then sometimes, like at the end, he just wants to kill everybody. This movie has his neighbors as the sweet, loving people, who are just the total good guys. Frank is moved by them, and is actually saved by them in one of the most graphic scenes in the movie involving torture. Frank out of this goes out to finally consummate his revenge. This is a typical action movie, but it is slower, deeper, and quite dark and violent. Don’t expect his punishment to be very nice, but then again, its rated R anyways.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Gar Davis, age 16
Movie Critics
…1 hour, 59 minutes worth of punishment…
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…a case study of how to screw up a simple, powerful revenge story… unbearably sluggish…
—Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune
…gruesome and bloody violence, rough language, sensuality, a few instances of homosexuality …
—Troy Dandrea, Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…an uneven, sometimes corny, and sometimes sadistic mix of tragedy, revenge, justice, and redemption…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide