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. It's a big budget B-movie that plays off like an old Spaghetti Western or 80s era action film that Bronson or Dudikoff would have made. Thomas Jane even comes across with a bit of Eastwood in his performance, furthering the Spaghetti Western felt that this very urban action movie is permeated with – and that's not a bad thing at all. It's good brainless fun.
Despite some very obvious moments where the comic strays from the source material (what is Frank Castle doing in Miami?) 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.The DVD
The Punisher is shown in its original 2.35.1 aspect ratio and it is enhanced for anamorphic viewing. There's a nice high level of detail present from start to finish but sadly, the black levels vary from scene to scene making this a rather inconsistent transfer. There are a few times where the print actually looks dirty. Whether or not this was intentional to try and give the film a grittier look isn't apparent but there are a few times when it is a little bit distracting. Aside from that, colors and flesh tones look nice and natural and while some evidence of edge enhancement is present in a few spots, it's minor and doesn't overly effect the viewing experience.Sound:
An English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is supplied, with an English closed captioning option available as well. The mix is very effective, making terrific use of the rear channels during the action scenes while keeping most of the dialogue relegated to the front and center channels (except when mandated by the geography of the soundscape). Dialogue is clean and clear and always easy to understand and the action scenes pack quite a wallop. Explosions and gunfights make great use of the surrounds and the subwoofer, which adds some nice bass and atmosphere to the film.Extras:
First up is a commentary track from director John Hensleigh. He's got plenty to say about the film, and its origins as a comic book and why he changed what he did in relation to some of the source material. He's never at a loss for words and has plenty to say about a myriad of topics as the film progresses, including films that influenced him (as I stated, The Punisher wears its influences proudly on its sleeve), as well as certain visual aspects he worked to retain for the film and about the stigma that can come from working on a big screen adaptation of a comic book. It's quite an interesting listen and if you enjoyed the film, it's well worth sitting through it again to listen to the commentary track.
There are also two brief deleted scenes included on the disc, both of which have optional commentary from Hensleigh available over top of them or that can be viewed with their original audio mix. The first is an alternate opening scene in which Saint arrives at his club, and the other is some more character development between some members of the family. Neither of these scenes would have really added a whole lot to the film and from what the director states on the commentary, he realizes this too – thus the cuts were made.
Lion's Gate has whipped up four featurettes that detail the behind the scenes action and genesis of the film in quite a bit of detail:
War Journal: On The Set Of The Punisher (29:30) - Clocking in at almost half an hour, this in depth look at life on the set of the film is an interesting watch as it intersperses footage of shot setups and the like with cast and crew interviews. It takes a candid approach and comes across as a realistic feeling documentary look at what went on behind the camera during the making of the film.
Keepin' It Real: The Punisher Stunts (27:15) - The focus of this piece is the scene where the Punisher's car jumps over the bridge. This piece takes us through that stunt (and a few other lesser ones) from start to finish and we get to see how it was done. Hensleigh and a few of the stuntmen who worked on the film with him are interviewed in between clips of the stunt work and again, this is a keen little segment.
Army Of One: Punisher Origins (12:55) - I found this to be the most enjoyable of the four segments. As a long time comic geek it was nice to see some of the guys who actually worked on the character (and in Gerry Conway's case – created him!) get some props. Garth Ennis, the current writer on the series, is on hand to offer his comments on the film as well as a few other creators. Plenty of great comic art can be seen and it's interesting to compare the character's early appearances to the way he is portrayed in the film.
Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style (6:10) - If you're familiar with or a fan of Tim Bradstreet's moody artwork (currently seen every month on the cover of The Punisher comic books from Marvel among other places) then you'll enjoy this quick look at his marketing and conceptual artwork for the film.
Rounding out the extra features are a preview of the upcoming Punisher video game from THQ and a video from Drowning Pool for their song Step Up, which is featured on the film's soundtrack and which uses clips from the movie.Final Thoughts:
Lion's Gate has given The Punisher a nice DVD presentation. They audio and video are good and the extras are interesting. Those of you out there who, like me, fondly remember the days Spaghetti Westerns or the action films of the eighties should enjoy this comic book adaptation and the film comes recommended.