Monday, January 17, 2011

THE PUNISHER......The watered down one.

Back in the mid 90's I was on this Gary Busey kick where I would watch as many of his films as possible.  There was one film called WARRIORS where at the beginning of the movie these special forces guys led by Busey walk through these tall reeds of grass approaching a mafia birthday party.  They gun everyone down including the kids.  It wasn't a very good movie.  Gary Busey didn't die in it.  Busey's best films are usually the ones where he dies in them.  The WARRIORS was a pretty forgettable film.  I hadn't thought of it in years until I was sitting in the theater watching Thomas Jane's THE PUNISHER and I saw the exact same scene happen right before my eyes.  I knew right then that this wasn't going to be the Punisher movie I had been waiting my whole life for.

To sum it up exactly take one part badassness and two parts weak sauce and put them together.  Stir thoroughly until everything that resembles the Punisher from the comic books is completely mushed away into a bland mish-mash of uncreative mainstream gobblety-gook and pour it into a baking pan in the shape of Spider-Man.  Bake for one hundred and twenty three minutes.  Taste what you have created.  Tastes pretty "blah" doesn't it?  Its not terrible but it isn't what you want either.  That is what T.J.'s THE PUNISHER is.  It doesn't suck completely but it does suck in enough areas to ruin what should have been an easy comic movie franchise.

First off lets talk about some positives.  I like the villains.  Travolta is great as Howard Saint the father of a tight knit crime family that is responsible for the death of the Punisher's family.  I know a lot of critics think he is terrible and way over the top but I think he plays the part just right.  He is sharp as a switchblade.  I like how he and his men dressed in black stick out in stark contrast from the happy sunny Florida setting.  The film has a retro eighties action film look to it which is nice to see in this age of over the top CGI extravaganzas.  The blood effects and explosions are practical until the stupid Punisher skull explosion fire at the end.  Thomas Jane is passable as the title character also known as Frank Castle but he doesn't feel authentic.  He always has this sad dopey expression on his face.  He isn't mean looking enough.  The Johnny Cash hit man was pretty cool too.  I really liked his death song for the Punisher.

The thing I hate most about T.J.'s THE PUNISHER is how uncreative the story is.  Again we must suffer through another origin story that follows the SPIDER-MAN formula.  SPIDER-MAN  was also an origin story that had a hero defining memorable line "With great power comes great responsibility."  Also the soundtrack has a duet between the idiot lead singer of Nickleback and the hokey gross lead singer of Saliva.  THE PUNISHER is an origin story with the not so memorable weak hero defining line "Good memories can save your life" or something like that.  It tries to be deep but fails miserably.  At least the duet between whatshername from Evanescence and the singer from Seether is way better.  Look how they treat the story.  First we get a bunch of boring, awkward, poorly acted family scenes to show us the human side of the Punisher.  Of course there is a child that gets to barely spit out his lines and deflate any sense of seriousness the film strives to maintain.  Why do we need to see the origin of Punisher's trademark skull?  The skull represents protection from evil spirits?  WTF?  The comic book Punisher came up with the white skull as a symbol of punishment and to draw the eye of the enemy to fire at his armored chest instead of his head.  See there is some thought there.  None of this, my son bought me this shirt so now I got to wear it so he doesn't feel bad from beyond the grave crap.

The Punisher's past family life is something none of us should see.  It is something that should be left up to the imagination.  But of course the movie needs action scenes so where do they put the biggest one in?  Well the big family reunion seems just as good as any for an action scene.  After all they used guns to kill his family in the comics.  Lets up it a little and involve the Punisher's entire family, relatives and that guy from JAWS as an homage to JAWS because I like the movie JAWS.  Put gun fights in there as well and be sure to add a big car chase with explosions and motorcycle riding and sailing!  The result is the audience's emotions to the characters are distracted by all the action going on.  The spectacle takes the place of the loss of Frank Castle's family.

THE PUNISHER is a revenge film when it shouldn't be.  Castle's main motivation is punishing the guilty.  It is not for revenge.  In the comics I remember reading in the early series the Punisher talking about not knowing if he ever got the guys that murdered his family.  It was realistic like in DEATH WISH.  Charles Bronson never went after the guys that murdered his wife and put his daughter into a coma.  He went after crime in general.  The Punisher did the same.  The not knowing fueled his mission to punish evil doers.  By giving THE PUNISHER the cliched most obvious plot about going after those who murdered his family not only shows how unoriginal the studio is when creating the film but how the creators completely missed the point of the whole character of the Punisher.  I know that in the film the Punisher states that this is not about revenge but it clearly is when after completing his mission he attempts suicide.  His pain from the experience of loss should be responsible for his need to continue on doing the Punisher's work not some weird flash of his dead wife making sad faces at him.

Is it just me or did they overly sexualize the Punisher and make him really stupid?  Seriously I think ol' Frank Castle spends most of the movie with out his shirt on showing off his perfectly sculpted sweaty boobies.  He is like one of those "BOD" fragrance commericals.  He even has these deep meaningful conversations with his neighbors with his shirt off.  When he is wearing a shirt its a tight white t-shirt.  Does he make money winning wet t-shirt contests at gay clubs?  He sure looks like he does.  That is not the Punisher I know.  The funniest part has to be when he rises from the floor in that elevator with his shirt half torn and Rebecca Romain Stamos at his feet with the dramatic lightning over emphasising the cheesiness of the scene.  It looks like something right out of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  Why would the Punisher announce to everyone in the media that he is alive?  Wouldn't a better strategy for revenge be to make your enemies think you are dead so they don't know who to look for when they go after you?  Why would the Punisher think that no one would call the cops the second they see him on the streets?  Doesn't he risk his fellow neighbors calling the cops on him?  They obviously know who he is from watching the news.  He got really lucky is all I'm saying.  Also the bad guys find his place of residence pretty easy (how?) which almost got him and his new friends killed.  Frank Castle in the comics was a soldier.  He thought in a militaristic mindset on how he dealt with criminals.  There was none of this drinking your sorrows away melodrama or exposing himself to the media and to the cops.

Thankfully THE PUNISHER WAR ZONE got it right.  I can die a happy man now.  Maybe I will do a review on that one someday.  Watch and compare.  Which one understands the Punisher better?  Which one is more creative, colorful and fun to watch?  Heck, I think the Dolph Lundgren version of the Punisher is a far more superior film than the high budget blandfest that came out in theaters in 2004.  I love Thomas Jane.  I don't fault him for the poor story and terrible dialogue.  I do believe that he actually saved the Punisher franchise by rejecting the sequel script.  That allowed for a "no name" actor to take the role and allow a smaller studio to take a more creative approach to the next Punisher movie.  The bigger the name the more mainstream and PG-esque the film has to be.  I still like this version of the Punisher even though there is a lot to forgive.  It has some decent action moments near the end and the funny neighbors are likeable even though they have no business being in a Punisher film.  At least this film doesn't have the Punisher jumping from a tall building and following him down as he shoots his guns shot like DAREDEVIL and GHOSTRIDER ripped off from SPIDER-MAN.......At least.


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