“Go with God.”
“God’s gonna sit this one out.”
Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an undercover FBI agent and during a sting, the son of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) is killed. Castle retires and goes to a family reunion in Puerto Rico where the worst happens: his entire family is murdered. His parents, distant relatives, the love of his life and his only son.
Saint’s henchmen and other son do the dirty work and only the grace of their own stupidity saves Castle’s life and allows him his chance at vengeance.
My favorite stories are ones of redemption and rebirth. There is a certain euphoria to be had from the moment of true justice, to be completely devoted to a character, to take part in his pain and then in his glory. These are the stories meant for me. We all weather storms and the most extreme ones illustrated in film rekindle our resolve as well as our hearts to strive on.
The Punisher does not deserve such a lavish intro, for the things that make a character restoration are not to be found here. Character-audience parallels are the unstoppable force in these tales. Without them, a redemption story does not fuse our inner selves with the film. Our need to see that justice wavers, our passion and lust for it dwindles and soon the tale becomes superficial instead of an ordeal we too are going through.
Director Jonathan Hensleigh seems reluctant to enter the deep waters of antiheroes. The notion of antiheroes is filled with darkness, brutality and uncompromising willpower. They’re not pretty but given their histories, the actions they take are understandable albeit reprehensible and barbaric. Antiheroes are not good people but there are mere moments when they show the capacity for good and it is in those brief examples that we put our faith in these characters. People will say the way they kill people is “cool” but that is not the basis of an antihero and anyone that believes that to be the case should go get educated.
So when I see an antihero as underdeveloped as Riddick or in this case Frank Castle and I realize the director/writers don’t even grasp what an antihero is, I wonder why they have jobs.
To make a antihero more than a coffinmaker and instead a legend, you need to show us every detail of his life. There is more substance to antiheroes than killing people and partaking of the bottle. I want to hear the gems of dialogue, see the black in his eyes, the brokenness of his character. Having Castle have a stern look on his face while becoming an alcoholic is a role a homeless man could play with just as much acting prowess as Jane does here. Granted, he tries, but the writers fed him to the wolves with one of the poorest superhero scripts I’ve ever seen. This is comparable to Green Lantern and Ghostrider. It’s that bad.
Hensleigh also decided to put in a supporting cast that feels out of place in a film that should be entering the world’s sludge and instead infuses Castle’s tragedy with neighbors who are completely oblivious to the world around them, which doesn’t make any sense when you see the rough part of town they live in. Our neighbors are played by Joan (Rebecca Romijn), Bumbo (John Pinette) and a young Ben Foster as Dave. Void of dimension and character spurring, useless is an appropriate adjective. They’re gutless, they don’t do anything and aside from a brief showing of courage from Ben Foster’s character, nothing is tacked on to the overall product. It’s more clutter to search through than any audience should have to navigate to find the golden nuggets such films are supposed to offer.
Once again, this leaves Jane with nothing to wrap his hands around and aside from brief action sequences and sitting in his recliner downing bottles of whiskey, moves very little both as a protagonist and in a character sense.
So is Thomas Jane’s acting bad? Yes, yes it is. No question. Not his fault, but still bad. A more experienced actor could have done better. The more and more I watched this film, the more and more I wished Ben Foster and Thomas Jane had switched roles. The Punisher was made in 2004 so Ben Foster had not yet burst onto the scene with films like 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma. However, Foster’s first big role was in 2005’s Hostage, only a year after this was made, which makes me think that Hensleigh would have been better off making Foster his leading man.
However, this is Thomas Jane’s role and perhaps shining moment in his career which is a shame because I think he had a better performance in Drive Hard then this, which is really depressing when you think about it. When you look back at your career and you tell people, “Yeah, my best role was opposite John Cusack”, you know you screwed up. I don’t think that’s something anyone wants on their resume.
John Travolta is The Punisher‘s best gift to audiences as Travolta rarely seems to show up to a film outmatched. Few writings have made Travolta look out of his league or plain stupid. He delivers more often than not. In other words, he’s a winner.
With that said, Howard Saint remains but a model of a character rather than a character in and of himself. It’s all too clear this is a movie.
“But Tim, isn’t it supposed to be a movie?”
Yes, but a movie is not meant just to be a movie. It’s meant to be an experience, a journey, an adventure, a submersion in human emotion. The Punisher offers none of these and really never tried to.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow, The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Drive Hard, Run All Night, Rage, Zoolander, The Expendables 3)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Erased, I, Frankenstein, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Billy Madison)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Centurion, Planet of the Apes, Stonados, Redemption, Pride and Prejudice)
20-29 What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The Colony, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, The Grey, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Thor: The Dark World)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (Sabotage, Gallowwalkers, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Safe, Watchmen)
My score for The Punisher: 58.
Perhaps not as poor as my memory originally told me it was, The Punisher is deserted like a garden unwatered. Weeds fester and kill the morning glories before the sun is ever given a chance to rise.