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:: The Punisher

The Punisher is a Marvel Comics character, brought in as a sideshow to an issue of the Amazing Spider-Man in the 1970s. He is not a superhero with special powers. He is a dark character, very much in the style of a vigilante, a la Death Wish.

The film opens with FBI Special Agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) working undercover on the last drug bust of his career. It doesn’t go according to plan when a son of millionaire businessman, Howard Saint (John Travolta), is killed. While Castle laments that to some extent, he goes on with a future life of leisure and celebrates with a family reunion in Puerto Rico. However, Howard Saint doesn’t forget too easily. Urged by his sultry wife Livia (Laura Harring), Saint orders the massacre of Castle’s family. This is achieved except for Castle surviving, although he was shot in the chest at point blank range and was in a fiery explosion. Somehow, he escaped this. It is based on a comic book, remember.

So, Castle lives on, emotionally torn inside, as his loved ones have passed. He moves into a rundown apartment to try and get back into shape while plotting against Saint. It’s not a matter of revenge. It’s a means to punish. Castle wants Saint to suffer. He now concocts an intricate plan involving Saint’s wife, Saint’s lawyer (Will Patton), and by interfering with Saint’s lucrative money-laundering business. The Punisher is the only comic book movie that I can remember where the hero goes to great lengths to manipulate a situation, rather than adopt the “kill first, ask questions later” philosophy.

The tone of the film veers from satirical to sadistic and mean, with Thomas Jane, as The Punisher, having enough huff and puff to pull off the role. The length of the film could have been cut slightly but there are some effective set pieces sprinkled throughout. Watch for an encounter between Castle and a huge Russian guy (played by wrestler Kevin Nash), who refuses to feel pain. The supporting cast Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ben Foster, and John Pinette provide good comic relief and some heartfelt moments. Rebecca’s role is somewhat minor and thankless as an emotionally troubled waitress who falls in love with Castle.

Depending on your mood, The Punisher is heavy, but entertaining enough as a comic book hero amid the great special effects. The villains operate in a way that might make us wish for their retribution and that’s the point of the story that pays off.

Screening on general release.