The Punisher (2004) – Review

4 Stars

Editor’s Note: This review is for The Punisher-Extended Cut which runs for 139 minutes.

Frank Castle aka The Punisher is arguably the least known comic character to receive three, different cinematic incarnations. The first was a low-budget guilty pleasure starring Dolph Lundgren back in 1989, stylishly shot but cartoonish and visually murky. Now, comes Thomas Jane in the role and while he doesn’t possess the hulking physique of Lundgren, Jane is backed up by an intelligent, dark and violent film from writer/director Jonathan Hensliegh. This is a lengthy, richly textured revenge film that has its influences in Shakespeare and Peckinpah.

Undercover FBI agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) transforms into a vengeful Punisher after criminals murder his family, including his wife and son. Castle is gravely injured in the attack and believed to be dead by Howard Saint (John Travolta), the crime lord who ordered the hit. Following his recovery, Castle becomes a heavily armed vigilante who will stop at nothing to exact revenge on Saint and dismantle his underworld empire.

The Punisher was just a bit ahead of its time. Had it premiered after Nolan’s Batman series it would have been hailed for its gritty realism and adult themes, but audiences didn’t give it a warm reception and it died quietly at the box office. The character would be given life again in a screen version during 2008 with War Zone. However, it’s Hensliegh’s version that retains the crown for having aged the best out of the three unrelated Punisher flicks. The Punisher is a dark action film and one of 2004’s sleeper hits.

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton

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