Film Review: The Punisher (2004)

Release Date: April 12th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Carlo Siliotto
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, John Pinette, Samantha Mathis, Eddie Jemison, Kevin Nash

Valhalla Motion Pictures, Marvel Enterprises, Lions Gate Films, 124 Minutes, 140 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” – Candelaria, “God’s gonna sit this one out.” – Frank Castle

Holy shit! This film aged remarkably well!

It’s been well over a decade since I had last seen it but watching it now, reminded me as to why it is the best live-action version of The Punisher that we have ever gotten.

More than anything, the film’s greatness is due to just how good Thomas Jane was as Frank Castle. The dude was damn dedicated to the role and made this a better film than it really had any right to be. Especially, in an era where most comic book movies were still kind of shitty.

I might not have realized it in 2004 but this exceeds the well-received X-Men films of the time and it is also much better than the Daredevil movie that came out a year before it.

Back in the day, I thought that setting it in Tampa was a weird decision but now having a better understanding of budgets in regards to shooting locations, I get it. Re-experiencing it now, though, I really dig the location, as it gives it a completely different vibe from the other live-action Punisher things that came later, as well as other comic book films that generally take place in New York City or some other massive metropolis. Also, being that I have lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida my entire life, it somehow feels like my Marvel Comics movie.

This film, regardless of it being based on a comic book or not, is just a balls to the wall, badass action flick in the same vein as the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. While it’s a wee bit toned down from those gritty ’70s crime flicks, it still doesn’t pull its punches and I was actually kind of shocked by some of the stuff they did in the film that I guess I had forgotten.

It gets really dark and it actually has some pretty gory and gruesome moments. But at the same time, it has more heart and charm that those ’70s classics I just mentioned in how there are good people that come into Castle’s life and try to give him back some of his humanity after the mass execution of his entire family.

It wasn’t just Jane that was great in this, it was the entire cast, top-to-bottom, including some of the people that had fairly small roles like a few of the gangsters and especially Mark Collie, who played Harry Heck, in one of the best sequences that has ever existed in a comic book movie.

Man, I forgot how great the Harry Heck character was and I kind of wish he would’ve been a much bigger part of the story. Maybe he could come back in a sequel but then again, I doubt one will ever get made, as The Punisher has already been rebooted multiple times. Also, Heck’s death seemed pretty much confirmed by how he got taken out.

Getting to the story, I really like how Castle played John Travolta’s Howard Saint and tricked him into murdering his best friend and his beloved wife by cleverly convincing him, over time and by planting seeds, that they were having an affair. This was brilliant and it couldn’t have happened to a worse trio of people, as all of them were directly responsible for the execution of Castle’s family.

This version of The Punisher was as close to perfect as a studio could get. I know that the film wasn’t a massive hit, initially, but it did build up a solid fanbase over the years. The fact that a sequel never actually materialized was rather baffling.

Although, a fan film, also starring Jane as Frank Castle, was released in 2012. After revisiting this, I now have to fire that one up too and review it.

2004’s The Punisher is spectacular from beginning to end. It’s aged so much better than the other comic book movies from the early ’00s and it deserves to be displayed on a pedestal for all to admire.

Dear Disney and Tom Jane,

Please give us this Frank Castle again.

That is all.

Sincerely,

-Talking Pulp

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s unofficial short film sequel, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, as well as the other Punisher films and television series.

That superb Harry Heck sequence:

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