Movie Report: The Punisher (2004)

Book coverIt’s a bit of a shame, gentle reader, that I think of this 19-year-old film as the new The Punisher, but that’s because I am old enough to remember the 1989 Dolph Lundgren movie which was an earlier take on the character. I do not think I’ve seen that film en toto, but I remember that it was made. This rendition of The Punisher, only fifteen years later, might be the first with the Marvel Studios flipping comic pages with the main titles. Blade didn’t have it, did it? It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed the Blade trilogy, and I might want to revisit them since there’s another Blade movie in the works (and I might not bother seeing it).

This film opens with a couple of guys looking to facilitate an arms deal of some sort, but it goes bad and the police drop in, but in the ensuing shootout, one of them is killed. Turns out that he’s the son of a mafioso, Howard Saint, played by John Travolta. Saint (not the Saint, clearly) places a bounty on the man responsible, who turns out to be Frank Castle, played by Thomas Jane. Castle is a deep undercover government operative who vows this is his last job, and he goes to a family reunion in the Caribbean with his family. When Saint orders the hit in the Caribbean, his wife, played by Laura Harring, asks to have the whole family eliminated, and the bad men do just that, killing the whole Castle family but only leaving Frank for dead. When he is restored to health by a local juju man, Castle returns to the country with only one thing on his mind: revenge.

So Castle sets up shop in a rundown apartment building populated by some misfits, including Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (not painted blue). And he goes about destroying Saint’s business and setting him up to do violence to those closest to him before Castle kills him.

It’s a bit on the sadistic side, but I am starting to think casual sadism is a bit of a trope in the first part of this “21st” century. I mean, some people (in movies) just need killing, but some of the killings in this film include a little pain and realization before the final offing. I dunno. I don’t mind my heroes outside the law, and I can tolerate a bit of torture (in fiction) for vital information, but modern films just include cruelty for its sake or for the cinematic sake of it, and that bothers me (says the man who has read, what, a hundred Executioner novels?)

Speaking of which, I had a little problem at the beginning because they altered the origin story…. But then I realized I was comparing Castle’s story to Mack Bolan’s origin story, and then I was mollified a bit. I mean, the Punisher character was quite modeled on the Executioner–the comic with the first appearance of the Punisher also had an interview with Don Pendleton for cryin’ out loud (speaking of the greatest gap in my comic collection).

I had a harder time with thinking that Thomas Jane (I keep wanting to type “Hardy,” which means it must be closing in on time to actually read The Return of the Native) in this film looked an awful lot like a younger Herb Alpert.

A man seeking bloody vengeance
The best musical artist in recording history

Maybe I am still confused.

So I liked the film alright in spite of the unnecessary brutality in spots. But not enough that I won’t like the reboot, although I guess that was a streaming show, which means it has been fired into the ether never to be seen again.

The film did feature Laura Harring as Livia Saint, and it’s not too often that I say, “Wow!” about an actress. But, “Wow!”

I mean, she plays a casually evil person, but every dress she wore she wore to great effect in this film. And, by the end, she is almost sympathetic.

She has been an actress since…. 1987? Wait, she’s older than I am? Incredible. But the Internet told me so, and it does not lie.

I have previously seen her in Little Nicky, but it was a small part. I’ve been meaning to watch it with my boys, and this is additional incentive.

And I might even watch some of the hoity-toity films like Mulholland Drive or Love in the Time of Cholera in which she appears. Fortunately, much of her work is pre-streaming, so I might be able to score it on VHS or DVD inexpensively.

At any rate, if you’re interested, Catherine Zeta-Jones is another of the “Wow!” actresses. Perhaps the only other one as she is all that comes immediately to mind.

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