punisher 2004
Lionsgate Films
2004
R

“Two thousand degrees, Mick. Enough to turn steel into butter. It won’t hurt at first. It’s too hot, you see. The flame sears the nerve endings shut, killing them. You’ll go into shock, and all you’ll feel is cold. Isn’t science fun, Mickey?”

  • Special agent Frank Castle had it all: A loving family, a great life, and an adventurous job. But when his life is taken away from him b a ruthless criminal and his associates, Frank has become reborn. Now serving as judge, jury and executioner, he’s a new kind of vigilante out to wage a one-man war against those who have done him wrong.

So far, there’s been three movie adaptations of Marvel Comics’ vigilante antihero The Punisher. The one in 1989 that starred Dolf Lundren (and did not feature the trademark skull breast plate), the 2004 movie staring Thomas Jane and the 2008 Punisher: War Zone which acted as a soft reboot of the 2004 movie. Of the three, my favorite big-screen iteration is the 2004 Thomas Jane outing.*

This particular movie borrows a lot from the “Welcome Back, Frank” mini-series story that ran in the Marvel Knights line in 2000-2001, in that the characters of Joan, Mr. Bumpo and “Spacker” Dave are featured as Frank’s surrogate family, and also “The Russian”, which was played by pro-wrassler Kevin Nash in one of the more amusing fight scenes in the movie. Anyway, the story has Frank Castle as a former Delta Force veteran and undercover FBI agent that has worked his last case before retirement, one that resulted in the death of the son of mafia boss Howard Saint. This results in a hit taken out on Castle and his entire family at a family reunion, where Frank is only sort of dead, so he’s found and nursed back to health by a local fisherman. Moving into a dilapidated apartment building among three other outcasts, Frank begins his war to take down the Saint family bit by bit, using not only violence but also psychological warfare to spread dissension from the inside. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Punisher movie if things didn’t get blow’ed up and there was no body count, and rest assured there are both here, in spades.

Yeah, I’m well aware of the complaints about this version of The Punisher, that we don’t have a Punisher that’s a gun-wielding berserker that shoots first and asks questions never. Instead, we have *gasp* a Frank Castle that is cunning, highly intelligent and calculating, almost like he was using his brain as a lethal weapon as much as the ones he has in his arsenal. And speaking of his arsenal, it makes sense that, given his military training and background, he would use other tactile weapons rather just the pew-pew, budda-budda-budda variety.

Thomas Jane is perfect as the title character. He’s not the typical by-the-numbers muscle-bound meathead, which makes him perfect for this iteration. There’s a dark intensity to his performance, here. John Travolta is in his element, methinks, as a mob boss that’s also has an underlying tension, like he’s trying hard not to fly into utter camp, especially with some of his lines. Everything flows well, here, from the story, to the tragic feel with dark comedy bits sprinkled in, to the soundtrack…I just don’t understand the 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I admittedly still get a bit misty-eyed when I see the late, great John Pinette do his thing, here. But, really, I think it’s time to check out The Punisher 2004 if you have been holding back due to the negative hearsay about this. Recommended.

[* = Keep in mind I said “big screen”; my all-time favorite version of The Punisher is the Netflix Marvel one, which has been sadly canceled as of the time of this writing.]