Friday, October 15, 2004

Punish This!

I caught the DVD version of The Punisher Thursday afternoon. It stars Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ben Foster, and John Pinette. I'm probably missing some but the movie, and hence IMDB, lists the names by appearance rather than importance.

The quick IMDB summary:
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 by 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.
If you've ever heard of the comic book upon which the movie is based, some of the above phrases should be familiar to you. For reference, the comic book character's background is very similar except I believe it was just his wife & son that were killed by a car bomb meant for him. The rest of it is dead on though, a man who's lost everything and now fights crime on its own terms, with no regret, remorse or mercy.

Here's a quote that gives you a good idea of the themes involved:
In certain..."extreme" situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law. To pursue... natural justice. This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it's an emotional response. No. Not vengeance. This, is punishment.
Btw, I think the quote is bullshit. It's vengeance straight up. If no emotions were involved, he wouldn't be exacting his revenge. Now if it were upon generic criminals, ones not connected to the death of his family, that might arguably count as punishment. Of course that's where the character goes in the comic book and, presumably, after this first movie.

The movie wasn't bad. The plot is dead on, the acting pretty good, the scenes well-constructed, the fight scenes nicely played. Not too over-the-top and definitely not subtle. Thomas Jane did an excellent job as Frank Castle, playing the role of the dark hero. John Travolta did well in his usual role of bad guy. If anything, the writing on the bad guy's character was a bit weak but then the entire plot was weak. Not unsurprising though, given the direct nature of the story.

One cool part was an extended fight scene set to opera music. Pretty cool. One bad part, and this isn't giving anything away, was the brief instant when the main character considered suicide. I was so pissed off by that scene that I was yelling at the TV. IMO, The Punisher would never, never even think of suicide. A brief lapse in an otherwise decent, and faithful, movie.

One other small beef. In the movie, The Punisher eventually makes friends (sort of) with his neighbors (at their insistence). That was one of the odd dichotomies in the comic book - that he's a vigilante and yet a fighter for the underdog. Like a cracked out Robin Hood almost. So when he makes these friends, they really help him and champion him in their own way. It's almost a commentary on.. I don't know, something. Maybe group mentality or the plight of the underdog. But it is a facet of the comic book character they do bring out in the movie. My beef is just that it was done in an odd manor. I liked its inclusion but disliked its implementation. It would have been better, IMO, for The Punisher to get into their good graces by doing something substantial. Granted he does stand up for them to a bully but it felt week, contrived. That's all.

Part of me is glad I didn't catch this in the theatre while part of me wishes I had. But that division in my sentiment probably indicates I didn't miss all that much by waiting. I'm glad I own it on DVD and I will watch it again, many times.

ALAN'S MOVIE RATING: DVD-Worthy if you think you'll like it. Else probably not worth your time.