A/V Room









The Punisher (18)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary; Deleted scenes with optional commentary; 'Keeping It Real: Punisher Stunt' featurette; 'War Journal: On the Set of The Punisher' Featurette.

GIVEN the overwhelming success that Marvel Comics is currently enjoying with its Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, it is little wonder to find that other comic-book super-heroes are finding their way to the Big Screen.

The Punisher, however, marks something of a departure from what we have come to expect.

Not only is it an ultra-violent affair, which is strictly for adults only, it also features a hero who has no super-powers of any kind.

Frank Castle is a flesh and blood fighter; a loner hell-bent on revenge, following the cold-blooded murder of his family.

He first appeared in 1974, a rich period for vigilantes, following the success of movies such as Charles Bronson's Death Wish and, to a lesser degree, Clint Eastwood's renegade cop, Dirty Harry.

And his methods were extremely calculated and almost stripped of emotion.

Needless to say, Frank Castle went down a storm then, but in an era when PC-audiences need their heroes to conform to a strict set of values, his transition to the Big Screen has been a lot harder.

Dolph Lundgren attempted it in the 90s, with little success, and now it is the turn of Tom Jane, complete with the backing of Marvel Comics.

The result, as you would expect, is a grim, violent affair, in which there is very little room for sentimental values.

Yet, there is much to admire, not least in the performance from Jane, as well as John Travolta's villain, and Jonathan Hensleigh's uncompromising direction.

The film starts with a bungled police operation, during which the son of feared gangster, Howard Saint (Travolta), is accidentally killed by the police.

In retaliation, and following the orders of his glamorous wife (Laura Harring), Saint tracks down and kills everyone responsible, including their families, leaving the soon-to-be-retiring Castle for dead, and his family and friends massacred.

Battered and bruised, however, Castle becomes The Punisher and wages a one-man war against Saint's dark empire, both physically and psychologically, stopping at nothing to ensure that his own brand of justice is done.

Along the way, he is forced to rediscover his humanity through his interaction with three other bruised misfits, played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ben Foster and John Pinette, but their relationship plays second fiddle to the task at hand.

Jane is quietly effective in the lead role of Castle, tapping into the fear and anger of his persona, while also allowing some moments of black humour to lighten the overall effect of his performance.

While Travolta exudes vicious menace as the OTT-Saint, bringing the same sort of malevolence to his performance as he did in Face/Off, while realising the comic book origins of his character.

They are both well-served by first-time director, Hensleigh, who strikes a delicate balance between the brutality and humour, while delivering some blistering set-pieces - most notably in Castle's run-ins with two of Saint's assassins.

But the film will stand or fall on how audiences perceive the violence - for they might not get the humour that comes with it, and write it off as a thoroughly nasty affair in the process.

In America, the film failed to really ignite in the same way as other Marvel adaptations, even though a sequel is in the works.

It would be a shame if the same thing happened here. For the most part, The Punisher is an extremely enjoyable affair that harks back to a bygone era in film-making, and which should provide a welcome alternative for anyone who likes their thrillers a little more gutsy.

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z