REVIEW: THE PUNISHER (2004)

Shooty-Shoot score: 2.5/5
Kicky-Kick score: 3/5
Boomy-Boom score: 2/5

Enjoy with: half a pint of whisky. Down it alone in a dark room, shirtless. It will help drown out the noise from all your emotionally needy relationships. Too secluded for you? Try sipping some whisky at least. Don’t succumb to drinking any of the Wild Turley that’s advertised throughout the film. Go for gold and try the Lagavulin 16 Year Old. It has a smokey, peaty richness with a satisfyingly syrupy consistency. Don’t shy away from its price tag. It’s a worthwhile investment. If you find you have a low tolerance to the stuff, you might want to fill the glass with a few ice cubes and suck on some heartburn/tummy tablets afterwards. For the rest of you maniacs who plan to keep drinking, I suggest cutting the smokey aftertastes with a dry Australian Riesling. Yeah, it’s mixing, but if you invest in the good stuff, such as the Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling, the hangover won’t be nearly as punishing (look, I made a funny).

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Would you like to watch a superhero movie about some dude with no superpowers but an awful axe to grind? No? What if I also told you his family was murdered? Maybe? How about I throw in that he wears a lot of black and lurks in the shadows? Still not enough? Yeah, I get it. Something’s missing. If only there were some secret grotto involved, or maybe a sidekick canary.

Alas, we must rein in our wild imaginations and appreciate the film for what it is. “The Punisher” is a revenge caper about an ex-FBI agent, Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) who goes full heavy metal in pursuit of his family’s murderers. Annnnnd, that about sums it up. No, I’m serious. That’s all there is to it. The plot is as straightforward as Route 66, signposted with dialogue so predictable you’ll be quoting all the way to its inevitable end.

Before you shrug it off and file it under “films you never want to watch”, you need to know that its lack of self-awareness makes for a really fucking entertaining flick.

For starters, the picture launches us straight into some family pack sized carnage, courtesy of the villain, Howard Saint (John Travolta). Bitter about Castle’s involvement in the death of his son, Saint gets even by obliterating the entire Castle clan, cousins and all. Like most hero movies worth their salt, Castle’s own life is saved by magic and he rises from the ashes transformed from a law-abiding super-cop to a Neo-cosplaying goth man.

Queue montage of his lonely revenge-fuelled life where he lurks about town and guns down some fools. In between the action, Castle spends a lot of time half-naked in his apartment, oiling his abs and drinking whiskey. What we don’t see is the copious amount of day-time TV dramas he must have been watching. How else would he find the inspiration to dedicate his Thursday nights to inventing an affair between Saint’s wife and his best friend/right-hand man. That’s right, with little more than a fire hydrant “The Punisher” become “The Homewrecker”.

Mini-episode of Desperate Housewives aside, there are plenty of silly showdowns. Like the arrival of a ridiculous hitman in the middle of the film. By ridiculous I don’t mean a creepy clown or a fat aquatic bird-man, but rather a jacked up muscle machine who looks like the long-lost lovechild of Wally/Waldo and the Hulk. “The Russian”, as he’s known to you and me, wastes no time and gets straight down to pulverising the fuck out of Castle’s face and his apartment. It’s a gloriously unfair fight as the Russian, twice the size and manpower of Castle, swats him through brick walls. Spitting blood and unable to stand, we finally see the measure of Castle’s all too human abilities. Desperate to survive, he throws everything he’s got at the Russian, including the grenade sink*.

From here on the action takes centre stage and the film matures into a more familiar superhero format. Even without the billions or the butler, this shadowy crusader gets bigger and bolder with his stunts. The violence also becomes a little grittier too, but not by much.

As an 18, it is a world apart from what we would consider worthy of that certificate today. There are bloody bits, don’t get me wrong. But it’s as menacing as Spiderman 3. All the gruesome acts of cruelty are merely implied, with the camera quickly looking away from potential toe curling drama. It’s infuriating how much you miss. For instance, you don’t get to see one bullet through a kids head while dozens of them are presumably gunned down; or appreciate the self-sacrifice a character goes through in, what I assume to be, an excruciating torture scene. It’s not frustrating because I’ve got a particularly bad case of blood-lust (I can quit anytime, I promise) but because the set up is so long and promising that the sudden withdrawal from actually seeing any violence feels like instant blue balling.

Despite not being a brilliant film, it is worth a watch. Premise-wise it’s refreshingly simplistic. Sure it doesn’t have the mystery of hidden identities nor are any of the adults dressed up as animals. But what it lacks in comparison to the modern superhero genre, it makes up for in blood, abs and whiskey.

Runtime: 124mins
Certificate: 18– AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Silly c*nts.
Dir: Jonathan Hensleigh
Writer: Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Will Patton

*Highly recommend installing one in your home. Simply gaffer tape two grenades under the basin of your sink. It’s a beautiful conversation starter at dinner parties and deters guests from outstaying their welcome.