Monday, June 4, 2012

Unlicensed Lawyer: Punisher(2004)

The Punisher has had more reboots than Batman. In the movies at least. Despite being decades younger than Batman, Marvel's gritty, lethal vigilante has been tried by studios more times than DC's gritty, less lethal vigilante. And oddly enough, it never has been as succesfull as to actually justify more. It's going on the fifth now, a T.V. series that has Frank Castle being a cop by day, and the Punisher by night.

Fans are never satisfied with these Punisher Movies. But studios just can't stop welcoming back Frank into our multimedia screens. This discrepancy is easilly explainable.

The Punisher is an 80s movie. You remember those. It's about the toughest motherfucker in the world, forced into taking justice into his own hands by that 80s Crime wave. Movies like Death Wish and Cobra sort of defined the genre. If you want to make Punisher right, you make an old Steven Seagal Movie and paint a skull insignia on his chest.

Thus, studios love the Punisher. A known franchise, with a built in base that only costs as much as your average squibs and explosions actioneer. No expensive customs or computer effects. No "getting the costume right". You don't even need a big action star name.You use the name "Punisher" to draw fans and the curious to your moderately budgeted action movie.

However, fans hate them, because, by and large, we aren't making that movie. The Punisher movies where certainly each something other than that core Punisher story where he hates crime and shoots people. I mean, yeah, he does that, but there's always a catch. The early 90s Dolph Lundgren movies completely ignored the title character's costume and had him ally with criminals. And I heard the latest one was an extremely weird and campy movie. But in my opinion, the 2004 movie starring Thomas Jane gets too much shit.

The movie changes Frank Catle's main setting from New York to Tampa, Florida, and the setting to his family's death from getting into a shootout unrelated to them in Central Park to getting a hit put on them on Puerto Rico(though I'm guessing that was also filmed in Tampa). Punisher's skull shirt is bought by his son on my Home Island, allegedly told it had some kind of mystical protective force. The guy who runs Hot Topic was just playing with you, kid.

Further on, the sound bite, sort to speak, is that a criminal is fake tortured by Punisher, and let go. The method, a pretend skin melting involving a blowtorch, an icicle pop, and a steak, is as unbelievable as it is silly, lead many to say:" hey, this isn't what Punisher would do! He would actually smelt the guy and then kill him!"

Now, I don't argue that this sillyness is not really what Punisher would do in most core Punisher stories. When Punisher gets silly, it usually involved Frankenstein, Eminem, or Archie. But the fact that it's not a page by page of a Marvel Knights book does not in fact make it a bad movie.

You see, way, I see it, whoever gets the writer or director job to Punisher usually goes: "Pfft! Why do we pay for a comic license for an 80s movie? I'm not making no 80s movie!". However, Punisher 2004 actually has a lot of that. It has a montage of Punisher getting himself ready and prepping his base.The Punisher's vehicle of choice is a big American Muscle car. Punisher actually fights "El Mariachi" and "Ivan Drago" in them!

The Punisher's method is less "Death Wish" and more " Count of Monte Cristo", as the Punisher, rather than try and get vengeance on a poorly cast John Travolta directly by shooting him in the head, let's the vices of the criminal family destroy him morally first. Sure, it's not very Punisherey, but he does push him into a skull shaped series of explosions at the end.

You see, you KNOW that the criminals aren't gonna kill Frank Castle. They aren't. The tension of the movie needed to be something other than whether The Punisher could take down the crime family, because indeed, that part of it seemed patently easy. But this movie examines the fact that Frank Castle is eternally grieving. That's a point most of this kinds of movies avoid. In most of these "avenge my family" movies, the guy walks off more badass and more complete after achieving their goal. Here, Castle puts a gun under his chin.

It's not an adventure, being the Punisher. He lost his family, and he can't fucking get over it. And he's decided he's not gonna get over it. He's gonna get even. But you're kiddin' yourself if you think he's not in intense agony.

So, yeah, it's not a perfect movie, and certainly not the blue print for a Punisher adaptation. And yeah, the villains are pretty bland and forgettable. And yes, he lets that one guy go. It's a silly action movie with some interesting characterization, peppered with homages. That makes it...what, the best Punisher movie so far?


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