This is what happens when you stray too far…
It would be too easy for me to spout off how much I hated The Punisher and everyone involved in this steaming pile. To be fair, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (soon to be Rebecca Romijn-Duran, oh yea), is quite good. Granted her role is rather simple and one-dimensional (course, anyone who sees this craptasical film will totally get the irony of that statement). Still, the character of Joan is well performed and you genuinely feel sorry for her lot in life. With the exception of the utterly wasted Roy Schieder, all the other performances have been phoned in. Hell, Kevin Nash showed better acting skills in the squared circle. See, I’m doing what I promised I wouldn’t do. Well, let me get the review out of the way so I can get to the point.
Poorly made 80s action movie. Flat characters. Bad acting. Terrible one-liners. The Punisher in Miami. I found myself looking for Crocket and Tubbs to save the day. Alas, nary a Salmon colored blazer to be seen. If you must see this film at least go to a matinee of it, your self respect will thank you later.
Now then, the REAL point of this article: The Punisher painfully shows what happens when you stray too far from the source material.
Their first mistake was showing Frank Castle (aka, The Punisher) as a stable human being. Part of the core of Frank’s character is that he is heavily damaged and scared from the horrors he was forced to experience in the jungles of Vietnam. Frank Castle returns to America and does his best to have a normal life. He marries a woman that helps him rejoin society. He has a child that allows him to see the beauty that still exists in the world. Although his scars are still visible, his wife and child give him a true shot at love and peace. His family soothes the bestial rage that simmers inside him. Then the horrendous moment comes. More then just his family is gunned down on that fateful day in the park. Frank Castle’s humanity dies with them. Frank dies that day. There is only his anger, his rage, and his hate. Only The Punisher remains. By ignoring these simple, but needed character points the film fails before it even has a chance.
Granted, this film is modern and so Vietnam would have to be altered. That would be fine, there have been plenty of bloody moments in history since the 1970s to give Frank his hell. Better yet, place the film in the late 70s early 80s, nothing wrong with some period flicks now and then. Making Frank Castle a simple FBI agent wanting to get out removes some of his core pain. He is not a burned out law enforcement officer. He is an emotionally scarred man who is shattered by the violence brought upon his life. The greatest mistake the film makes however is making the audience feel sorry and pity towards Frank Castle and the people he is dealing punishment to. The best Punisher tales are when the reader is simply an observer of the violence in the Punisher’s world. The Punisher comic allows each one of us to explore that terrible and frightening emotion that can surface from time to time. Through the Punisher we can feel and experience the raw power and visceral pleasure in exacting vengeance. The Punisher film never once gives us that feeling. Even worse, The Punisher makes us feel sorry for the villain. Indeed, we feel MORE sorry for Travolta’s character. Never once did I care when Frank Castle’s family died or the pain he suffered after. I did, however, feel sorrow and pity for Travolta’s family. In a Punisher story this is completely and wholly unacceptable. There is nothing wrong with the sympathetic villain; except in a Punisher story. The Punisher deals out the most violent and merciless form of revenge and the audience must NEVER, not ONCE feel any sympathy for the people he is killing. You must fully agree, support, and possible even enjoy the violence he is dealing. This simply never happens in the film.
I could have forgiven the poor acting. I could have forgiven the cheesy lines. I could even forgive the loose editing. But making me feel pity towards the man who KILLED Frank Castle’s family? NEVER!
THAT deserves the real Punishment.