The Punisher (2004)
The Punisher (2004)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: April 16th, 2004 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh Actors: Thomas Jane, Samantha Mathis, Eddie Jemison, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn, John Pinette, Will Patton




he original “The Punisher” (directed by Mark Goldblatt, the Oscar-nominated editor of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), with the towering Dolph Lundgren in the lead, shouldn’t have been difficult to improve upon. But through the use of softy Tom Jane, utterly terrible dialogue, a lifeless screenplay, and a gross lack of actual punishment, this 2004 remake is one of the most disappointing comic book-to-movie adaptations of all time. It takes a film as bad as the follow-up, “Punisher: War Zone” (2008) – which drastically shifted tone and design – to make this mundane actioner appear decent.

When Bobby Saint (James Carpinello) is killed during an undercover FBI operation against international arms dealers, his father, Florida crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta), is understandably enraged. In retaliation, he orders a hit on Frank Castle (Tom [now Thomas] Jane), the former Special Missions operative behind the bust. But after Castle’s family is ruthlessly murdered, the counter-terrorism specialist becomes inconsolably hell-bent on bringing violent vigilante justice down upon the man responsible.

When Frank devises a complex blackmail scheme to frame Howard’s right-hand man Quentin (Will Patton) and Saint’s wife Livia (Laura Harring) into exacting revenge amongst themselves, the whole concept behind the Punisher figure turns tragically pitiful. Shouldn’t the unstoppable vigilante conduct destructive methods of retribution against those who have wronged him? Apparently, he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. Even more disheartening is the amount of punishment doled out to Frank himself – a towering Russian assassin (Kevin Nash) mops the floors with the self-proclaimed Punisher, leaving the soldier battered and bloodied, which in turn causes an innocent acquaintance to undergo excruciating torture to protect the wounded “hero.”

If it wasn’t bad enough that Frank absorbs more punishment than he’s able to dish out, much of the film is bogged down with stale comic relief from three unnecessary characters. In an attempt to bring relatable human characteristics back into the empty shell of Castle, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ Joan is thrown in as eye candy and a lukewarm romantic interest. Her partnership with Dave (Ben Foster) and Bumpo (John Pinette) generate several moments of lightheartedness (such as lip-synching to classical operas while whipping up a dessert), which should never have found a home in any “Punisher” storyline. Ill-advisedly, “Punisher: War Zone” attempts to correct this mistake, but goes so far in the opposite direction that it too fails to entertain.

For a movie about brutal eye-for-an-eye reprisal, there really isn’t much savagery (or ferocity) taking place during the majority of the film (despite the rare R-rating for a Marvel entity). Frank Castle’s blossoming friendships and the intricacies of stealthy revenge stratagems overshadow the tepid sprinkling of actual action scenes. And when they do finally arrive, they’re watered down by throwaway villains – like a stereotypical Russian juggernaut or a weirdo who strums a guitar before going in for the kill.

– The Massie Twins

  • 3/10