During the Punisher's heyday as a big-selling Marvel character in the glowing-cover
1980s and early '90s, I was proud to never buy any of his comics.
I wasn't a psycho about it; I bought the Marvel series that I usually bought
when he guest-starred in them. But he's just a guy who shoots people -- nothing
As I write this, it's a few weeks into the new Punisher movie's theatrical run,
and it isn't doing mega-huge. He was right up there with Spidey and X-Men in
sales for years; by that reckoning, it's easy to see why Marvel would try a
But the bottom line is, he's just a guy who shoots people. They already have
those in movies. If everybody in movies popped steel claws out of their hands,
"X-Men" would have tanked, too.
They watered Punisher down in his appearances in superhero comics. He used "mercy
bullets" in his "Spider-Man" issues. I distinctly remember Spidey chiding him
during a fight, saying that he saw Punisher flip the switch on his gun from
"mercy" to "real." What's in mercy bullets, anyway? Blueberries?
I did like "Archie Meets The Punisher," though. It had Jughead.
The Good Parts
One-liners, the lack thereof. This is the first action flick I've seen
in years that didn't employ the tired "Hero Is a Gosh-Darned Wise-acre" method,
where the hero spews wacky in-context japes constantly. ("He lost his head,"
after a decapitation, ad nauseum.) I loved "Hellboy," but it was an egregious
offender. Punisher doesn't talk a lot. This is good.
Thomas Jane. Like Tobey Maguire, Thomas Jane isn't the first guy you
think of to play a comic book hero, but it works. Like Maguire, he did a few
situps for the role; when he's shirtless, I don't mind saying, he looks great.
Is this a secret plan by Marvel to make all of Hollywood healthy?
Hero vs. Wuss Fight, the lack thereof. You choose action heroes because
they look good. You choose action villains because they're good actors. Nobody
thought Jack Nicholson could beat up Batman, or that Raul Julia could take down
Jean-Claude Van Damme, but they fought anyway. Most capital-A "Actors" look
like they couldn't lift a gun. There is no pier-six brawl between Punisher and
Now, if he was still "Saturday Night Fever" Travolta he'd have a shot. The
Hero vs. Wrestler Fight. Punisher fights pro wrestler Kevin Nash, playing
The Russian from the Garth Ennis comic. The fight is a comedy bit, and it's
a nice break from everyone (except Travolta) trying to be serious. Plus, I'm
happy to see any pro wrestler working. But would it have been too cheeky to
let Dolph Lundgren play The Russian? He's got experience.
The skull shirt! This was an amazingly silly omission in the Dolph Lundgren
almost-bootleg "Punisher" movie. A Punisher shirt back then was thought to be
too comic-booky. A billion-jillion dollars in comic-booky movie money later,
they show it.
It would not have been a big deal if it had been in the first movie. But in
watching this movie, I became obsessed with it. Whenever he wasn't wearing it,
I wanted to scream.
The Need for Punishment. The setup is brutal and ferocious. (Roy Scheider
appears as Punisher's dad. If this movie had been made in the 1970s, when Punisher
first appeared in the "Spider-Man" comic, Scheider would have been ideal casting.
) You want to see the bad guys get what's coming to them.
The Bad Parts
The Punishment. Punisher doesn't give it to them. He does too little
punishing. Instead, half the movie is spent on a hilariously complex sting operation.
I swear I could hear Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F" from "Beverly Hills Cop"
playing while Punisher videotapes Travolta's top stooge, and calls his wife
using a fake voice.
Mystery Healing Guy and Bad Guys Who Can't Hit Sides of Barns. The only
ways Punisher survives on two occasions. (A bad guy shoots him while Punisher
is on his knees in front of the guy, and his gun is only feet away from Punisher's
Travolta. He was playing it as big, big camp, but Thomas Jane was playing
it serious. Not a good mix. This is Travolta's first superhero movie (if you
don't count "Staying Alive"). I think he thought he'd be wearing tights and
a mask. At least he wasn't wearing a giant codpiece. Also, keep an eye out for
what I hope is just a chubby stuntman.
Punisher Is A Boozehound! Punisher guzzles Wild Turkey, to numb his pain.
(Product placement: Actual Wild Turkey, the homeless man's favorite!) Then Joan
(Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) comments about his boozing, and it almost becomes a
subplot. His family is dead, lady, let the man have a drink! According to the
movie, he can't just be grimly focused; the movie infers that he's a bitter,
obsessed vigilante -- BECAUSE HE'S DRUNK!
"Punisher" was disjointed; some scenes were too long, some too short. The
point of the Punisher is that he kills the hell out of bad guys, then kills
them some more. You want to see the bad guys get theirs. But when Punisher gives
it to them, it's not fun.
Punisher is dead inside, with only one focus. The movie got that right. But
for once in a comic book flick, the villains don't measure up to the hero.
"Punisher" was satisfactory at best.
But man alive, that sting was goofy. And much longer than "Nick Nolte bites
the electric cable"-style goofy.