In Defense of The Punisher
A while back I mentioned that I was a fan of all the Punisher movies, though if I had to pick my favorite, it would be the Thomas Jane movie.
Really the big issue here is I think they are out of order. If you shuffle them around a bit, an arc begins to appear. Let’s do these in my order, starting with the Jane movie.
I know it’s an origin movie, but much like I do with the first Spider-Man movie, I usually start this guy in about halfway through so we have the origin out of the way. Still, that’s important to what I’m observing. The movie serves to tell us where Frank is coming from. It shows his tragedy and his immediate reaction, a lashing out at the gangsters who killed his family.
This film begins his descent into madness. You see him still in touch with humanity though, through the people in his apartment building, but even then – he’s pulling away. You know when he disappears, he’s gone for good.
Poor Dolph has constantly been blamed for the failure of this film. I couldn’t disagree more. sure, he could be a little more articulate, but then again, her dosen’t really need to be does he? The Punisher speaks rarely, and then only when there ‘s something important to say.
The costume has been blamed as well. This really isn’t a bad costume. I miss the skull. I do. Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about how the clever director shaded Dolph’s face so you could see the skull there. I think that’s overstating it a bit, but I understand. We also tend to forget just HOW different this costume was at the time. The modern Punisher wears a costume very similar to what we see Lundgren in, but back in the 80’s he was still in spandex like every other hero, with white boots and gloves. This costume was really a bit of a shock to the fanboys. Still it was a time period when it was fashionable to do superhero movies and change the costume completely.
No, what sinks this movie is the script. The more I watch it, the more i think this wasn’t written to be a Punisher movie, but rather just another low budget action flick, re-written to make it into the Punisher movie.
Having the Yakuza as the villain is a bizarre choice for a movie that’s trying to introduce a character to the public. it’s suited far more for a sequel. The dialogue is clumsy and the disgraced thespian turned alcoholic informant is just annoying.
It’s not all bad though. The “B” story with the Frank’s old partner seeking him out is very well done, probably the best part of the film. Louis Gosset Jr grounds the movie and gives us someone to relate to. I personally imagine he’s the same African American guy from the first movie who did the initial drug bust with Frank that resulted in Travolta’s son’s death. If you can get your hands on the workprint of this you really ought to. It shows far more range on Lundgrens part – there’s more flashbacks to before Frank became the Punisher, several which are referenced in the final cut. I understand that they mostly make the running time longer and drag the pace a bit but several things make more sense in it too.
Imagine now, that it’s been five years since the first movie. Frank is now living alone in the sewer, completely separated from humanity. his descent into madness is complete and he has little or no human contact. He’s dropped weight, note eating right, never venturing to the surface world except to kill. The sum of his human encounters is that once in a while he pumps an informant for information, but that’s strictly business, not personal. He is singly concentrating on wiping out the mob, and he’s almost succeeded, but his madness is wild, unfocused.
It takes the kidnapping of the mobsters children by the Yakuza to bring him back into the human race. He comes out to rescue them in the process encountering his old partner. He begins to see the need for human contact, for relationships. Perhaps he even sees the benefits tactically. That will lead him to build more contacts and wage his war on crime more effectively. Something we see in full swing in the next film : War Zone.
In War Zone, even more time has passed. The stated body count has increased from the Lundgren film. In this movei we see Frank has built a support structure both in his police contact Soap and his armoror Microchip. Micro’s supplies have helped fortify the sewer that Frank is still linvign in and probably helped him be a more efficiant killing machine. Now with his madness and rage fous insted of wild like the Lundgren movie, we see a more human Punisher, deadlier than ever. Children are still his best connection to humanity thoguh and we see that again here, a theme continued from the Lundgren movie. It fits best this way.
It’s a pity the way War Zone was received. The director has stated being frustrated by the cries of over the top violence in this movie (see my upcoming article on Judge Dredd for my opinions on what constitutes Ultra-Violence. This movie has a lot of kills, but not a lot of gore) when the critics didn’t understand she was coping most of those scenes almost panel for panel from the comics.
I don’t mind this movie, but I do think Ray Stevenson gets a little too chatty for the Punisher and the mistake of his, killing the undercover agent, which drives a lot of the story just turns me right off. I think it was poor choice. The Punisher doesn’t make those kind of mistakes, and if he dose, he doesn’t get this emo over it.
It was great to see Jigsaw here. I think he should have appeared earlier in the series, but then again, I suppose I understand why he didn’t. It’s a pity they made him so loony. Really a shame. It damages the character a little too much and combined with the other factors just drags the movie down when it could have been so much better. Still it serves as a good final chapter in this series. As I said, there’s a definite arc here and I could easily consider this an unintentional trilogy. It’s a pity there no more movies coming our way any time soon, but you can bet that the next time the Punisher hits the Silver screen, I’ll be there watching… and trying to see wher tit will fit in this list.