The Punisher – Frank Castle – Thomas Jane – one of the most popular, non-super heroes of the Marvel canon, is finally on the big screen. Some of you may remember how I flipped out in excitement when I saw the poster advertising the movie last summer… ok a couple of you. Oh fine, none of you are supposed to remember these things, I just like to pretend. Anyways, the movie just opened today and it ROCKED!!! Not only was it one of the best hero-birth stories I’ve ever seen, it was so true to the spirit of the comic book I almost cried. I had been worried about the Russian’s appearance from what little we saw of him in the trailer, because all you saw was some shots of him throwing Frank around, and you never really go the concept of his massive size compared with Frank like in the comics. This shot of the trailer obviously worried me, but I was worried for all the wrong reasons. I mean, in the day and age where they can make the six foot something John-Rhys Davies the size of a midget (Gimli from Lord of the Rings), I never should have doubted the visual effects crew. They made Kevin Nash (the Russian) stand at least a foot above Tom Jane and the shots were awesome. The whole fight with the Russian was excellent (especially the home-run grenade). So now the only thing I have to complain about is the lack of witty banter from the Russian. That was probably the best part of the comic fight. Every punch included a, “Come on, big boy!” or a reprimand for using guns. Instead, the whole thing was conducted in the dulcet tones of opera from the neighbor’s apartment. It’s excellent juxtaposition, from Dave pantomiming Pavarotti to the Russian swinging a toilet at Frank. The neighbors, by the way, were pulled perfectly from the comic series and I loved watching the antics of Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Spacker Dave (Ben Foster), and Mr. Bumpo (John Pinette) as they try to cope with Frank and his “punishing.” Of course, now that I think about it, I wonder if my entire experience was biased because I read not only the “Welcome Back, Frank” trade paperback but also the comic book adaptation of the movie. But then again, I was prepared to come in here and say that Thomas Jane sucked as the Punisher. I can’t say that. He worked really hard to prepare for this role and he earned his place. In fact, I should be punished (heh) for even thinking that Tom Jane couldn’t handle the role. The shot that really cemented Jane’s superiority was near the end, when he walks toward Howard Saint (John Travolta). He walks out of this burning nightclub towards Travolta and the flames frame him perfectly, symbolically burning the image into my minds eye. He is Frank Castle.
But back to reviewing the movie. There were two things that didn’t quite fit into my little view of their pseudo-reality. The first was the death of the Russian. In the comic books, Frank forces Mr. Bumpo on top of the Russian, suffocating him, but in the movie, Castle and the Russian, after a rigorous fight sequence, … fall down a flight of stairs. And somehow, the Russian’s neck breaks, effectively killing him. Didn’t work for me. Also, I didn’t like it when the Russian just shows up at Frank’s apartment. In the comic book, the mob just got lucky and spotted him going home, then sent the Russian in. So I just would have liked to see the discovery of Frank’s apartment instead of the Russian just showing up.
The special effects were really cool, especially when the Punisher drives a knife through a guy’s jaw into his brain and swings a paper cutter blade into a guy’s head. Just the composition of the effect was really slick and really cool looking.
Jonathan Hensleigh, who had written several good (in my eyes) movies, made his directorial debut here and, as I said before, did the comics more than justice. Oh yeah, and the movie was filmed completely in America. Hallelujah! Film-makers are staying home again! I’m tired of Canada stealing all the good movie credits. Unless the film takes place in Canada, don’t film it there to save money (unless you make good use of the money, which they never do, so they can never film in Canada (logical paradox)).