Cinema Signal:

Marvel Comic Book Library
Vol. 1

. "The Punisher"

This comic-strip hero is just a guy. Meaning that he doesn't have superhero or supernatural powers. But, he is a highly skilled agent with a great build, ex-special forces training, and archly clever in taking down the bad guys.

The prologue scene sets up some of undercover agent Frank Castle's (Thomas Jane) capabilities and exploits with an effectively staged sting operation that becomes deadly to several of its participants in the arms trade. When it's over, he declares to his adoring wife Maria (a really alluring Samantha Mathis) and child that the operation was his last. He's retiring to a private, family life.

Trouble is, however, one of the dead bodies is Bobby Saint (James Carpinello) the son of arms dealer extraordinaire and super bad guy, Howard Saint (John Travolta), on whose behalf the arms trade was being made, and he's not about to rest easy over the loss of his son. He puts his best man, Quentin Glass (Will Patton), to find out who was responsible, and he comes up with Castle.

When Saint assigns Glass to take Castle out, Saint's wife Livia (Laura Harring) countermands the order. She wants Castle's entire family. When Saint's team of killers give her what she asked for, and when Castle himself survives a direct bullet and explosion, The Punisher is born.

Castle sets up his new life as a secretive avenger in an old apartment building in a scummy part of town. But the place is inhabited by a set of characters who soon become awed by the size and power of Castle's new toys of defense and destruction. It's here that he meets Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a beauty who is unexplainably unattached. She's overwhelmed by the brooding, handsome victim of tragedy, but is rebuffed. "I'm not the guy you're looking for," he stoically advises her.

With romance held in check, Castle remains free to seek his revenge, which he does with... well, with a vengeance. But this tale sets itself apart from many another action yarn with a brave attempt to stake out some character depth, and not only for the heart-broken Castle. All characters get their moments on the big screen microscope so that we can get a handle on them as people. While this element does, indeed, distinguish itself with a stalwart effort in story telling, it risks yawns, especially from the crowd that came for the action. In probing inner motivations, it barely escapes the fate of the psychologically agonizing "The Hulk," a perhaps too tearful and self examining predecessor.

One of the aspects of this that pays off is in establishing the extreme moral vacuum in which the villains operate, making us wish for their retribution, the ultimate point of the tale. Vengeance is satisfying in direct proportion to the attachment we feel for the avenger and for the basis of his quest. If violence doesn't turn you off, The Punisher's uncompromising pursuit of justice may work for you.

Director Jonathan Helsleigh gives it everything he's got with a well-chosen cast, bringing us a pair of beauties in Mathis and Romijn-Stamos, villainy that you can feel in your gut (Travolta enjoying every minute of it), and classy production values.

The Punisher is a man, one whose every bomb goes off as planned, whose strategies of decimation don't go amiss, who gets shot, beaten to a pulp and pulls together as only a comic strip hero can.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
I saw the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 6

The movie rocked!! so good! perfect action movie. only minimal romance.

                                                   ~~ Mr. Chong

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(sample frames from movies photographed
by Jules Brenner)


Thomas Jane,
meting out punishment with a variety of weapons

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