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
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
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.
~~ Jules Brenner