Marvel's Underappreciated Gem: 2004's "The Punisher"



The 1989 adaptation of Marvel's "The Punisher" was a cheesy, action-packed, B-movie starring Dolph Lundgren. It wasn't good. It didn't nail the spirit of the comic book and was badly cast. The 2004 version, on the other hand, slyly directed by Jonathan Henseligh, is an under appreciated gem from the Marvel cannon. It's a film that is neither cliched nor plays it safe, an intense ride from beginning to end that had me pinned to my seat. The fact that this film came out before the start of MCU, 2008's "Iron Man" probably the starting point, makes it take risks and go into endeavors that would have otherwise never been possible post-2008. 

The film plays like a Greek tragedy, it's a mix of human drama, violent action and even has glimmers of dark comedy around its edges.  The first half-hour of the movie – which sets up the events which are to follow – is is the Greek tragedy, powerfully realized as our main protagonist's family is cruelly slaughtered on-screen. Te set-up gets you into the story and the revenge tale that is about to happen. Its a vigilant thriller, with violent imagery that puts Deadpool's R Rating to shame. What this film has that many of the MCU films don't is touching gravitas, you feel for Frank Castle, The Punisher as played by Thomas Jane, and you really do understand the torturous tactics the he uses. 

Jane is outstanding in the role, not only massively muscular, but a quality actor too that has been severely underused in his career. For the story to work the bad guys need to be three-dimensional and Will Patton as a  and John Travolta,  both cast as the sadists to end all sadists, benefit from their overacting chops to construct antagonists that are as despicable as they are, not joking, humane.  Henseligh directs the action scenes in a way that he lets them breathe. There's no relentless cutting, nor is there any reason to make them too stylized, this is old-school 1970's maverick filmmaking. A can't miss sequence is when Castle fights a hired Russian assassin in one of the most brutal, exciting and visceral fights I have ever seen. Think "Death Wish" or "Dirty Harry" and you'll get a feel of what it's like watching "The Punisher" at its punchiest.


Reviews were much maligned when The Punisher came out in 2004, but, in retrospect, they were wrong. Times change and, after a hundred or so comic book adaptations, Jonathan Hensleigh's vision of what a comic book movie should be like has aged like fine wine. Maybe it's time for more people to give this harrowing adaptation a second look because, if anything, its relevance lies in exposing the darkness of the human heart. 
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