The Punisher is another of the current wave of comic book to film conversions pouring out of Hollywood at the moment. This is an attempt to squeeze more cash from a Marvel license with no thought given to quality in terms of acting, direction or script. What you get is a muddled action wannabe which is thoroughly predictable and tedious.
The success of Spiderman and the X-Men has encouraged this movement but let´s not forget Daredevil, The Fantastic Four and the original Punisher film. After seeing Dolph in the first Punisher film they made back in 1989 I genuinely believed the low point of comic book characters in film had been reached but this might actually be worse.
The storyline is the ultimate vengeance cliche, hardnut Frank Castle has his entire family killed before his very eyes and is left for dead by demented bad men. Naturally he is a little annoyed and so he decides to kill them all in a violent blaze of glory. There are incidental characters along the way but none of them matter and nothing alters the basic premise. A Hollywood action paint by numbers is what follows as Castle hunts down the men responsible for his family tragedy and...well...guns them down.
The makers of this film learned nothing from the success of Spiderman, instead of re-using plot lines and background story from the actual comic books they are basing the film on, they decided they could improve the Punisher. Instead of just his wife and kid being killed, as in the comic, they up the odds and make it his entire extended family, all his friends, his pet goldfish and some guy he met once. Instead of being some kind of mysterious mercenary or army veteran, as in the comic, they make him a member of an anti-terrorist organisation (how topical). The changes don´t stop there, his helper character from the comic is split into three wacky characters, to appeal to a wider audience no doubt, and they just can´t resist throwing in some kind of love interest, after all what Hollywood action hero is without one?
This won´t bother people who never read the comic but it instantly pisses off fans who paid money to see The Punisher on film not a generic wooden muppet from the Hollywood warehouse. Not only do they make a load of awful changes they also fail to include a recognisable baddie from the comic (no Kingpin or even Jigsaw). What we get is mind boggingly more horrible and macabre than that.... we get John Travolta prancing around in a bright yellow shirt while ponderously smoking a pipe and trying to look threatening.
Perhaps the saving grace of the film is the car wreck performance of John Travolta as he gives one of the most cringeworthy and embarrassing acting performances ever seen by anyone anywhere ever. He is not even slightly believable as his demented filthy rich criminal character and the combination of outfits, ridiculous facial expressions and that stupid pipe he keeps sticking in his mouth should reduce the room to hysterical laughter.
The direction is completely without merit and even captures that made for TV sheen in places. Director Jonathan Hensleigh has never directed a film before and you can tell, he is actually a writer and I´m tempted to tell him to stick to that but looking at his writing credits perhaps he should just retire and do us all a favour. This guy is a no talent stain who writes the cheesiest dialogue imaginable complete with nonsensical one-liners. He has clearly never witnessed a realistic conversation and has no idea how to make a coherent story come to life.
The rank writing and direction still cannot take anything away from the deeply lamentable acting. Thomas Jane as Frank Castle does a great job of being completely unlikeable, uncharismatic and unstylish throughout, which is something of a drawback for an action hero. There are lots of familiar character actors filling the supporting roles and obviously taking a payday and then there´s John Travolta. Travolta as Howard Saint simply has to be seen, he´s never been a great actor but this is beyond a joke.
Now there is just time for a special mention of possibly the most foul thing ever done to a comic book character on the big screen...the outfit. Castle is given a T-shirt by his son just before the bad guys kill everyone, a Punisher T-shirt straight from the merchandising for the film you are actually watching. After they all die Castle is washed up on the beach and finds the T-shirt deciding to wear it as a tribute to his revolting son which made me vomit my entire stomach up.
This is a very bad film which can only increase the suicide rate across the world. Naturally there is worse to come as The Punisher 2 is in production now. What have we done to deserve this plague? Must we all carve our eyes out before the braindead Hollywood execs stop their insane cocaine fuelled desire for money from ruining loads of films? The Punisher is certainly punishing for the audience, if you see it coming then run for the hills!