When it comes to film adaptations of Marvel’s famed vigilante, there are two camps. One is the group loyal to the 2004 film starring Thomas Jane. The other camp, which I would proud say I’m a member of, favors the 2008 film with Ray Stevenson. I will admit that the Thomas Jane film is pretty good, yet it has flaws that make me prefer War Zone instead.
Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is undercover for the FBI when a deal goes bad and one of the young dealers is dead. Turns out the dealer is the son of crime lord, Howard Saint (John Travolta). Saint finds Castle’s family and has them brutally murdered. Castle barely survives and is brought back to health. Now, Castle wants vengeance for the death of his family.
Castle systematically takes out members of Saint’s syndicate. Not only is he knocking off members, but also collecting blackmail evidence to use against one of Saint’s associates. During this time, Castle moves into an apartment with neighbors that take in Castle. Now, Castle has a surrogate family to protect, especially when Saint goes in to have Castle taken out.
Before I go into why this film doesn’t completely work for me, let me express what I did like. In the beginning the violence is vicious and unforgiving. The murder of Castle’s family is more than enough for me to want to see these mobsters pay. The violence doesn’t get so bad or rotten like it does in a movie like Death Wish III that no amount of retribution could satisfy.
I like Thomas Jane as Frank Castle. He does a pretty decent job with the character. Any problems I have with the film don’t pertain to Jane or his performance. He was doing as he was directed by Jonathan Hensleigh and how screenwriter Michael France presented his character.
The supporting cast featured a number of talented actors and actresses. Rebecca Romijn teases as a love interest to Castle. Comedian John Pinette (RIP) and Ben Foster are great as Castle’s goofy neighbors. Roy Schieider and Samantha Mathis have small, but memorable parts. Will Patton, Eddie Jemison, and Mark Collie stand out as Saint’s associates.
Last, but far from least, this film has one of my favorite fight scenes in all cinema. Thomas Jane as Castle and Kevin Nash as the Russian is such a crazy, hilarious sequence that it seems out of place for this film. Had the film been able to maintain this degree of absurd humor towards the violence, it would have been Punisher: War Zone four years early.
With those positives established, let me get into what about this film doesn’t work for me. First, its the inconsistency of tone for the film. There are moments where it jumps from gritty to funny to western to dramatic then to cartoonishly violent. With Punisher: War Zone as well as Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 film, they had a steady tone. This film is all over the place and it took me out of the movie.
John Travolta, as the head of the Saint crime family, is a one-note bad guy. There’s nothing interesting or dramatic about him. This comes off as a paycheck performance that pales in comparison to Dominic West as Jigsaw or Doug Hutchison as Looney Bin Jim.
If this is your favorite of the Punisher films, I can respect that. It does have its moments, yet those moments don’t match my sense of awe for War Zone. This film is worth checking out on a rainy day. If you’re a Marvel movie completist or want to delve into Marvel-based films before the Disney buy-out, this is one of the better ones to see.