I knew The Punisher (2004) was bad and watched it anyway
I knew from some reviews on the internet that The Punisher (2004) starring Thomas Jane was terrible, but largely tried to look for something positive in this awful movie, like I usually do with many other bad movies. There isn’t much to like. I’d say the set pieces and the expensive cars are the best part, which is being generous. Thomas Jane’s acting is about average, but the script doesn’t do him any favors. John Travolta is just god-awful as the main gangster, and he smokes a pipe at one point, like he’s an old English man or something. This movie also tries to rip off other movies, like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Dirty Harry. It lacks a lot of focus and polish.
Roger Ebert called this movie this best terrible movie ever made, but I don’t agree. It doesn’t look any better than any of the other superhero movies made around that time, such as The Fantastic Four (2005) and X-Men (2000). Sure, the explosions are cool and the expensive cars are polished up just right, but none of it means anything. None of it fits together into a comprehensive and fluid story, because the script is really bad. I mean, just terrible.
The script does a lot of bad plotting. It tells us Frank Castle is a war hero and a good cop, but never shows us. He’s a heroic soldier and tough guy, but we never see why. He’s never given any of the balls to really get the job done, and the movie spends most of the running time explaining why these criminals deserve to die.
This movie doesn’t get Frank Castle. He’s a man scarred by war and the death of his family, much like Chris Kyle in American Sniper, except The Punisher is a movie that doesn’t play anything seriously. The kills, the dialogue, and the story are so over-the-top, it isn’t even close to American Sniper’s tone in any remote way. This film wishes it were American Sniper. In American Sniper, the characters are fully fleshed out and the movie excels at character development, showing pain and showing heroism. There’s not one ounce of that in The Punisher.
This movie even makes fun of Frank Castle, poking fun at his murderous antics. At one point, Castle has his victim tied up and hanging from the ceiling, so you figure he intends to torture him for information. Instead of that, Castle pulls out a popsicle and jabs the criminal with it, only pretending to torture him. I’m not saying I wanted to see this guy cut open, but I think the popsicle and the silliness of this character really ruins the mood. It’s just bad.
The movie also goes Mission Impossible on us, as Castle turns everyone against the villain. The way he does it is pretty laughable and silly. He drags a false fire hydrant in front of Travolta’s car, so his wife can get some parking tickets and prove that she was with another man. Or something equally as complicated and stupid as that. Frank loads the villain’s can of peanuts with a spring snake, so he is surprised when it pops out. Is this The Punisher or The Riddler? Go kill him already. When he does get around to it, Castle drags Travolta through a parking lot and then blows up all of the cars. The fire looks like a skull from the sky. Just dumb. Plain dumb. Overdramatic and overwritten.
Overall, this movie is bad. It borrows from a lot of better movies and does what they did, but does it badly. I didn’t even like the generic music, that’s how awful this was. Frank Castle needs to be emotionally scarred, like Charles Bronson in Death Wish, but never even comes close to that tone or presentation. It can’t even embrace being an anti-Vietnam War parable, because that part of the character is dated, so it can only be about revenge. The problem is that the director wanted to go “beyond” a simple revenge thriller and do something more, but only bloated his movie with unnecessary and stupid stuff.