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Having seen this film at the cinemas, I already had an idea of what to expect. Although I left the theatre disappointed at this new adaptation of my favourite comic book hero, I didn’t think it was an overly bad movie. Maybe out of ten it would get a five, or a five and a half if possible. However, when this newly released R4 edition of the DVD came out, I decided I would give the film one more chance to impress me as a fan. It is a surprise to say, but like a lot of the critics are saying, this is a film that is enjoyed a lot more on a second viewing....

Punisher, The
Film
The film opens with an arms deal going sour when undercover FBI Agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) foils an attempt to buy illegal arms. A very unhappy development is the death of a young man during the shooting. This young man turns out to be the son of Howard Saint (John Travolta), a very bad man, but also a very powerful and influential man. Upon discovering Castle’s part in his son’s death, Saint sends a team of gun-happy assassins to murder the entire Castle family at a family reunion. Frank survives the massacre and with memories of his wife and son lying dead in front of him, he takes up his guns and goes out to bring down Saint and his army. When the law won’t punish the guilty, he will. Castle dons the old skull costume and takes the fight to the bad guys as the Punisher.

Ok, now hands up anyone who hasn’t heard that plot before. It’s an old plot, but it is still a fun movie. There is definitely a lot wrong with it however. For starters, the Punisher in the comic book would take up his guns and totally obliterate anyone involved in the massacre. This Punisher only does this now and then as for most of the time he is plotting and planning with his camera and with a fake fire hydrant. Very un-Punisher like. This was a major drawback the first time, but on second viewing, it was easier to digest. It is also a comfort that when he does get angry, we are in for a few surprises. The second viewing also helps to realise that non-violent vengeance is can also be a pretty cool punishment.

Another drawback is the very noticeable flaws in the plot. The most noticeable being the bad guys sending 80s rock star looking assassin Harry Heck and a really big Russian guy to kill Castle where he lives, but they don’t just lob a grenade through the window or have a few guys with machine guns walk in. Did they really want this guy dead or just want to scare him a little? The same can be said about Castle. He knows exactly where the bad guys are, but for some reason decides to plot against them for a while and then go after them with machine guns in the final twenty minutes. Most uncool.

Punisher, The
The only other really annoying thing is the character of Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Although Romijn gives a great performance, the character has a thing for our Punisher and tries to win him over. Isn’t that just a little inappropriate Joan? The guy just had his family murdered and here you are trying to pick him up? Way out of line girl.

With all that out of the way, there are plenty of positives about this movie. First off, the action. Director Jonathon Hensleigh made it known he did not want any computer-generated assistance in his action scenes. This is very effective as all the stunts, car crashes and explosions look very nice and are much more believable than most other action movies. The action and stunts are very practical and look great. Very nicely done.

Also to be complimented is Thomas Jane (as Tom Jane) who gives a spot-on performance as the tortured antihero. He has the physique, the masculine yet emotional face, and the trained ability to play the role physically, but he also gets the demeanour of the character darn right perfect. From his emotionless response to his neighbours to his anger fuelled attack on the Saints to his reaction to seeing his wife and son run down, Jane is brilliant. Since Dolph Lundgren (The Punisher from the terrible 80s version) looks like a wooden statue, it is an absolute joy to watch Jane play this part so perfectly. Although John Travolta does not give the performance of his career in the role as villainous Howard Saint, it is clear he is having a whale of a time playing this part and really loses himself in it. He is fun to watch, but that’s about it.

Overall this is really just one of those movies where you leave your brain behind and just enjoy the silliness of it. The reason for the negative thoughts upon first viewing may be that it was not all the Punisher should be, and also commercials promising something else may have had something to do with it too. A second, more ‘educated’  viewing will se there is much to like here. There are fantastic stunts and action sequences, and a very cool hero as well as a fantastic so far unmentioned music score. But there is also some down sides such what can only be describes as ‘not Punisher behaviour’ which will irritate fans of the comic, and some silly plot holes. But they are easy to overcome if you just kick back and watch this hero take the fight to the bad guys in whatever way he chooses, violent or not. Enjoy.

Punisher, The
Video
There really isn’t much to say about the quality of the video other than it is very nice. No grain, pixelation, scratches, or any other sorts of distortion was noticed. Skin tones were all very well shown with shadow detail being very good, especially in scenes in a dark nightclub towards the end of the film. There was only one problem noticed really, and that was a hint of what looked like NTSC interference around some of the flames in the big explosion scenes such as the pier and the nightclub. But other than that, a great video transfer.

Audio
Listened to in full was the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround option. This audio option is a blast (pun intended). The value for money is really shown in the action scenes where all speakers come roaring to life with bullets flying in all directions like they’re whizzing past your ear, explosions making you duck for cover and car crashes that have debris flying all around you. The surrounds mostly remain dormant with occasional bleeding in the quieter scenes, but this is hardly an issue, a little more ambience would have made it perfect. Overall the track is clear, balanced, immersive and at the best of times, very exciting. The climactic shootout is reference material.

Extras
First up is an audio commentary by director Jonathan Hensleigh, and a good one it is too. Hensleigh is obviously thrilled to be lending his voice to his first film. He has much to talk about which prevents this commentary from ever being dull. A good listen.

Next on the menu is a documentary entitled ‘War Journal - On set of The Punisher’. It is a thirty-minute documentary that covers the films pre-production, production, post production, and even the premiere. It is good to see interviews with all key cast and crew in a feature that goes into great detail. The only down side is that they keep referring to the budget, but otherwise it’s great. There is so much here and the time just flies.

Punisher, The
Following that there is another documentary called ‘Keeping It Real - The Punisher Stunts’. A twenty-five minute look at all the complex stunts in the film and how director Hensleigh wanted no CGI enhancement, which is why the stunts had to be flawless. We get to see all the major stunts such as the car crashes and the Russian fight being performed and the lead up to the shooting of them. A very good documentary.

After that we get two deleted scenes. One is an alternate opening, which would have been misplaced if used. Another is only twenty seconds and is totally irrelevant. Both come with optional director’s commentary. One has to wonder however why the thirty minutes of deleted footage mentioned (and even partly shown) in the making of documentary wasn’t included.

Finishing off the package is a music video for the song ‘Step Up’ by Drowning Pool. This is a poor metal song and the clip does nothing to enhance it.

This is a very nice set of extras, but there is the lingering thought of why two featurettes and a trailer for the video game that were on the R1 release are absent here. Granted the feature about the cover art is missing because the two cover arts are different, but the documentary about the Punisher’s origins and the video game trailer would have boosted the extras score here. But there is still hardly anything to sneeze at in this R4 set.

Punisher, The
Overall
A good little DVD to pick up, if given the chance. Perhaps worth a rental before deciding to buy it or not. Most of the down sides to this movie are easy to overlook, and the more you watch it, the more you see to like about it. A nice addition to the comic book action genre. The DVD is great as we get a wonderful video transfer with a great 5.1 EX track to compliment. We get a good (yet seemingly incomplete) load of extras to finish off with as well. Action fans have fun.


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