The Punisher -
Extended Cut (2004/DVD-Video Set)
B+ Sound: B+ Extras: B- Film: B+
Hensleigh's The Punisher
was the biggest guilty pleasure of 2004, but now that 17 minutes of previously
deleted footage has been added back into the film, there's not as much to feel
guilty about. While the theatrical cut was a
highly entertaining throwback to the kind of hardcore vigilante films
Charles Bronson used to star in, the extended cut now elevates it to
what is quite possibly the coolest piece of action filmmaking since Walter
Hill's Last Man Standing (1996).
the Marvel comic that was borne out of the mid-70s heyday of Bronson
and violent revenge movies in general, this second big-screen
version of The Punisher
is not only an infinite improvement over the awful 1989 film
adaptation starring Dolph Lundgren, but also one of the best films ever to
be based on a comic book.
most modern-day movies with comic-book origins, co-writer and first-time
director Hensleigh doesn't get carried away with CGI and incessant quick
cutting, instead setting out to make a grittier, darker and tougher tale
done in the more traditional and hard-edged style of action
filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, Don Siegel and Walter Hill. Hensleigh definitely succeeds,
and handles things with the sure hand of an old pro.
The Punisher was
originally scripted to begin with a prologue set in Kuwait
City during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, but the sequence was
scratched before filming began after being deemed too expensive for a
project budgeted at $30 million -- a very modest sum for an action film of
this era. But for the extended cut, Hensleigh went back with illustrators
and actors Thomas Jane and Russell Andrews to create an animated version of the
sequence that sets up a subplot almost entirely cut out of the theatrical
first meet Frank Castle (Jane), he's the heroic member of the Special
Forces unit during the '91 Gulf War. After returning from the war,
both Castle and his military buddy, Jimmy Weeks (Andrews), become FBI
working undercover as a South African arms dealer, Castle
successfully stages his own death during a sting operation so he can
retire in peace with his wife (Samantha Mathis) and their little boy.
However, during the said sting operation, one of the participants killed is one
of the twin sons of Howard Saint (John Travolta), a Tampa-area crime
lord. Along with his even more vengeful wife (sexy Laura Harring), the
powerful Saint immediately takes steps to track down the man responsible for
setting up his son.
Weeks' secret gambling addiction, Saint discovers Castle's real
identity as The Castle Family is vacationing in Puerto Rico.
Soon Saint's henchmen crash the family reunion, killing almost everybody, well
almost everybody. The massacre wipes out Castle's entire family, and by
entire I mean not just his wife, son, father (Roy Scheider) and mother,
but aunts, uncles and cousins too. However, Castle himself somehow survives despite
receiving three gunshot wounds and being blown out to sea in an explosion
-- yeah, it's unlikely, but otherwise we wouldn't have a movie.
then spends the next several months recuperating with the help of a
fisherman on a remote island. When he returns to the scene of the
massacre, he finds some guns and a T-Shirt with a skull on the front that
his son gave him as a gift. The skull will become the emblem of
Castle's vigilante as he sets out to punish those responsible
for murdering his loved ones.
Castle seeks revenge is not surprising, but he goes about doing it in ways that
are a lot more imaginative than usual in such a vengeance-is-mine movie.
This one also has a surprisingly sharp script with a lot of nice off-beat
touches; one of my favorites involves a scene where a Johnny Cash-looking
assassin named Harry Heck (real-life Country & Western singer Mark Collie)
hired to eliminate Castle walks into a diner where Castle is eating
and sings him a little ditty he wrote especially for the occasion.
nice touch is the tentative friendship that develops between Castle and
the three other outcasts living in the dilapidated building where
Castle takes up residence. Living down the hall is Joan (Rebecca
Romijn), the most beautiful de-glamorized waitress since Michelle Pfeiffer in Frankie & Johnny. Then
(Ben Foster), who has multiple facial piercings, and his corpulent sidekick,
Bumpo (John Pinette). The bonding of these four outsiders is
oddly affecting and gives this ferocious revenge thriller some
are always another key component to action films, and Travolta subdued
performance is far more effective than the hammy
way he portrayed villains in Broken
Arrow (see the Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site) and Face/Off. And as
Saint's vicious right-hand man, Will Patton steals every scene he's
in, again showing he's a master of sinister understatement.
down-to-earth villainy of Travolta and Patton contrasts nicely with
exaggerated characteristics of two secondary hit-men heavies, the
aforementioned singing contract killer and a massive hulk called the
Russian (pro wrestler Kevin Nash, formerly Diesel of the WWF), who has an
over-the-top fight scene with Castle that plays like a great wrestling match.
Like Last Man Standing, Hensleigh's The Punisher is grim, violent film
about an anti-hero protagonist who doesn't care whether he lives or dies
because a large part of him is already dead anyway. Except
in The Punisher we
see the exact point where Frank Castle died in spirit while the spiritual death
of the Bruce Willis character in Last
occurred long before we meet him. Both films, though, manage to
generate an unexpected resonance from the minor connection the alienated
loner makes back to humanity.
a well-plotted, well-shot (by cinematographer Conrad W. Hall) and intense
movie, and Hensleigh does
a good job of balancing the brutal action with dark humor, while
still providing enough defining character moments. He
also finds just the right exaggerated, yet not-too-exaggerated
tone for the material. And harking back to the likes of Death Wish and Dirty Harry, the film is
refreshing in this age of cockamamie political correctness in the un-PC
way it appeals to the righteousness of viewers who want to see innocence
protected, evil defeated and the guilty to suffer.
real disappointment in the film is that the underrated, under-used
Scheider doesn't get more screen time.
and Jane are hoping to reunite for a Punisher 2. It's a rare sequel
that deserves to get made.
DVD version of the extended cut of The
Punisher is top notch, and one of the best looking and sounding
DVDs I've seen to date. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer
has a clear, vivid picture with exceptional 6.1 DTS-ES and 5.1 Dolby
Digital EX sound. The DTS is especially spectacular and should
be the preferred playback version. Editing of both picture and sound
are excellent, especially for the genre.
include a making-of featurette showing how the new animated opening sequence
was achieved. A gallery of Punisher comic-book covers showing examples from
all four decades is also included. Note
that this is also more than the Blu-ray edition of the film that has arrived in
the shorter theatrical cut to begin with.
- Chuck O'Leary