Friday, April 16, 2004

I'm not sure who decided there was a need for a Punisher movie. The reviews aren't great so far (my favorite is this one, even though I can't speak French: ""Un d├ęsastre. The Punisher ├ęchoue sur absolument toute la ligne.").
Of all the comic book characters I'd like to see on screen, a gun-totin' vigilante wasn't high up there. The Punisher is far from my favorite character, although there have been some good stories involving him, mostly by Garth Ennis.
His story is pretty basic -- his family killed by criminals, Frank Castle takes up a one-man war against crime. Like Batman, except instead of pointy ears Castle wears a bullet-proof outfit with a grinning skull on the front. Oh, and he shoots lots of people instead of whacking them with a batarang.
Not the most subtle of heroes -- and I'd argue The Punisher probably isn't a hero -- but Garth Ennis has done some terrifically twisted, over-the-top stories that play up the insanity of one man declaring a war on crime. It proves even a somewhat goofy character can lead to good comics. His graphic novel 'Welcome Back Frank' is a great start for a handy introduction to the character. His current arc in the ongoing series isn't bad, either — it takes The Punisher entirely seriously, as a bloody crime thriller. The latest story has the character finally captured by the U.S. government. Their offer? Work for them. "Kill bin Laden," one wonk offers.
So the Punisher can work as a character. But this movie opening Friday, co-starring John Travolta, which is often a sign of creative desperation, doesn't inspire confidence. It's part of Marvel's strategy to milk their comic characters for all they're worth post-"Spider-Man". There've been great comic movies from Marvel lately but for every "Spider-Man" there's a floundering "Hulk" or "Daredevil."
The trailers for "Punisher" make it look like an indistinguishable shoot-em-up, a "Death Wish Part XXVII". The appeal to the mass audience of comic book movies is seeing the impossible, like a man flying or swinging on webs. Cool special effects draw them in, and good storytelling makes them work when they do. But The Punisher is a crazy man who shoots criminals. Not that different from a hundred other action movies out there.
I'll check out the video eventually, but "The Punisher" is likely to fade fast at the box office this week I imagine. It's the one thing the vigilante gunman can't beat -- audience apathy.

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