This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
While the Punisher probably wasn’t a huge name back in the day, I want to say that most people know him at this point. The Netflix show certainly helped to spread his name around and in general he has been a consistent character in the Marvel universe who is always showing up in various places. Naturally you expect him to be someone who doesn’t take any prisoners and this film goes that route although he tries to make the case that it isn’t revenge. I would say that it’s a little better than I expected it would be, but ultimately I still wouldn’t call it a good movie.
The movie starts off with Frank Castle and his men busting up another villain operation. It went pretty smoothly except one of the villains wasn’t too smart with how he was waving his gun around and got taken out of the picture. His mother wanted revenge and so the villains murder Frank Castle’s whole family with him being the only survivor. He now wants to punish these guys because it’s clear that the police aren’t going to do anything about it. The gang is virtually untouchable so that’s when it is time to turn to the vigilante side.
Part of why the Punisher is always such an interesting character is because you often see people wishing that the heroes could just go all out and destroy the villains. There are tons of what ifs that explore this and really specific scenarios that practically force heroes to murder people sometimes so you can see there is always a general interest. Well, the Punisher is the perfect character to use for that and so of course he ends up being a bit of a villain by the end usually since he goes around murdering everyone without due process. He is fully outside of the law and he knows it, but at least since he only goes after villains it still makes it easy to root for the guy.
I thought the whole scene of his family getting murdered was handled rather tastefully here. It wasn’t as gritty as it could have been and at least you don’t actually see them getting run over. So you get the general gist of what’s going on here without any unnecessary details and grit. It all had a good amount of restraint. That’s not to say that the whole movie follows that though. For the most part it tends to avoid being too edgy but then it just can’t help itself at other times.
The whole torture scene where they try to break one of Frank’s neighbors was a bit too much. The guy doesn’t talk and stays strong the whole time but the scene goes on too long and torture scenes never end up being all that good for a movie. Big kudos to that guy for staying strong and all but that’s a big scene that I would have removed. I’m glad that at least the Punisher wasn’t going around torturing people. There was an early scene that got me nervous but fortunately it ended up being a big cop-out in the end. Now that was a scene I could get behind.
In general Frank’s a really solid main character. He certainly isn’t going to allow any of the villains to get away with anything and sticks up for the innocent. That’s his whole thing after all so in a lot of ways he’s like a lethal Batman. This is his origin story so it’s not like he’s patrolling the city or anything but he does take down quite a few villains along the way. By the end of the movie I’d say that his kill count is rather high. Most of them are in self defense though.
It was nice to see that his father was also a very decent fighter and the guy even shot a few of the villains. Ultimately he was doomed but at least he wasn’t alone. Frank also meets 3 neighbors who do their best to help out. You have Joan who sort of ties the group together. I thought she could be more subtle in trying to have a romance with Frank though considering that she knows what just happened to him. It would have been really odd if he had just rebounded from losing his wife like that. Bumpo gets the comic relief role for the most part and he’s really just in awe to have a neighbor like the Punisher.
Spacker would also be a comic relief character except I have to bump him up for standing up to the guy who was attacking Joan and then staying strong while he was tortured. He gets fairly big points for that without a doubt. Then we have Otto who ends up helping Frank out since he doesn’t want to die. He’s a traitor to every side and only serves his own interests. The guy is another comedy type character who is lucky that things don’t go very badly for him. The guy is often in sticky situations and I don’t think he even realizes it sometimes.
Saint is the main villain here and he’s your classic gangster type. Part of why he didn’t leave much of an impression on me is because he gets manipulated throughout the entire film. He may play the role of being the big villain but when you’re getting suckered the whole time it isn’t a good look. Murdering Frank’s family wasn’t even his idea, that was all his wife’s doing. So the biggest event in the film wasn’t because of him and then he makes Frank’s job easier by turning on his own people.
Sure, to an extent he still had an intimidating aura but ultimately he wasn’t the guy who could close the deal. His subordinates weren’t even better. One villain is super sketchy to the point where it’s easy for the heroes to blackmail him. Seriously that guy barely took any time to compromise and the wife had the same schedule every week for years so that made it easy for Frank too. This villain group just wasn’t up to snuff and was doomed from the start.
The cops in this film seemed a bit on the corrupt side with how they wouldn’t actually help Frank against the gang. It definitely had to be disappointing for him since you would expect to have some kind of back-up for a mission like this. Instead it just wasn’t to be. I could see a sequel going into that more if this film had ever gotten one. As an origin story you want to set up a lot of plot threads but not to go into them too much and this film did a good job with it. I also like how Punisher just goes home every day after his missions. I do think it’s reasonable that you could do that safely since a lot of people wouldn’t recognize him yet and the ones that do would know better than to mess with him. So it’s a win/win situation on that end.
Overall, It’s interesting to call this film grim since it’s also very comedic at the same time. There’s one particularly long fight that is rather intense but thanks to the music and everything it’s also partially played for laughs. Even then I don’t see how the Punisher was able to get up after getting his head slammed by the fridge multiple times though. That was a bit of a stretch. So the film usually has a dark vibe to it like with the Punisher always drinking and the villains showing their influence but then you also get these random happy moments. I don’t think the idea is bad itself but it didn’t work out very well here. Really if you cut the torture scene that would help a lot but ultimately this isn’t a film where you’ll have a lot of fun. You’re better off giving it a pass and watching Spider-Man instead.