The Punisher

Not recommended. First of all, this is a revenge movie, so for a theological examination of the morality of revenge see my article, “A Time To Revenge?: Vigilanteism and Movie Justice in A Time to Kill. But leaving that aside for the moment, I would like to address the story of this genre movie. This movie was very difficult to watch, not because it was a revenge movie, but because it was a revenge movie trying not to be a revenge movie until the last act, which totally confused it. Basically, you have this undercover cop, Frank Castle, whose entire family and friends are killed as revenge for a mobster’s son’s death under Frank’s sting operation. The storytellers try to make Frank a righteous and good man by showing that the mobster’s kid shows up unannounced, and Frank doesn’t know who he is, and then Frank is disappointed when he discovers that the kid is accidentally shot dead in a drug bust he was working on. No one was supposed to get hurt, we discover. Okay, so that’s fine. I like righteous men as heros. But the problem is this: the movie sets up a very emotionally extreme revenge situation but delivers a confused pay off by trying to make Frank’s revenge, “legitimate” or “fair,” rather than embracing the full heart of revenge. It just isn’t emotionally or humanly believable. The mobster, Howard, finds out that Frank was the head of the sting that killed his kid, and Howard’s wife gets him to slaughter Frank’s entire family and friends at a party in revenge. Frank barely survives and embarks on his blood vengeance. The problem is that this slaughter is very extreme, and even believable, but Frank’s reactions are not. After he gets well, he packs up a pile of guns and weapons and moves to the city to track down Howard. BUT THEN HE DOESN’T USE THE WEAPONS. Rather, Frank decides to try to be a pest to Howard by dumping his dirty drug money into the streets, and get his Cuban connections mad at him for losing money, and then to get Howard thinking his wife is committing adultery with his most trusted henchman. Frank does all this in an effort to get Howard’s own evil to turn against him and bring his downfall. Okay, that’s a clever revenge tactic, but it does not fit at all the emotional set up of the story. Frank is set up as an ex-special forces guy with all these weapons, etc. etc. His ENTIRE family is slaughtered, so his revenge is to go and cause financial trouble for the responsible mobster? NO WAY. He would track him down and each of his family members, one by one, and kill them like an avenging angel, that’s what he would do. The kind of revenge the storytellers actually have Frank embark on would work best if the mobster just financially screwed over a NON-ACTION guy, who then gets back by screwing up the Mobster’s financial life, but then the mobster kills the guy’s family half way through, which leads the hero to then track down the mobster’s family. You see? Escalating revenge, not backwards revenge. Howard killed Frank’s entire family for goodness sake! He would kill them all, not be a pest. The heart fizzed immediately out of this story. And to make matters worse, they always try to make Frank super fair, even though he’s seeking revenge. Frank is supposed to be dead, right? SO he has the surprise element which is perfect, right? He can start attacking Howard and no one will know who the heck is doing it, right? SO what does Frank do? He shows himself in front of his ex-partners at the Police headquarters to complain that they haven’t done anything to jail the mobster after killing Frank’s family! He tells the world he’s alive, when he had such great cover? How stupid and unbelievable. Then, on Frank’s first revenge, he spills Howard’s millions of dollars out a window, and when he comes across two of the bodyguards who killed his family, he faces them down like a gunslinger fight. And he let’s them draw first before he shoots them both. Are you kidding me? A man bent on revenge, who gives his enemies a fighting chance? Who are they trying to kid? I applaud the storytellers for trying to make a hero with ethics who always is justified in his violence out of self-defense, but it just doesn’t fit the genre. THIS IS A REVENGE STORY GUYS, not a superman comic. Road to Perdition deals with this theme how it should be dealt with in a much more believable way. Okay, so then Frank is holed up in a little apartment where he is recognized by his tenants, and he doesn’t seem to care. Also, he doesn’t seem to care about being found out and tracked down by the mobster, so he doesn’t hide his whereabouts. How ignorant can he be? And then there’s this big scene where a loser neighbor with body piercing determines he is not going to talk to the mobster to tell him where Frank is hiding in the building. So he is tortured, but he never talks. This is completely unbelievable. They try to set up that Frank saved this kid from being beaten up earlier, so he returns the favor. But the problem is that the kid is such a white trash weak loser that it is entirely unbelievable. Of course, he would give up. Heck, hardened soldiers give up when tortured. It is laughable. And then the mobster doesn’t kill the neighbors for not talking? Yeah, right. He slaughters entire families, but doesn’t kill people who are covering for the hero. And now here is the ridiculous part. After the mobster hurts this one kid by ripping out all his body rings, NOW Frank is really mad. NOW he takes all his guns and weapons and hunts down the mobster and his family to kill them all brutally. Of course, he still let’s the mobster kill his own wife out of misplaced jealousy, but still, this is the last act where Frank goes ballistic and finally mercilously slaughters the Mobster’s gang, one by one in a deliberated hunt. Oh, so you kill his entire family and he causes financial trouble for you, but hurt my white trash neighbor friend, and that’s going too far. Now, I’m going to kill you all. That is so backwards that I should have walked out of the movie for that alone. Okay, I didn’t. I had to be able to finish my argument. ☺ And the scene where Frank prepares to kill them all is where they have a little voiceover of Frank explaining his rationale why sometimes you have to go outside of the law to get justice done. It’s all rather pedantic and preachy, but it shows just how confused the storytellers are, trying to make a revenge movie, but to stay as fair and self-defense oriented as long as possible. Of course, I’m with them in their intent, but they just picked the wrong story to work that theme. It would have been more germane to the story to have Frank go out on an emotionally justified revenge, but learn in the end that it kills his soul just the same. Like I said, watch Road to Perdition, which is the story, these guys were deliberately trying to copy. It is the better version of this story. When the hero in Road to Perdition goes after Capone’s money for revenge against his family being killed, he does so only because he knows he is way too small to be able to get to the bad guy, so he does it to draw attention to his plight and force the big guys to do something about it. Also, there is the political family issue that the hero was beloved by and loved the father whose son deserved to die. So he couldn’t just kill the person responsible for his family’s murder without drawing down the wrath of the entire mob upon him and his surviving son. So his dilemma was complicated by trying to keep his son alive as well. The terrible injustice done to the Road to Perdition story was that they raped the original graphic novel story of it’s spiritual redemption which was intrinsic to the whole meaning of the story. In the novel, Jesus is the antithesis of revenge, but in the movie, “gun control” is the antithesis of revenge. Very stupid. But, you know Hollywood hates Jesus, so what can you expect. But that’s a whole different movie, so I’ll stop.

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