The Punisher (2004 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jonathan Hensleigh|
by Gerry Conway
John Romita Sr.
|Music by||Carlo Siliotto|
|Cinematography||Conrad W. Hall|
|Distributed by||Lionsgate (US)
Columbia Pictures (non-US)
|Box office||$54.7 million|
The Punisher is a 2004 American vigilante action film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, starring Thomas Jane as the antihero Frank Castle / The Punisher and John Travolta as Howard Saint, a money launderer who orders the death of Castle's entire family.
The story and plot were mainly based on two Punisher comic book stories; The Punisher: Year One and Welcome Back, Frank along with scenes from other Punisher stories such as Marvel Preview Presents: The Punisher #2, Marvel Super Action Featuring: The Punisher #1, The Punisher War Zone, and The Punisher War Journal.
The Punisher was shot on location in Tampa, Florida, and surrounding environs in mid- to late 2003. It was distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment in North America, although Artisan Entertainment, which produced a 1989 film adaptation of The Punisher, financed and co-distributed the film with eventual Artisan owner Lionsgate, while Columbia Pictures distributed the film in non-North American countries. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh agreed to helm the film during its development stage despite a dispute with Marvel Studios, marking his directorial debut.
The film was released on April 16, 2004, by Lionsgate, grossing $13,834,527 in the United States over its opening weekend and reached a total gross of $54 million against a budget of only $33 million, but despite its box office success at the time, it received negative reviews from critics. Marvel Comics and Lionsgate began development on a sequel, The Punisher 2, which instead became the 2008 reboot Punisher: War Zone after Jane and Hensleigh left the project due to creative differences.This would be the final film produced by Artisan Entertainment
Bobby Saint, son to Tampa crime lord Howard Saint (John Travolta), accompanies Mickey Duka (Eddie Jemison) to an arms deal with Otto Krieg at the Tampa Seaport. The FBI raid the deal, and when Otto pulls out a gun a firefight ensues between him, the FBI and the Saints representatives. Bobby is killed in the crossfire, and Mickey is arrested. Otto supposedly dies in the firefight, but is actually revealed to be undercover FBI agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), the operation being his final before his retirement.
Meanwhile, Bobby’s death enrages Howard, added to the fact that his son only came along to the deal in order to impress his father. His right hand man Quentin Glass (Will Patton) bribes the FBI into obtaining information on Otto, revealing his true identity to Howard. Quentin is ordered to kill Frank, on vacation in Aguadilla Bay, Puerto Rico with his entire family. Howard’s wife Livia demands Quentin kill the entire family in revenge.
At the reunion, Quentin and John Saint along with several other of Howard’s man massacre the entire Castle family. Frank and his Father manage to kill several gunmen, however Frank’s dad is killed by one who stabs him in the back. Castle’s wife and son are both ran over and killed by John, who then proceeds to execute Frank before exploding him off a pier. Frank’s body washes ashore near the hut of a local witchdoctor, who nurses Frank back to health. In returning to the location of the massacre, Frank finds the iconic Skull print T-Shirt that his late son bought him as a retirement gift.
Frank returns to Tampa and takes up residence in an old tenement building, along with Dave, Bumpo and Joan. Castle abducts Duka, who willingly becomes Castle’s mole within the Saints family. Frank uses the information Duka passes onto him to sabotage Howard Saint’s money laundering and drug import operations. In a following scene, an abusive ex boyfriend of Joan’s threatens her outside of her apartment. Frank intervenes - being the first time anyone has ever stood up for Dave’s life has stood up for him. Frank’s neighbours, in particular Bumpo and Dave soon learn of the massacre, as well as Frank’s military and law enforcement history.
Frank soon starts to extort money from Quentin in exchange for the many photographs he has of him with his male partner - emphasising that he would not want Howard to learn of this. Frank times this alongside Livia’s routine schedule of going to the movies every Thursday night, laying the ground work to imply that Livia and Quentin are having an affair.
As a direct result of Frank’s continued interference in his operations, Howard hires Harry Heck, an assassin to kill Frank, but is killed himself when Frank fires a ballistic knife into his throat. The ‘Russian’ almost succeeds in killing Frank in a hopeless fight at his home, but Frank is able to scald him with boiling oil before throwing him down a flight of stairs, breaking his neck. Quentin and his men arrive soon after, and whilst Frank is hidden by Joan, Quentin sadistically tortures Dave into telling him where Frank is by forcibly removing his many piercings with pliers. Quentin leaves when he is unable to acquire the information from him. When Frank demands to know why Dave gave blood for him, Dave responds that he is one of them, part of their family.
Frank then heads out for the Saint’s nightclub, but not before fully convincing Howard of his wife’s supposed infidelity after he discovers one of her earrings in Quentin’s home. Furious, Howard stabs Quentin for the supposed betrayal, before throwing Livia off of a bridge, and into the path of a train. At the Saint’s nightclub, Howard rallies his remaining associates, granting them all $50,000, and double for who kills Frank. Unknown to them though, is that Frank has already arrived, and launches an attack against Howard and his associates. Amidst the gun battle, Frank finds John with his arm pinned underneath a filing cabinet. Using his other arm, frank places a live anti personnel mine in his hand, and ties it a telephone wire (the method Frank explains here is that the weight of the mine will eventually cause the string to release, therefore detonating the mine).
Howard attempts to escape, but is wounded by Frank in the parking lot. Frank then shows pictures of Quentin to Howard, informing him that he made him kill his wife and best friend to add insult to injury. Frank then ties Howard to a moving car, which proceeds to crash into the remaining cars in the lot, causing an explosion which kills Howard.
Frank then returns home, his vengeance mission accomplished Frank attempts suicide. However, a vision of his wife Maria appears to him, which is strong enough to force him to not go through with killing himself. Instead, Frank decides to continue his life as a vigilante, in the closing period of the film he dictates: "Those who do evil to others — the killers, the rapists, psychos, sadists— will come to know me well. Frank Castle is dead. Call me the Punisher."
- Thomas Jane as Frank Castle / The Punisher
- John Travolta as Howard Saint
- Will Patton as Quentin Glass
- Roy Scheider as Frank Castle, Sr.
- Laura Harring as Livia Saint
- Ben Foster as Spacker Dave
- Rebecca Romijn as Joan
- John Pinette as Bumpo
- Samantha Mathis as Maria Castle
- Marcus Johns as Will Castle
- Russell Andrews as Agent James "Jimmy" Weeks
- James Carpinello as Robert "Bobby" Saint / John Saint
- Eddie Jemison as Mickey Duka
- Eduardo Yáñez as Mike Toro
- Omar Avila as Joe Toro
- Kevin Nash as The Russian
- Mark Collie as Harry Heck
- Veryl Jones as Candelaria
- Tom Nowicki as Lincoln
- Hank Stone as Cutter
Hensleigh and Arad said in many interviews that Jane was the first and only actor to be asked to play the title role. Arad had previously pursued Jane for other roles in Marvel Studios films. He turned down The Punisher twice, as he did not see himself as a superhero actor. Jane said, when asked the second time to play the Punisher, that he became interested when Arad sent Tim Bradstreet's artwork of the character. After learning more about the Punisher, he accepted. Jane went on to read as many Punisher comics he could find to understand the character, and became a fan of the Punisher in the process. Jane trained for six to seven months with the United States Navy SEALs and gained more than twenty pounds of muscle for the part.
|I had to ask myself intellectual questions like, "To what extent do crimes against a person become so unconscionable, so heinous, that even a person who does not believe in vigilantism can resort to vigilantism in a more just way?" That was the equation for me. I told Marvel that I didn't just want to do a revenge story, that I wanted to do the mother of all revenge stories. I wanted to ramp everything up. I can't really go further without doing spoilers here. The underlying events that give rise to Frank Castle's vigilantism are not from the comic. I invented a lot of that. I made it a lot worse.|
|—Jonathan Hensleigh on The Punisher|
Marvel Studios began development for a new Punisher film as early as 1997. In 2000, Marvel made a long-term agreement with Artisan Entertainment to turn 15 of their characters into films and TV shows, among them The Punisher with Gale Anne Hurd to produce. The Punisher marked Marvel’s first major independent release as an equity owner, whereby it contributes characters and creative support to lower-budget pics in exchange for a financial stake in the negative cost. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh signed on in April 2002, and The Punisher also became his directing debut. The story and plot were mainly based on two Punisher comic book stories, Welcome Back, Frank and The Punisher: Year One. Hensleigh explained he had to excise much of the influence from Welcome Back, Frank as it would have likely been a four-hour-long film.
Before filming began, Hensleigh was not given the budget he wanted or needed from the studio, Hensleigh knew that most action pictures get a budget of around $64 million. He was only given $33 million, with only $15.5 million going towards the shooting budget and post-production for the film, with only 52 days to shoot, which is half the time allocated for most action pictures. Most of Hensleigh's original script had to be edited and re-written many times due to budget issues. According to the DVD commentary, the first scene in the film would have been a battle set in Kuwait during the Gulf War, but they were unable to film this scene as a result of the budget cuts.
Principal photography for The Punisher began in July 2003 on location in Tampa, Florida. The Florida location was first chosen at the insistence of screenwriter Michael France, who advised Marvel and Artisan that "it would be cheap to shoot [there] - that they'd get a lot more for their money than in New York or Chicago" as well as wanting to use "both sunny locations, and dark, industrial locations" in the screenplay. For inspiration, Hensleigh and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall looked at dozens of action films from the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Dirty Harry series, The Getaway, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde. In an interview, Hensleigh also stated the film pays homage to Mad Max and William Shakespeare's Othello, though while he was inspired by Othello, the characters were reversed for the film, making the Punisher the instigator of the jealousy which leads to Howard Saint murdering his best friend and wife.
During shooting, Lionsgate (then known as Lions Gate Films) purchased Artisan. In an interview with Hensleigh, Hensleigh said that even though the film is distributed under the Lionsgate imprint, they had nothing to do with the film. Lionsgate never gave a green light for the film to be made. The film was still under Artisan Entertainment.
The character of Microchip was originally included in an earlier Michael France draft (along with the character Jigsaw), but was excised from later drafts because of director Jonathan Hensleigh's distaste for him. Instead the character of Mickey Duka (who was heavily based upon the character Mickey Fondozzi) serves as an ally of Frank Castle. Regarding the exclusion of Microchip, Hensleigh had this to say:
"There are a couple of years where I didn't want to go; Microchip, the battle van, all that stuff where it got really high-tech; we’re not going there at all. I deemed that too complicated, too lacking of the spirit of the sort of urban vigilante. The Punisher doesn’t just go around blowing people away; he uses guile and cunning just as much as he does weaponry and physical combat."
The Punisher opened in 2,649 theaters on April 16, 2004 and grossed $13,834,527 over its opening weekend, ranking at #2 at the box office. The film has a domestic gross of $33,810,189 and a foreign gross of $20,889,916, giving it a worldwide total of $54,700,105.
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On its release, it was met with mainly negative reviews, and received a 29% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 167 reviews with an average rating of 4.5/10. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, stating, "The Punisher is so grim and cheerless, you wonder if even its hero gets any satisfaction from his accomplishments." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter said, "By the end, the Punisher's greatest adversaries emerge as an unwelcome trio known as jokey, hokey, and hammy."
A few reviewers have defended the film, stating that, compared to most comic book-based films, it is a well-done throwback to the old-school action films of the 1960s and 1970s. Critic A.O. Scott stated, "But lightness is not among Hensleigh's gifts. Making his directorial debut after a successful run as a screenwriter and producer (on projects like Die Hard with a Vengeance, Jumanji, and The Rock) he has clearly conceived The Punisher as a throwback to the leathery, angry urban revenge movies of the 1970s."
Drew McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News said of the style of the film that "The Punisher has more in common with the work of Don Seigel and John Frankenheimer than it does with the work of Michael Bay or Simon West. Which isn't to say that it's the equal of those classics, but at least Hensleigh's got the right idea. ... The Punisher is pulp, served up gritty and ugly and brutal. It's not jam-packed full of one-liners. What humor there is in the film is dark."
The film was released via DVD on September 7, 2004 and sold nearly 1.8 million copies in its first five days and netted $10.8 million in rentals its first week, making it number-one in DVD sales that week.
An extended cut DVD was released on November 21, 2006 with 17 minutes of additional footage, most of which revolves around the character Jimmy Weeks (Russell Andrews), and Castle realizing that it was his friend who had sold him out to Howard Saint. In retaliation, Castle forces Weeks to commit suicide. Features also include a black-and-white stop-motion animated scene, set in Kuwait, based on and partially done by artist Tim Bradstreet, and a Punisher comic-book gallery. An extended version of "In Time" by Mark Collie also appears in the closing credits of the extended-cut DVD. This version does not include the special features on the standard DVD release.
- Prism Awards
- Wide Release Feature Film
- Taurus World Stunt Awards
- Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Woman (Donna Evans)
- Best Stunt Coordinator or 2nd Unit Director (Gary Hymes)
- Best Work with a Vehicle (Keii Johnston & Dane Farwell)
The score to The Punisher was composed and conducted by Italian composer Carlo Siliotto. Director Jonathan Hensleigh wanted the music to be very emotional, and was aware of Siliotto's previous work which led to him being chosen. When scoring the film Siliotto saw Frank Castle as a tragic figure stating, "This man, Frank Castle, is somebody who has a slaughtered family. He comes through that slaughter, and becomes a punisher. But he's a sad man - he drinks, and has bad memories always coming to him. There's a lot in the film, and at times it is like a modern version of a classic tragedy - like Othello."
Prior to release, a novelization was written by D.A. Stern and released in March 2004.
Cancelled sequel and reboot
Lions Gate Entertainment planned to produce a direct sequel titled The Punisher 2, with Avi Arad, chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios, stating that the second film would "become the fifth Marvel property to become a sequel." Jonathan Hensleigh said that he was interested in working with Thomas Jane again for The Punisher 2. Jane said that the villain for The Punisher 2 would be Jigsaw. The project, however, lingered in development for over three years. Jonathan Hensleigh completed a first draft of the script before pulling out around 2006. John Dahl was in talks to direct the film but pulled out due to script quality issues and the studio not wanting to spend a lot of money on the project. In a statement on May 15, 2007 and in two audio interviews Thomas Jane said that he pulled out of the project due to creative differences and the budget of the film being cut, in addition to director Walter Hill being turned down as director by Lionsgate. After reading the new script by Kurt Sutter, Jane stated:
What I won't do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don't believe in. I've always loved the Marvel guys, and wish them well. Meanwhile, I'll continue to search for a film that one day might stand with all those films that the fans have asked me to watch.
In Summer 2007, Marvel Studios announced that Lexi Alexander would direct the film as a result of Dahl pulling out, and that actor Ray Stevenson would play the Punisher in the new film, thus replacing Thomas Jane. The Punisher 2 then became Punisher: War Zone, a reboot of The Punisher film series with no connection to the 2004 film. The reboot was released on December 5, 2008. This is the second time the film series has been rebooted, after the 2004 production rebooted 1989's The Punisher.
Jane reprised the role of Frank Castle in the 2005 video game The Punisher.
In July 2012, Jane reprised his role as Frank Castle in the unofficial short film Dirty Laundry, which premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con International. The 10-minute film also stars Ron Perlman.
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Alexander: I would say it's a complete reboot because the first one -- neither of them -- are relevant to us at all
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