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Hops and Box Office Flops: ‘THE PUNISHER – Dear War Journal … This Movie Owns!’

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Released in 2004, The Punisher marked the return of the infamous Marvel character to live action. It had been 15 years since his first appearance in 1989’s film of the same name, and a lot had changed in the landscape of comic book cinema. 

The world was at the precipice of what would become a boom, an unfiltered and unfettered influx of properties. Not all of which were of the utmost quality. This was pre-MCU, a time before Disney put a stranglehold on characters that fell within Marvel’s kingdom.

This version of the Punisher is an exemplar of those wilder times—in both good ways and bad. 

The good: It’s an unapologetic, hard-R, in your face, kick ass and take names action movie filled with an array of bullets, blood, and fisticuffs. Oh, and classic performances from both Thomas Jane as the central protagonist and John Travolta as the wonderfully hammy villain Howard Saint.

The bad is just about everything else. Lacking the budget of other comic properties of the time, The Punisher‘s seams begin to burst under the weight of its ambition. Its script, which waffles between hackneyed and preposterous, is only saved by the actors giving their all in service to the material. It is truly a B-movie wrapped up in the body of an aspiring blockbuster. But that is also what makes it so damn good.

Unfortunately, as I referenced above, it was released in a time when superhero cinema was not guaranteed to rake in the big bucks. Premiering the same weekend as Kill Bill Vol. 2, it placed second with just over $13.8 million and finished its run with $54.7 million worldwide. Costing just around $33 million, it wasn’t a huge flop; and it did do good numbers upon home release. 

That did not save it, though, from becoming a one and done. It’s tepid response (29% from critics with 170 reviews), coupled with its mediocre receipts, spelled the end for this version of the character; he was relegated to the junk heap of history and rebooted only four years later (The less said about that movie, the better). 

The world is poorer for it. In a sea of increasingly derivative comic book movies, there’s something to be appreciated about this film’s aesthetic. It’s gritty and gruesome. It embraces it’s silliness while also delivering on its promise; the Punisher does what all fans of him expect him to do, slaying gangsters in a slew of barbaric ways.

It’s also infinitely rewatchable. Cheers to you, Thomas Jane!

So sit back, pour yourself a shot of Wild Turkey, and grab your finest acoustic guitar as I, the Thunderous Wizard (@WriterTLK), Capt. Cash, and Chumpzilla map out an incredibly convoluted revenge plot!

This Week’s Segments:

  • Introduction – In the swan song of Travolta Month, we break down everything pertinent to The Punisher (2004)from the best action sequence to the most grisly kill. (00:00)
  • Interesting Facts about the Movie and Our “Declaration of Intent” Punisher Trivia Challenge – After offering up some lesser known truths about the production of this movie, I challenge Capt. Cash and Chumpzilla to trivia about its making, as well as its titular character. (57:31)
  • Recommendations – We close the show with our Punisher/Thomas Jane-related picks for the week; in addition, we “unwrap” a surprise episode to follow Terminator: Dark Fate. If the pun didn’t tip you off, it’s seasonally appropriate. (1:13:22)

And, as always, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook to check out all the interesting factoids—the Punisher’s day at the laundromat and more—from this week’s episode!

You can find this episode of Hops and Box Office Flops on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPodbean, and Spotify!

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Thomas L. Kelly

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