DH and I watched The Punisher last night – a movie from 2004 starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta based on the comic book series. I’d never seen it before, didn’t have a clue what it was about. Anyway, we sat down, the movie starts…for those of you who haven’t seen it, the hero is an undercover FBI agent and in the opening scene an arms-smuggling bust goes down and he’s shot and presumably killed. Turns out, he wasn’t, his death was faked, and he’s retiring from undercover work and moving his family to London where he’s planning to take a safe desk job and finally be a family man. Hooked me right away. I thought, cool opening. John Travolta is the twisted father of one of the men killed in that bust, and he’s out for revenge, tracks down Jane and vows to avenge his son’s death.
So the movie starts, the hero goes home, is all lovey-dovey with his wife and son and tells them this time, their life will be different. DH and I are watching, and I say to him, “Oh, you just know the wife and kid are going to get whacked. The title The Punisher tells you all you need to know. He’s got to be out for revenge.” And DH (who also knew nothing about this movie) says, “No, Travolta’s out for revenge. They wouldn’t kill the wife and kid like that.” Guess who was right? Me! (Of course).
I find this happens more and more as I write suspense. Movie twists are ruined for me because as I’m watching, I’m looking for the twists you wouldn’t expect or that one element that haunts a character and gives them the motivation they need. In a movie – like this one – they generally show that defining moment, and it usually happens at the beginning of the film. But in books, that tortured backstory is woven through the story and revealed piece by piece, adding, in my opinion, more suspense and drama.
The Punisher went downhill from there. Lots of fighting and gruesome details, but then that’s what the comic book was all about. I still think the opening was great though…the story could have gone in any direction from that point.
Do you find yourself looking for twists in movies? Or are you able to watch them without anticipating what will happen next?