We’ve reached that time again where we, the Punisher fans of old and new begin wondering what is happening with Frank Castle also known as The Punisher. Last year Marvel Studios bought back their properties including Daredevil and The Punisher and are now basically just sitting on them. And we’re wondering when we’re going to see another bonafide Punisher movie in theaters. Surely making revenge films isn’t that hard an endeavor since every studio has released their own revenge film over the years. But for some reason you’d think making a revenge film about a stone cold avenger with a skull on his black shirt is something that requires rocket science.
The Punisher is an iconic comic book character, but not a complicated one. Right now it’s all falling down on whether The Punisher can be marketed to a broader audience, and that’s a shame. Marvel should have their own established mature comic book adaptations apart from the broader scheme, as they’ve done with their comics. That should include Blade, The Punisher, and Daredevil. Since 2004, bringing the Punisher to the big screen and starting a franchise has been an almost Herculean task. And for reasons that I still can’t quite understand. The studios are currently fast tracking a “Death Wish” remake, and the “Taken” movies have done well. Not to mention audiences are fans of grizzled anti-heroes on the big screen, so why not give us the Punisher, finally? Back in 2004, Tom Jane co-starred with John Travolta in the excellent adaptation of “The Punisher” that acted as a prologue to the Punisher’s journey of revenge.
The film sets the stage for the massacre of Castle’s family, and is set mostly in Tampa, Florida. That is until the end when we see Castle standing in front of his car about to enter in to New York City. It’s very much in the vein of “Death Wish” where Bronson’s character enters in to his new home and greets trouble making thugs with a smile and a gun fire hand sign signaling that his job bringing down tormentors was by no means over. While not perfect, 2004’s “The Punisher” is a great revenge story with top notch performances from folks like Tom Jane, and features some off the wall moments that add to the lunacy, including the final massacre from Castle, and Castle splitting a thug’s head open when he tortures his neighbor.
When I want to see a near excellent adaptation of “The Punisher,” I always come to this one. Thomas Jane is superb as Castle, looks great, and rocks the house as this merciless monster of an anti-hero. In spite of “The Punisher” being generally smart, mature, and incredibly violent as the Punisher series is known for, the movie under performed and was ignored by Marvel. The character was then rebooted again in 2008 with Lexi Alexander who approached the reboot of the character with immense violence, an adult attitude and an even harsher Frank Castle who was never above shooting someone like it was bodily impulse. The movie barely made it to the theaters at all, and Lexi Alexander experienced no end of difficulty from studios and Marvel for it. Since then Tom Jane has remained the one true cinematic Punisher for many fans, appearing in the fan film “Dirty Laundry” where he is a nameless figure attempting to get laundry done in the middle of a vicious violent war in New York.
Only until the end do we see his skull shirt and know it’s Frank Castle. It’s an unofficial but satisfying epilogue to arguably the best cinematic iteration of the Punisher. It shouldn’t be so hard. It’s not like The Punisher is Spider-Man or Fantastic Four where the writers have to justify a fantastic origin for the mass audience to believe. It’s a man whose family is slaughtered before his eyes, grief stricken he uses his combat experience and arsenal to bring down the underworld and avenge their souls. That’s the plot of about a thousand action movies and crime thrillers release in the last fifty years. Fan boys have always wanted to see The Punisher and Frank Castle on the big screen, but for some reason we still can’t figure out why it’s been a difficult journey.
Three tries later, we’re still not given a “Punisher” movie Marvel has been happy with. Marvel has decided to once again clean the slate and re-start the “Punisher” franchise hoping for a new franchise. There was even talk of a TV series about the Punisher where he was an officer by day and a violent vigilante at night, a la “Dexter.” But that thankfully was scrapped. Though they won’t admit it, Marvel seems to want to hold back the character and bring him down to the depths of kid friendly terrain. Like Wolverine, and Ghost Rider, The Punisher is a character who works better in R rated or Unrated territory and Marvel has worked hard to water him down while also keeping the fans who love violent Punisher happy.
They turned him in to a tech hero in “Punisher 2099” and “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” and even made him an undead hunter of monsters and demons in the Marvel Knights re-launching. All with collective thumbs down from the fan base. Why is it so hard for Marvel to turn out a successful Punisher movie? Perhaps because the character isn’t all that original? Who knows? But the Punisher has his appeal and his elements that make him compelling. This is a man motivated by rage and grief much like Batman, except he chooses to torture, maim, and murder as a form of justification unlike Batman. Now that Marvel finally has the Punisher property under their wing again, it’d be refreshing to see this character brought back to film again to become a mainstream cinematic anti-hero once again. With wise casting and great writing, it can happen.
Time to get on that, Marvel.