Frank Castle is The Punisher. He’s an anti-hero and a vigilante who is recognised for having a skull as his symbol, a symbol that is known the world over.
When The Punisher first hit the movie scene in 1989, portrayed by Dolph Lundgren, this crucial item was missing from his attire. The film showed The Punisher to practically be a hermit living in the sewers whose best friend was an alcoholic. The film, much like the actor, lacked feeling and it answered so few of the questions that it raised: why does Frank’s doting ex-partner refuse to work with anyone and yet takes on an eager new woman on the force without putting up a fight, and why do the Yakuza decide to overthrow the Mafia. The film left nothing wanting and generally was a disappointment and embarrassment for The Punisher on his debut.
In 2004 however The Punisher was revived, this time in the form of Thomas Jane. The film was immeasurably more impressive that it’s predecessor, both financially and critically. The background story, for one, was more believable. Howard Saint (John Travolta) orders his men to execute Castle’s family in return for the death of his son. Although there are not as many one-liners as the Lundgren version, the film retains the feeling that the comic books first gave: serious yet with a comedic tone to lighten the mood at the right time. One of the best sequences in the film is the fight scene with “The Russian” which takes place in three apartments, demolishing each of them in the process via grenades and the sheer brute force of The Russian (professional wrestler Kevin Nash). Another is the scene where musician and hired assassin Harry Heck (musician Mark Collie) plays a song for The Punisher and then attempts to kill him, whilst making reference to The Untouchables with the famous “bring a knife to a gunfight” quote. This second attempt at The Punisher hits much closer to home than the original. Castle is more emotional, more human, shown by him forming bonds with his neighbours and with footage of him with his family. However no film is perfect and even this one has some serious flaws. The neighbours themselves don’t work as there is no chemistry between them and we are given no reason why they are so close. Bumbo is an overweight opera lover, Dave is a geek who has a love of body piercings, and we’re meant to feel sorry for Joan with her sop-story of bad ex-boyfriends. Director Jonathan Hensleigh requested a budget of around $64 million for the film yet was given a mere $15.5 million which, most importantly, denied the opportunity of an opening scene showing Castle in the gulf war.
A sequel was planned but unfortunately this fell through. Four years later, and with the last film still fresh in the minds of everyone, The Punisher was once again rebooted with acclaimed actor Ray Stevenson (King Arthur) taking the spotlight. Much like the ’89 fiasco, this version received largely negative reviews and performed pretty poorly at box office. That being said. the iconic emblem of The Punisher was used which immediately set it apart from the Lundgren attempt. In one brilliantly captured yet stupid scene, The Punisher manages to kill every person seated at a dining table without anyone so much as laying a finger on him before looping his legs through a chandelier and then, while spinning around on it, shoots each enemy that comes through the doors – he of course escapes unscathed. That, along with Stevenson’s acting, are the only two things worth mentioning about the film. The film reverts back to the original with the death of Castle’s family being due to a mob act and it also changes how many children he had – pointless. Parkour is an art and when used in the correct context can be a great asset to the film – Daniel Craig does as much in Casino Royale. Here the effect is wasted as there is no need for it to be used.
Jane returned to play The Punisher in a 2012 short titled ‘Dirty Laundry’ where he decided he needs to wash his clothes. Outside a gang start on some prostitutes and then mug a teenager. Jane goes into a shop and, after chatting with Ron Perlman, proceeds to kill the gang using a bottle of Jack Daniels. The fan favourite reprised his role perfectly, in no small part down to Jane’s on-screen relationship with Perlman (they had recently teamed up for Mutant Chronicles and Dark Country), but unfortunately the short was a mere ten minutes long and unofficial.
Marvel are currently in talks to reboot The Punisher for the third time in a decade with a hope that he may appear in the Daredevil reboot. Let’s see if this time Hollywood can finally get the missing ingredient and make a Punisher film that is worthy of a sequel.