C'mon Hollywood: Why can't you get The Punisher right?
Created in 1974 as a psychopathic anti-hero in the pages of Spider-Man, The Punisher, aka Frank Castle, grew to become the most popular gun-toting vigilante in all of comicdom. The popularity of The Punisher caught like wildfire in the 80’s and 90’s, causing movie studios to take note. He was the epitome of “badass motherf*cker” amongst fans and was ripe for transition to the big screen.
The first to adapt was New World Pictures, who hired Dolph Lundgren to fill the boots of THE PUNISHER, but pretty much in name only. The film was a B-movie tragedy, one where the filmmakers simply didn’t realize what they had. This is before the Internet, so fans’ voices were mostly unheard. I imagine the film would have even less love if it were made with the same “creative” choices today. No skull, no integrity to his origin, and lots of karate. Some see it as a fun little piece of schlock and I’d agree, but not when it tries to call itself an adaptation of The Punisher.
The Punisher as he appeared in the 1970's.
In 2004, Jonathan Hensleigh was hired to adapt the property and hopes began to perk up. Thomas Jane came onboard as the titular character and the first stills of him in costume made me cautiously optimistic. Then, the turd hit the water and the truth was out; THE PUNISHER was shit. Boring, disjointed, and yet another major deviation from the source material, the film attempted to steal a few panels from the comics and call it good. The action was almost non-existent and uninspired and the lead villain played by John Travolta was a snooze.
Then, in 2008, Marvel rolled the dice again on the character, hoping to solidify a franchise for the character and give him a proper outing. Director Lexi Alexander (GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) was hired to amp up the action and effectively reboot the character, this time with Ray Stevenson in the role of Castle. With the promise of a “hard R” and a faithfulness to the comics, particularly writer Garth Ennis’ seminal run on the book, fans once again lifted their eyebrows in the hope that the mistakes of the past would be put to rest.
Dolph Lundgren's skull-less Punisher featured lots of martial arts and shitty dialogue.
Instead, we got PUNISHER WAR ZONE, a hybrid of the 1989 and 2004 films, mashed up like rolls of celluloid play dough and run through a projector. If I had no visibility of the character I might liken it to something that’s cheesy fun, along the lines of GAMER or NINJA ASSASSIN, but having read 90 percent of all the Punisher comics, I know that the potential is far more vast and interesting than the bed pan soft serve we’ve been given in three adaptations.
And now a TV series for The Punisher being created, this time with him as a cop moonlighting as a vigilante. I have a permanent scar on my forehead from the smack I gave myself after reading that.
Thomas Jane in 2004's The Punisher looked the part, but looks certainly aren't everything as this version proved.
So what’s the problem, Hollywood? The Punisher is the easiest character to get right! It’s real simple: The Punisher is a killer. He’s not looking for redemption as you so vehemently want. He’s not Forest F*cking Gump. He’s John Rambo. He wants to kill as many criminals as he can possibly kill before he’s snuffed out himself. THAT’S IT.
Frank Castle’s simplicity is what makes him so compelling. He was a Marine who returned home a broken man and lost his family to criminals before he could get his shit together and find his place in the world. So, he did what he’d done so well before; he waged war.
Ray Stevenson as the titular character in 2008's hokey Punisher War Zone.
And then there’s the issue of the skull. Castle uses the skull not only as a symbol but as a bulls eye. The skull serves two purposes: instill fear and attract bullets away from his head. Why is that so hard to grasp? Would you take away Superman’s “S” or Batman’s bat symbol or Captain America’s star? No, because that would be stupid, yet all his incarnations work tirelessly to see him without it. And what’s with the ever-changing origin? He’s a cop, he’s an FBI agent, etc. The Punisher’s persona is built upon his experience in war, not his frustration with locking up criminals. That’s never been his dilemma. EVER.
If you’re going to continue to pursue transitioning the character to the big screen, here’s the deal: Keep it simple. Get a screenwriter who can understand that The Punisher merely wants to accomplish his mission, not change his life. Get a filmmaker that knows action. Joe Carnahan: F*ck a DEATHWISH remake. Get Frank Grillo in costume, have William Monahan write a script, and get to shooting.
The Punisher should be ugly, gritty, bloody, and unredeemable. Let the character BE and I guarantee fans and non-fans alike will rejoice at seeing a true bad ass that’s been built up by so many great creators over the years finally make a proper entrance into the world of film. The only redemption The Punisher needs is for the last three incarnations Hollywood has made him suffer through.
Modern Day Punisher in all his ass-kicking glory.
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|Extra Tidbit:||All right, let's talk a creative team here: Scorsese and DeNiro? Nolan and Bale? Eastwood and Eastwood? Chu and Beiber? Anderson and Schwartzman? Let's hear a winning combo, damnit!|