The Punisher (Looking back on an old post)

In 2013 on my old Blog, I felt like the Punisher was a property that deserved another chance.  After, I have a few thoughts on the Netflix series. Below is what I wrote:

thepnshrpic.jpgWhether you agree or not, Frank Castle is a damn effective killer and s compelling character. He isn’t a superhero, he’s a vigilante who tragically lost his family and has since then cut a bloody swathe through the Marvel universe. There aren’t many characters like him that can stand as protagonists. Most are tight wearing meta-humans with moral compasses that prevent them from doing the necessary evil. Frank is the antithesis as to him every person who commits a wrong must be dealt with accordingly. His skull insignia is a calling card that has sent tremors of fear to all criminals who he puts in his crosshairs. I think that out of every Marvel character, Frank Castle may be the one character that understands that to deal with a villain you have to eliminate them from the equation altogether even if it draws the criticism of the law. In the Marvel Universe there has always been black and white, good and evil, it was at times easy to distinguish, but not with the Punisher, he was the gray area. That place where the lines are blurred, where we the viewers always chastised the hero for never truly punishing the villain, Frank did that and more, he sent messages, he made waves, and it should’ve been an easy translation to film because of a character so grounded in reality.

PunisherSo this bears questioning, how is it with all the success that Marvel has had in recent years, how could they not get a movie with the Punisher right? While I agreed with Ray Stevenson and Thomas Jane’s casting as Frank Castle, the films themselves were lackluster affairs. While 2004’s iteration was a more grounded affair, I never felt that there were more than one or two standout moments. There was little to no character development from the surrounding cast, and most felt like they were clichés from the action movie genre.  I’ve always felt that creating a successful antagonist means making them as compelling as the protagonist. An antagonist to the Punisher should be easy, someone who sees the world through the blurred lines and takes advantage whenever the opportunity arises. Obviously this wasn’t the case as John Travolta’s Howard Saint seemed to be too easy to manipulate and in the end was very easy to best. I felt that this movie could’ve been a strong start for a Punisher franchise, but in the end it felt bland and rehashed. I understand that it was made on a paltry budget of 20 million, but that shouldn’t stifle creative minds. 2008’s Punisher: War Zone was no better, painfully over the top and graphically violent; Ray Stevenson’s performance is the only thing worth mentioning.  The movie was a mess, the violence was almost comical, and the acting from everyone except the lead was stiff and forgettable. The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank arc from Garth Ennis is one of the best story arcs in comics, and Marvel dropped the ball. Keep the movie grounded and make a compelling antagonist, everything should then fall into place. While Marvel doesn’t drop the ball often, especially this decade, it was disappointing to see such a lackluster effort from one of its more popular franchises.

A silver lining however came from the 2012 short in the form of Dirty Laundry. Thomas Jane reprises his role as Frank Castle and wreaks havoc against drug dealers. Gritty and violent, this was one of the best Punisher films and it clocked in at about ten minutes. You couldn’t go wrong, Frank Castle had a somber and regretful look on his face and Thomas Jane looked every part of the flawed protagonist. This was the Punisher movie people deserved; this was an example of the character done right.

While there have been murmurs that Marvel wants to reboot the franchise, fans are hoping that the fourth time’s a charm. Yes this franchise has been rebooted three times, I don’t like mentioning the Dolph Lundgren movie because it was comically bad. One can hope that this time, Marvel sticks to the source material, hopefully they understand that it’s ok to have a dark and gritty movie that will produce a hard “R”. Keep your fingers crossed.”

It only took 4 years, but Frank Castle finally got his due.  

While it wasn’t adapted to film…which actually turned out to be a positive, the Netflix series acted as the perfect vehicle to showcase the Punisher.  Introduced in Season 2 of Daredevil, Frank was the driving point in the first half of that series.  He left a lasting impression and fans were clamoring for the Punisher to have his own series.  Released in November 2017, there were questions regarding how the Punisher would be handled.  Would they tone down the brutality for Netflix?  Would it stay true to the dark and gritty nature of the character? Could the show set itself up for a second season?

First off, the show is brutal and unrelenting.   It stays true to the graphic nature of the comics and there are a handful of moments that may or may not make people squeamish.  Secondly, Jon Bernthal is amazing as Frank Castle.  He embodies the character; he is brooding, tactical, determined, and intense.  The most potent moments in the show are when Frank is vulnerable.  Anytime he thinks about his wife and children, there is a softer side of Frank on display that showcases his true nature.   He is a tragic and layered figure who surrounds himself in violence in the hopes that he will be put to rest.  It’s powerful stuff that is on display from a very underrated actor.

I’m happy to say that the Punisher will be given a second season as the first season ended with Frank in an unfamiliar place   The final confrontation of the first season sets up the introduction of a major villain in the second season and I am looking forward to seeing the interactions between the two.  It doesn’t have a release date yet, but hopefully it comes out in 2019 just after Daredevil and Luke Cage.  Marvel has been a roll with their Netflix series and The Punisher has been a welcome addition.  He’s one of my favorite characters in the Marvel universe because he is a grounded and believable.

Welcome back, Frank. 

 

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