Out of all the Marvel comic heroes, Frank Castle/The Punisher is probably my favourite. The tale of Frank Castle is one of the most unique of Marvel’s creations and the sheer desperation and humanity of Castle makes his quest to punish crime not only understandable but also sympathetic. Frank’s origin story starts with the death of his family in Central Park at the hands of the mob. Since killing the ones who had slain his family, he had started a one man war against crime using murder, torture and kidnapping as means of punishment. Since the character was first published in 1974, three feature length movies have been made and have met with both critical and fan disproval. Ranging from a 24-29% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 32-64% with fans on Flixster, the movies (Punisher ’89, Punisher ’04 and Punisher: Warzone) never fared well which leads to why are these films so hated? Are we ever going to get a good Punisher film?
Why Are These Films So Hated?
There are a number of reasons why these films aren’t being well received. The films suffer from major faults that can’t be fixed with a simple director’s cut. These faults include:
I understand The Punisher is a brutal comic. What the comic can achieve really well is that balance between grounded reality and over the top mayhem. The Punisher movies (especially ’89 and Warzone) never seemed to have that fine balance and just went into over the top, blow shit up and bleed ’em out action. Punisher ’89 and Warzone really did this and they just come off as stupid action movies and nothing more. In Punisher: Warzone, there are people being blown up with RPG’s, people getting chair legs shoved into their faces and people getting stabbed and thrown into a fire. No matter how gritty director Lexi Alexander tried to make this, she couldn’t make these scenes feel less ridiculous with the amount of gore present. In Punisher ’89, there are scenes involving spears in the head and people getting stabbed with samurai swords in the most stupid manner. These films feel like brainless action films rather than Punisher adaptations. Yes, ’04 has some stupid moments like the scene where Frank blows up a moving car or when he fights that huge Russian, but it tries to ground itself in reality a little bit.
In these films, we barely know anything about Frank nor do the films want to explore him. There is so much opportunity to make a character study revolving around the psychological aspects of Frank’s journey or even delve more into his backstory, especially because Frank Castle is not the most popular character with general audiences either. Instead, all we get is that his family died. In the comics, he has a military past and served in Vietnam. This information could easily explain why Frank has turned to vigilantism, his high pain tolerance and how he is so skilled with weaponry. Instead, the audience gets a limited backstory and large amounts of ass kicking.
3. Frank Castle Is Not the Fucking Terminator! Which reminds me, Frank isn’t given any humanity or vulnerability either. He is basically invincible as he just walks around with no fear of being killed, barely extracting any pain as he goes alone. We also never get to see an emotional side of Frank either besides the small glimpse into his past and the only Punisher movie that did that effectively was ’04. We got to see actual emotion come out of Frank, portrayed wonderfully by Thomas Jane, and we got to see vulnerability and instability in him, even if it was a small amount. When he fights in ’04, or when he’s in the other two films, Frank just is a block of wood. There is no passion in his actions as he kills off mobster after mobster. It doesn’t seem like he cares about his mission in these films. It just feels like he’s there.
Will We Ever Get A Great Punisher Movie? Honestly, a great full length Punisher movie is unlikely to happen. With the failure of the first three attempts and the lack of general knowledge about the character, it seems hopeless and more of a risk financially. With all of that being said, there is an amazing short film on Youtube called Dirty Laundry starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle protecting a neighbourhood from a vicious gang. In 12 minutes, this short film covered everything a Punisher film should. The violence is perfectly balanced with the gritty realism, Frank Castle gets a tad bit of development in the short time and he gets a ton of humanity. We get to see his vulnerability as he questions whether or not to get involved in fighting the gang. It’s excellent and truly captures the spirit of the Punisher comics perfectly. Even if we don’t get that fantastic feature length film, Dirty Laundry will do.
The character of Frank Castle never really got a great cinematic start. Three movies that were all poorly fared and suffered from major flaws involving the lack of balance in the violence and the development and humanity of Frank Castle are most of what we have to represent a unique hero in the Marvel universe. The only Punisher film that really exceeds expectations is the 12 minute short, Dirty Laundry which balances everything together and gives us a great representation of Frank Castle. Even if it feels unlikely for economic reasons on the studio’s part, because of films like Dirty Laundry, maybe there is hope for a stronger Punisher feature length film.