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Number of Film-Adaptation Attempts Thus Far: 3
It’s ironic that a character often described as simplistic still hasn’t managed to spawn a faithful movie adaptation despite three very different takes on Marvel’s premiere vigilante. Back in 1989, Marvel was renting out its properties to anybody with a dime to spend, perhaps explaining how its skull-clothed protagonist ended up in the hands of direct-to-video mavens New World Pictures. Marvel’s early tendency to sell itself more cheaply than a toothless, overweight hooker doesn’t explain how the studio still found a way to mess up a pretty straightforward character.
A Vietnam veteran who comes home from the war only to lose his wife and two kids after randomly stumbling into a mob shootout was turned into a sewer-dwelling ex-cop seeking revenge on the Italian mobsters who blew up his family. Not only was this premise not faithful to its comic book counterpart, but Frank Castle’s motivation for an ongoing war against crime was completely shot to pieces. It’s a mistake that both subsequent adaptations would make. The Punisher wages a never-ending war on criminals because his loved ones were the victims of a RANDOM crime. Having him be targeted by specific criminals, as the films have done, takes away this motivation to continue his rampage once the people who took away his family have been killed.
Once Marvel’s cinematic fortunes took off, The Punisher got a second, bigger-budgeted shot at stardom but, once again, a fundamental lack of understanding of the character’s basic concept led to a less-than-faithful movie. Star Thomas Jane proved himself the best movie Punisher by far, but the producers once again mishandled his origin story, taking the “specifically targeted for mob violence” angle to silly extremes by having Castle’s entire freaking extended family (including aunts, uncles, and nephews), be murdered by gunmen. It’s one to thing to go, “My wife and kids have been murdered! I must now dress in a skull shirt and haunt the night as… THE PUNISHER!” It’s quite another thing to go, “Oh darn, that one distant half-cousin whose name I can never recall just got whacked! I guess I’d better… mourn… or something.”
Top this off with replacing New York’s seedy underbelly with sunny Florida, some wildly inappropriate humor, and a too great emphasis on John Travolta’s villain and you end up with a middle-of-the-road action flick.
Finally, 2008’s Punisher: War Zone is the project closest to faithfully translating Frank Castle’s comic book adventures to celluloid. Ray Stevenson’s Punisher had the physique and gravitas necessary to pull off the character, but he lacked Thomas Jane’s charisma and, sadly, the hero was once again upstaged by Dominic West’s villain, Jigsaw, who seems to be acting in a completely different movie.
In keeping with previous adaptations, future projects involving Marvel’s anti-hero appear to be going in directions far from the character’s origins. A planned 2014 television series, on a network to be determined, casts Frank Castle as a police officer who moonlights as a murderous vigilante. Yeah, I’ve seen this one, it’s called Dexter. Unfortunately, unless the show lands on cable, free of the violence and content restrictions of network television, I don’t see any possible way this version of The Punisher could end up any more successful than its movie counterparts.
One person who seems to agree is Thomas Jane, who’s been showcasing a pretty slick 10-minute short film to generate enthusiasm in financing another movie starring himself as The Punisher. Check it out below. If network honchos want to finance a TV version of The Punisher, Jane totally has my vote. Just ditch the silly cop angle. Please!
Most comic book fans wanted something better…