“They laugh at the law. The rich ones who buy it and twist it to their whims. The other ones, who have nothing to lose, who don't care about themselves, or other people. All the ones who think they're above the law, or outside it, or beyond it. They know all the law is good for is to keep good people in line. And they all laugh. They laugh at the law. But they don't laugh at me.”
The Punisher, first introduced in the Amazing Spider-Man issue 129 is one of my all time favorite characters. Although he was a bit player in his first appearance (He thought Spidey was a criminal and was hired by the Jackal to kill him, finding out Spiderman was a good guy and simply leaving at the end) he went on to achieve great success during his run in in Daredevil when Frank Miller was writing it. In fact Miller was responsible for not only Daredevils rise in popularity but the Punisher’s as well. The 80’s were a great time for “Tough Guys” and the Punisher was certainly that. For those unfamiliar the Punisher’s origin is quiet simple.
Frank Castle (born Francis Castiglione) aka the Punisher was an Italian-American former US Marine who served in multiple tours of duty, including the Siancong War, where he received the Bronze Star, Silver Star, and four Purple Hearts. He became a vigilante after seeing his wife; Maria and children; Lisa and Frank Jr. gunned down for accidentally observing a Mafia "hit". Now with a distinct death's head skull adorning his chest, he devoted his life to the task of destroying organized crime wherever he found it
Spanning decades of comic runs (My favorite is the Garth Ennis Max run) the punisher has appeared in other forms of media as well. Video games, cartoons, movies, and television. Some of his live action appearance were met with great praise, some with pure anger. He had had 3 films, which consist of The Punisher 1989, The Punisher 2004, Punisher War Zone 2008 and the Netflix series The Punisher. As I am a huge fan of the Punisher and of making top 5 lists I though this would be a great time to make a list covering the best Live Action Punisher adaptations. But as no one wants to read a 15 page article all at once I have decided to break this one up. I will be counting all three live action films as well as the Netflix series in this list.so starting the list from bottom to top, coming in at number 4 is the 2008 film Punisher: War Zone.
When the second Punisher film hit in 2004 it was still early in the Marvel cinematic universe. In fact it was before the films had continuity at that point. But as comic films were hot the film was already guaranteed to have a sequel as part of a planned Franchise. There was one problem with that. The 2004 film was not well received by fans nor critics. It had a worldwide box office gross of 54 million dollars against a budget of 33 million. It did very well on home video so the plans for the proposed sequel were a go. The issue would be that the film would be done on a much smaller budget. That is never a good sign. To make things worse the script writing was not going well either. Jigsaw was always planned to be the villain but nothing was coming together at a good pace. By the time 2006 came around Thomas Jane, who did a fantastic job in the 2004 film backed out of the project. After many rewrites, one of which was done by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, and after changing directors, Lexi Alexander took over the directing duties and promised to make the films like the Max Comic Book run and giving it a gritty 80’s feel. Ray Stevenson was cast to play the Punisher and to his credit took the part seriously. Reading tons of comics, undergoing martial arts and weapons training for the part Stevenson came into the film looking hard as nails. Problem was he also looked and acted inferior to Thomas Jane who gave a fantastic performance and embodied the Punisher to a “T” Dominic West, who is a fantastic actor came in to star as the villain, a classic comic book character named Jigsaw. Wayne Knight played Microchip in what was strange casting in my opinion and Julie Benz rounded out the cast as the female lead. By the time it was said and done Sutter had his name removed from the credits as he stated they only kept in one scene he wrote, which was the Russo becoming Jigsaw scene. That may not be a bad ting as its been reported he had an entirely different take on the character. After many reshoots, edits, and delays the film came out on December 5, 2008 and did receive a hard R rating which was music to Punisher fans ears. Problem was the film was poorly received and was a box office bomb raking in only 10 million against reported budget of 35 million.
While this is going on the silly sublot of the Punisher accidentally killing and undercover cop is going on. Feeling distraught he thinks of quitting the killing business but he’s convinced by Microchip that Jigsaw will try to kill the officers widow so the Punisher decides to keep being the Punisher and protect the officers widow. To me this was a very stupid sub plot. It didn’t do much to move the story around, and if you’re a Punisher fan you know he wont stop is war on crime until he is dead. With that said the Punisher does manage to get Jigsaw and Looney Bin Jim but they turn evidence against a terrorist smuggling in biological weapons and are given immunity and walk out free men. They knew about this guy because he gave Jigsaw 12 million to use his shipping port. Don’t worry they kept the 12 million and use it to hire an army of criminals to kill the Punisher. In fact they take over a big high rise hotel and set up base there. The Punisher knows they are there of course and storms the hotel Raid style and eventually kills everyone in there.
The film is violent, action packed, bloody, and so over the top it reminds me of the old 1966 Batman show at times. Its not a bad film, but its very weak in my opinion. Stevenson plays the part as straight faced as can be which is a good thing. Problem is as his main villain is so campy his straight man comes off as almost comical. The Punisher did not simply wear a white skull shirt, he had the symbol painted on a flack vest complete with turtle neck, which to me looked ridiculous. I’ve no problem with he vest aspect as it makes sense to have some type of armor but the neck adding looked foolish. Looney Bin Jim was a terrible character as he was very over the top in terms of his acting but his super power was simply that he was insane. Not a great fighter, no real skills, just insane. And as his power is being crazy the Punisher had little to no problem beating him. Jigsaw was as I said way to comical but he did make for a great Punisher villain. In fact he was the saving grace of this film. Well that and the violence. Yes this film does have ample amounts of blood and is very deserving of its R rating.
This is a well like film amongst action fans, and overall its not really a bad film. For me though I rank it last on my list of Punisher live action works. I give lots of credit to keeping the origin intact and having lots of violence but the film plays to much like a comedy at times for me to really get behind it as a punisher film. Like I said a film you need to watch if you’re a Punsiher fan, just the film I rank the lowest.
Stay tuned for number 3!