It’s a tough world out there for comic book heroes with no super powers. Sure Batman hasn’t let the fact that he’s a mortal man slow him down but he’s stinking rich, that’s even better than being able to fly or having super strength. The Dark Knight aside the Punisher has also been able to handle his own with only the use of his wits and an arsenal that even Charlton Heston would find excessive if he wasn’t suffering from Alzheimer’s.
To date there have been two films depicting Frank Castle’s attack on the criminal underworld. The first was released overseas in 1989 but due to New World Pictures going belly up it did not arrive to the states until a video release 2 years later. It starred my own personal lord and savior Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett Jr. whose bald head is worshiped by a tribe in northern Namibia. Many fans of the comic have ripped on this movie because the Punisher does not wear the trademark skull on his chest. Ya know what I say to those people? Die quickly. Who has time to care about skulls on a chest when you have Lundgren killing his way through hundreds of mobsters and Yakuza clan members? The film is a gem of its era and deserves a place in excessively violent cinema heaven alongside COMMANDO and ROBOCOP.
A slightly kinder, though still pretty brutal, take on the character was released in 2004. This time Thomas Jane was given the task of taking the role and unlike the ‘89 version this flick provided the origin of what sent Frank Castle over the edge. In the comics Castle loses his wife and kids. This film made sure to leave no relative remaining as everyone from Castle’s dad (Roy Scheider) to a second cousin Frank only saw previously at weddings are gunned down. Even Castle himself is beaten to a bloody pulp and shot at point blank range but because his rage won’t let him die he lives to fight another day. Jane does a great job of showing the transformation from Frank Castle to Punisher. Sadly his arch-nemesis is played by John Travolta who treats his role the same way I treat cleaning my taint, very half assed. But while Travolta fails the film, luckily it does serve up a few other worthy enemies to wage war on Castle. Will Patton brings a lot to the table as Travolta’s #2 guy and wrestler Kevin Nash, as the Russian, engages Castle in an extremely harsh yet funny fight scene.
Though I enjoy both films, pound for pound Lundgren’s version still wins my heart. I always say that Thomas Jane is the better Frank Castle while Dolph Lundgren is the better Punisher. That’s not really a knock on Jane. He just doesn’t get to really cut loose like the character routinely does in the comics until the final act of the 2004 movie. He doesn’t even refer to himself as the Punisher until the last line of the film. I’d like to see Jane get another shot to play Marvel’s resident vigilante in a follow up. I’d also like no scientologists to play the bad guy.