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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Things The Punisher Movies Could've Done Without!

It's Punisher month for me, and I'll be paying homage to the character here and there to celebrate the 40 years he's entertained us in comics. As one of the first comic characters I really started following as a kid, I do have a particular fondness for the character, and have been utterly surprised as to why this character - perhaps, the most simple of Marvel characters to be translated on screen - has been portrayed quite disappointingly on the big screen.

With that said, I won't deal with the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie, because we all know why that was a huge disappointment. This won't be an utter bitch-fest either. I'm just going to bring up some points that I didn't like about the movies.

When the first big screen Punisher movie starring Thomas Jane was released in 2004, I was extremely excited. After watching it, I was pretty disappointed.

First of all, The Punisher is a street-level character, plain and simple. Although he has traveled to various parts of the U.S. and other countries to dispense punishment on crime in the comics, The Punisher is deeply rooted in New York City. It would have been nice to seen his origin and his first activities centered there in a first movie. It was quite unnecessary to suddenly turn Frank Castle into an undercover FBI agent for the movie, and have the infamous location of his family's slaughter in the Caribbeans instead of in New York.

Granted, I understood that the slaughter of Frank Castle's family in Central Park had to be rewritten for the movie. That may work in a comic book, but a mob hit in crowded Central Park during the day is highly unlikely. Still, I think moving the Punisher's base of operations was a mistake for a first film.

I like John Travolta, and this really has nothing to do with him. But why did they just make up the main villain for this movie? I didn't get that. Now, it's a good decision to have the Punisher go up against a mafia family in a movie, since that's who kills his family in Central Park and who he usually ends up fighting in the comics, but I think using the comic's Costa Crime Family in New York City would have been a better choice than using Howard Saint's made up crime syndicate in Tampa, Florida. If you don't get the villain right for a story, the hero and the story is doomed.

First, The Punisher is a dark and gritty character. The fact that New York City is often the backdrop to his tales in the comics adds to this grittiness of the character. And New York City is another important character in The Punisher comics, just like Gotham City is for Batman. Florida is way too colorful and bright, and sticking Batman in that kind of backdrop just really wouldn't work for the character. Same for The Punisher. Right backdrop gives the right nuance and tone for the character. Get it wrong, well, you have the result of this movie.

Another point is that if they stuck to the Costa Crime Family, they could've introduced Billy Russo, who ends up becoming Jigsaw, into the fold since he was hired by Bruno Costa to assassinate Frank Castle in the comics. That should've been it. Keep it simple and don't turn it into some international affair. It would've been fine if The Punisher just had to deal with the New York crime families in New York in a first movie attempt.

I know that the Russian was actually in The Punisher comics before the film, but that character could have been left out of this movie. Somethings just don't work from page to screen and the Russian is it. I don't care if fans think the comic character is cool, no one in the Russian mob would dress like that unless they were the retarded little brother of somebody. Even then they wouldn't allow so-and-so's little brother to hang around, because he'd be a liability. Stop making mafioso type characters these buffoonish, cartoon characters in comic movies. If they aren't actually plucking one from a comic book, they're making one up specifically for a comic movie. Chris Nolan did not do this with his Dark Knight trilogy and that's why it worked so well.

The other thing that the movie could've done without are the characters Dave, Bumpo and Joan, the three neighbors of The Punisher. I know the characters are actually in the comics (later Punisher series), and some of the scenes from the movie are actually taken from the comics, but for a first movie of The Punisher, these characters could've just been saved for a sequel. 

Sure, it was nice to see Rebecca Romijn as the movie's eye candy, but her portrayal didn't convince me of the character of Joan who is extremely meekish in the comics. That I do blame on bad casting.

After all, The Punisher started out as a lone, one-man war on crime, and it makes more sense that a man starting out on his hell-bent crusade of revenge would not associate himself with anyone unless they provided him some kind of useful information and munitions. Hint: Microchip.

The 2008 Punisher War Zone movie was a lot closer to the comics that I grew up reading regarding the character. Ray Stevenson actually looked like the early comic artwork for the character.

This one was bloodier, grittier, and kept to the story in good ole New York City. It even had The Punisher go up against New York mafia families, and introduced Jigsaw as the main baddie. I was also pleased that they had Microchip in it as well, as he is an important supporting character in The Punisher mythos. Nonetheless, there were certain elements that completely ruined the film for me. 

The first is the character of Looney Bin Jim, who was completely made up just for the movie. Once again, my point of why do most comic movies make their mobsters cartoonish and buffoonish is brought up here with this guy. This character is the perfect example, as is with The Russian in the 2004 attempt.

In the case of Looney Bin Jim, what excuse is there? He ain't actually from the comics, so what twat decided to put this character in. Sure some mobsters are a bit crazy, but they aren't completely flat out wackos like that character was. Sure Joe Pesci as Tommy in Goodfellas was crazy, but the dude wasn't biting people, smashing himself into mirrors, and jumping off walls like a moe-moe. Someone like that would be a liability, and a sure bet in getting pinched by the cops and Feds. 

Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight tackled the gangsters in that movie perfectly. They were serious and portrayed as such. They didn't have some cannibalistic, jumping jack, hopping around here and there like some clown.

Speaking of clowns hopping around. The second thing that irked me were the Parkour or Free Running sport characters that were in the movie. What was that all about? To make matters worse, they had these characters associates of Billy Russo. No high ranking mafioso is gonna bother with low level criminals who haven't figured out that cars are a quicker mode of transportation than jumping around. The only time you'll see criminals jumping over and climbing on things is when they're trying to get away from the cops. I know watching that stuff is cool on Youtube, but that doesn't really have a place in a Punisher movie. 

I was thrilled when Jigsaw was going to be the main villain and he started off really good early in the film, but then again they started writing him to be some clownish buffoon. The whole scene with him recruiting all the underworld gangs was laughable, but not in a good way.

Once again, Chris Nolan's Joker was done perfectly. Yes, he was clownish but not in a cartoonish way. He was actually written really smart, really sinister, and really devious. Jigsaw had the potential to be like that, but instead they just wrote him as a really dumb character. Dominic West is great at playing bad guys, but even he couldn't salvage the lousy way this character was written.

The Punisher should basically just be a crime flick. Don't try to fancy it up. I personally see it as a crime/action movie like Deathwish, but have the gansters in it as believable as you see them in movies like Goodfellas, Casino, Hoodlum, American Gangster, etc.

The Punisher should be the character that's grounded the most in reality concerning Marvel movies. If Batman is DC Comics' gloomy, dark character then The Punisher should be portrayed twice that. After all, Frank Castle is willing to do what Batman isn't, and that's kill...repeatedly.

I'm not saying they should make a Punisher movie like the Dark Knight, but the studio should definitely take a cue from that film for the Punisher. Just my two cents.


  1. Another great read, thank you.

    I LOVE THIS!....L.K.

  3. I was trying to provide the link to "Dirty Laundry" on favorite Punisher Short Film....Check it Out.

    1. Yes, definitely check out the fan film! Thanks for recommending and sharing L.K.!