March 24, 2016

The Four Punishers

With last week’s release of Season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at all four live-action incarnations of The Punisher.

So today we have a guest blog from author Wallace Lee who discusses all 4 actors who have portrayed Frank Castle and why they finally got it right.

Be warned the Jon Bernthal section contains mild spoilers from Season 2 so if you haven’t finished watching it then please hold off from reading any further.






Dolph Ludgren’s Punisher

During the action-flick craze of the eighties, action-legend Dolph Lundgren ended up being cast as THE PUNISHER.

I was a kid back then, and I remember how happy I was about the upcoming release of this movie.

I mean, Lundgren was best known as Ivan Drago because of his role in Rocky IV, and even nowadays the face of ‘his’ Punisher is the more similar to that the comic-book character ever.

As I was saying, I was a kid looking forward it… But my high expectations were entirely wrong. People remember this movie as a lesson about how a comic book should NOT be adapted into a movie. Let’s be frank… This movie holds 28% of approval on Rotten Tomatoes, and well deserved: the endless fights are enjoyable, but the character is boring, the plot is boring, the villains are boring and so on.

Not to mention Luis Gosset Jr, who after winning an Oscar for his performance in an Officer and a Gentleman, was right in the middle of a long sequence of unwatchable movies and this is one of them for sure.




Thomas Jane’s Punisher

This movie is a big step forward the right direction and with a very strong performance by Thomas Jane, yet it’s hard for a real Punisher fan to be completely happy with this movie.

Johnathan Hensleigh’s direction is ultra-cool, making the movie very dark and gritty, and very similar to Frankenheimer’s works, which is the right tone for sure. Yet the character is not entirely faithful to the original, and for several reasons.

Frank Castle’s family dies on purpose (and not randomly killed) and overall, Castle’s whole story sounds far less tragic than the original one, that had very grittier tones.

Also worth noticing, is the fact that the city where the plot takes place is VERY wrong.

Let me explain that.

Frank Castle is a creature of the ‘urban-phobia’ of the eighties, when people used to think that city-criminals were turning the largest US cities into a theatre for some kind of civil war and yet, Jane’s Punisher plot is set in some kind of seaside-paradise city.

Despite that, the action is far more realistic than in most action movies, and some of Castle’s tricks (like booby-traps, claymore mines, ballistic knives, hidden blades and so on) let us all finally see what Frank Castle is really capable of.

There are also some unforgettable scenes too, not to mention Carlo Silotto’s legendary soundtrack. All in all, a very good movie, but not entirely true to the comic character.



Ray Stevenson’s Punisher

Before going on, you have to know that I love Stevenson as an actor.

His face looks like one of an always-angered father, and I loved Lexi Alexander’s directing of this movie too.  Lexi is probably the only female director in the world coming from real martial arts, and you can see it in this movie.

Lexi’s style offers the strongest and most violent adaptation of the character we have ever seen, Stevenson’s acting is very good, and the plot offers a very unexpected beginning and a very good portrait of the Punisher’s skills.

Yet, an overall more serious approach would have helped, but as Lexi said in many interviews, real life violence is too painful for a movie like that to be too serious, and this is also the limit of this Punisher too.

So, despite a couple of awesome moments, this move doesn’t score a home run, and his memory doesn’t last for long in the viewer’s mind.




Jon Bernthal’s Punisher (Daredevil web-series)

As we have seen during the last few years, there are no doubts that ‘the best of the best’ is not on the big screen any more, period. And for a good reason.

A proper and real civil war is going on between Hollywood big-budget movies and ultra-well-written tv-series (or web-series) with far less means at their disposal.

That said, the logical consequence of this civil war is that what the tv series lack in money, they have to compensate with the quality of their scripts. So – and being a writer myself – it’s perfectly natural that I ‘left’ Hollywood to fall in love for series like Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, The Americans, The Knick, Black Sails, Manhattan and so on.

Because – let’s say it – all of these series are better than any modern big-screen movie.

That said, Daredevil can perfectly match any of the masterpieces I just mentioned here.

Based on Frank Miller’s works released in the nineties, Daredevil was the first comic book super-hero dealing with real-life crimes and criminals, and because of this both ultra-real and ultra-dark tones, Frank Miller’s works turned out to be a milestone in the comic book world.

The second season of this Daredevil web-series features an adaptation of the first apparition ever of the Punisher (with Daredevil taking the role that Spider-man originally had in the story) and let’s say it loud and clear: the Punisher’s portrait in the series is the best I ever seen, and an overall masterpiece.

Where all of the previous Punisher’s works failed in both understanding the character in depth and showing the real reasons moving the Punisher’s character in the comic books, in Daredevil there are a many moments when the viewer literally travels inside the Punisher’s mind, and those moments are just awesome.

The first is when Daredevil breaks into one of the Punisher’s safe-houses, and understands the way the vigilante lives by looking at where he lives: inside a hovel full with working tools, junk food, dirty clothes and – obviously – a lot of weapons and explosives.

The second key to let the viewers ‘read’ the Punisher’s mind, was showing the continuous dealing of Castle with his own, very painful wounds.

And then we go for the awesome ending… A final solo-speech with which the Punisher finally admits who he really his: a man who lost his own soul when his family died, and doesn’t have the will to live any more and thus no fear of death too.

It’s a very touching moment, when we, as the viewers, finally understand once and for all both his motivations and why he is so cool.

And the reason for his coolness is that the Punisher is something more than the usual comic book hero, because he – unlike Batman, Superman and so on – he could be real.

And this, my dear readers, this makes the Punisher much more than just comic book character.

This makes him a legend.


About the Author

Wallace Lee
Wallace Lee
Wallace is an Italian writer and cultural columnist. He is most famous as the author of RAMBO YEAR ONE, an unofficial Rambo-prequel fan-fiction saga of five novels that David Morrell personally permitted to worldwide freeshare. After it's release, YEAR ONE was prized by UK journalist Lindsay Johns and nominated for two Italian-literary awards.



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