This week, to celebrate the re-launch of The Punisher in a new solo title, reviewed tomorrow by the incomparable Matt Puddy, The Watcher casts his gaze over the big screen exploits of everybody’s favourite Marvel superhero not created by Stan Lee, Joe Simon or Jack Kirby.
Unlike the current Marvel A-list, whose box office success shows no signs of abating, the film Punisher has endured the grim thankless reality of life as a vigilante, punishing evil for little or no financial return. Interestingly, although there have been no less than three cinematic adaptations of the character, no one film is considered definitive by fans or critics alike. And so in order to satisfy my boyish need to see who out of the three big screen Punishers would win in a fight, below you will find a summary of each, using, rather appropriately, bullet points to list the key facts. Let battle commence, Top Trumps style!
Overall, this film is pretty brutal, even for the 80s, with a body count of 60 and a true action great at its heart. But our hero is given the opportunity to show his sensitive side, as Dolph’s Punisher is seriously distracted from his mission to kill just about anything that moves by a bunch of pesky children who happen to need rescuing just as the carnage hits its stride. If you can overcome the Elvis hair and distinct lack of the character’s usual novelty t-shirt, this film is actually a serious contender.
Perhaps the most traditional film in the ‘superhero’ mould, complete with origin story and a strong grounding in the comics, this one very nearly got the sequel treatment. In a slight change to the status quo, we see not only Frank’s wife an child killed, but his entire extended family - mother, father, cousins, aunts and uncles - all ruthlessly gunned down before he himself is shot in the heart and practically blow up. Kudos to the film makers for the unflinching brutality of this scene, but it does rather make Frank’s subsequent one man war on crime, wherein only 22 mobsters are brought to justice, seem almost like a slap on the wrist by comparison.
In many ways, the most successful when it comes to getting the job done, Ray Stevenson’s Punisher surpasses Tom Jane’s kill count in his first scene. But despite, the high action content and the story’s basis in the successful Nineties comic series ‘Punisher: War Zone’, it somehow failed to match the relatively impressive box office of the previous film, and effectively killed the franchise. The film also suffers from the same affliction as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ (1989), in making the villain more interesting that the main character, as Dominic West’s unhinged Jigsaw steals the screen - Jack Nicholson style - only without the latter’s undeniable charismatic humour.
Overall, you can’t help but laugh at the irony in the distinct lack of films sequels, that the Punisher’s first story in the pages of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #129 (1974) was called ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice’. But at the end of the day, The Punisher, for all his justifications, is a ruthless killer who has rejected society, and such a character was always going to be a tough sell for a mass audience. Its important to note that although the above tries to strike a light hearted tone, the character really isn’t about glorifying violence, but more about the psychology behind a man who feels that violence is the only answer. In that respect, and as much as I enjoy the films, I also believe that comics, where words and pictures can often show far more depth than live action, are always going to be the best medium to explore such a challenging concept.
This month sees the re-launch of The Punisher in a new ongoing monthly title from the excellent team of Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto. Here at Proud Lion, we have a copy of the stunning Sal Buscema variant cover of Issue #1 to give away. In order to be in with a chance of claiming this prize, simply answer the following question:
‘Sic vis pacem, para bellum’, Latin for ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’ is the mantra of which screen Punisher?
Is it a) Dolph Lundgren b) Tom Jane or c) Ray Stephenson?
Please send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org
The first correct answer received will be the winner, and will be announced on Friday.
Don't forget to check out Matt Puddy’s review of ‘The Punisher’ Issue #1 tomorrow!
Robert Barton-Ancliffe punished himself to get this article done. Mainly by sitting through the Dolph Punisher film...