Written by Nick Santora, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway
Directed by Lexi Alexander
Released December 2008
It’s strange considering The Punisher’s bad luck on the big screen, when you think about it. It should actually be one of the easiest comic-book characters to adapt to live-action. He doesn’t have any super-powers, he’s a guy with guns who shoots bad guys. No different than Rambo, Die Hard, and a bajillion other action movies. But first there was 1989’s The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren, which I actually kind of like in a so bad it’s good way. It’s a terrible Punisher film, but funny cheesy 80’s action film. Then there was 2004’s The Punisher with Thomas Jane, which I thought was just dull. I know a lot of comic-book fans who praise Thomas Jane in it, but he didn’t feel right at all to me. And John Travolta was a forgettable one-note bad guy. The only enjoyable part of that film was Kevin Nash as The Russian.
But in this film, I feel like they pretty much got it right. I skipped it in the theater, based on my lack of enjoyment of the previous film, but when I got it on DVD I was shocked at how good this was. First off, Ray Stevenson is PERFECT as Frank Castle. It’s like he stepped right out of a Max Punisher comic-book written by Garth Ennis. In my opinion this is one of the best examples of comic-book casting since Christopher Reeves was cast as Superman or Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.
As the film begins Frank has already been active for years as The Punisher. And while he’s publicly branded a dangerous vigilante, privately many law enforcement officials, especially cops, admire him, because he’s killing the bad guys that they can’t get. One cop early on catches Frank at the scene of a crime, but lets him go. And that’s after a beautifully brutal scene of Frank crashing a fancy dinner for a bunch of mobsters and just shooting and stabbing them all to death. Likewise perfect is Dominic West as Jigsaw. Sure, the way the origin was presented was somewhat similar to Jack Nicholson’s transformation into The Joker in Batman, but it worked, and he was a believable foil for someone like Frank.
The storyline of Frank accidentally killing an undercover FBI agent and then feeling compelled to protect the man’s widow and daughter while Jigsaw and his wacko brother (Doug Hutchison, also brilliant) came after him was pretty good. But mostly the storyline was just there to give us plenty of scenes of shootouts, which this film does not disappoint in providing. Wayne Knight as Microchip was also inspired casting, and I liked his storyarc here, although I wasn’t crazy about that ending (no spoilers). I also want to single out Dash Mihok as the hapless Detective Soap and Julie Benz as the FBI agent’s widow, both for being great in their roles. Benz in particular had some great acting moments as grieving widow and protective mother.
Overall, this is one of the best, and most underrated “comic-book movies” I’ve ever seen. If you’ve missed it, I behoove you to rectify that situation as soon as possible.