Making Movie History: Who is…Frank Castle?

It is evidently known that it is rather difficult to have a franchise of films and keep all the same actors in their respective roles. Chances are that the more movies in the series; the better the chance that more and more changes are made. Hopefully filmmakers can get through at least two or three films with the core of characters/actors in place to have at least a little bit of continuity, and usually that does end up being the case. Even more so if the movies are successful and profitable. How then can three films about the same character not be related in any way and have three different actors as the lead?

Frank Castle is a character that many people outside of the comic book world will never be closely associated with. I’ll admit that I never read many comics as a kid and the ones that did stock my shelves were really sporadic issues and not often many that were in the same franchise or series. Still I knew/know the story of Frank Castle and how he was a man that had everything in life. He had a wonderful family consisting of a beautiful wife and children that were his everything. They happened to stumble across an execution style killing one day in a park and had to be dealt with because there could be no witnesses.

Somehow Castle survived, but I don’t think he wanted to.

He was able to identify all of his killers but could get no help from the police on the matter. Being too caught up in the Costa crime family that was responsible for the death of Castle’s family; Frank had no choice but to take matters into his own hands. A former Marine and hell bent on revenge; Castle set out to not only take down anyone involved in his family murder but all those that tortured the innocent. He had no remorse, no morals, and cared not about the lives that were lost if they no longer deserved to walk upon the Earth. Frank Castle was willing to dole out any and all discipline he felt necessary and therefore he became…the Punisher.

Cool story eh? It sure as hell is and the few comics I’ve read including him have been phenomenal. I had his action figure when my younger days were around and the big white skull on his chest accentuating the all-black outfit just makes him look bad ass. It is evident that Castle’s life is the perfect setting for a feature length film and he has enough comic book issues to make way for a huge franchise full of movies. But only if he could be captured in the right way and by the correct actor. Let’s just say that they are still trying to get the character of the Punisher off the ground and it began twenty years ago. So far things aren’t going according to plan.

Like I said before; I know the story of the Punisher but not everything that happened in the comic books is known to me so some things may come out wrong or sounding stupid. In situations such as this, I’m always hoping that constructive criticism or corrections come my way by those in the know.

Dolph Lundgren in The Punisher (1989)

They kind of got the story right by having Frank Castle’s family killed off by the mafia. He then went underground and devoted his life to taking out the “best” men the mafia had to offer and he did so to the number of one hundred twenty-five. With the mafia no longer in control of the city; it made way for the Japanese Yakuza to come in and become their reign of crime and terror. Castle, now known as the Punisher, took it upon himself to continue serving as a vigilante of justice pursued by not only the villains but also the police.

Great idea, but my holy shit this is a God awful movie. First of all they have Dolph Lundgren starring as Castle/Punisher and that is just a bad idea because the guy really has had no redeeming roles ever except for Ivan Drago/The Russian (Rocky IV) and Andrew Scott/GR13 (Universal Soldier). Putting him in the role of Castle was just a bad casting decision but it’s not totally his fault because the ball was just dropped period since the rest of the acting is bad, the writing is horrid, and the film just sucks. Let’s not forget that the trademark skull doesn’t even appear on Lundgren’s chest making this not even a Punisher movie anyway.

Thomas Jane in The Punisher (2004)

Alright so scratch the first film and let’s try take two shall we? Now this time around we have Federal Agent (really?) Frank Castle is mere hours from retirement and ends up taking part in a sting operation which brings about the death of a powerful money launderer. Next thing you know, Castle’s family is killed but he makes it through to live and think about his family that was taken from him. After his injuries are healed, but not his heart; Castle bears the white skull on his chest, goes by the name of the Punisher, and sets out to punish those responsible.

Ok, so I’ll give them credit here because even though this wasn’t a great movie; it was leaps and bounds above that piece of crap from fifteen years before. Thomas Jane steps into the role once occupied by Dolph Lundgren and does a much better job as the Punisher. Let’s also remember that the villain here is John Travolta who stars as Howard Saint and he also provides much added depth to the cast. Jane has enough in him to act as the bad ass and he pulls off the vigilante crusader well not to mention the fact that he can put on a damn fine fight scene. Seeing wrestler Kevin Nash in a huge sailor’s outfit and brawling around with Jane is just awesome.

Good stuff here and not bad for a Friday night popcorn flick with a decent plot.

Ray Stevenson in Punisher: War Zone

Time for a bit of a change here as we don’t exactly start from scratch here in terms of plot and storyline, but we do still get a different actor in the lead role of Frank Castle aka The Punisher. Now we don’t start with Castle living the good life and seeing his family killed. We’re past all that and the Punisher has his sights set on a crime boss transformed into the mutated-looking Jigsaw. Dead set on delivering his brand of justice and making sure those that hurt the innocent are disciplined; Castle puts his life on the line to protect the good and punish the bad.

Well now here is something that we could have had thrown into the second film and we’d have the perfect Punisher movie…and that’s tons of action. We’ve been longing to see the Punisher actually punish people, destroy them, and just beat the ever-living shit out of all those in his path. I mean homeboy was hanging upside down from a chandelier and spinning around as he shot people…AWESOME! But what was filled in with action here had taken away from the storyline and that hurt it a little bit. Combine Thomas Jane’s Punisher and War Zone and you’ve got the perfect comic book flick. Although I’m not sure yet whether I’d want to see Jane or Ray Stevenson in the lead role.

Decisions, decisions.

So you see how confusing things can get when characters in a film remain the same but the actors that play them are changed? It makes it even worse when the lead role is constantly changed, but I’m willing to give the Punisher series the benefit of the doubt simply because there was so much time in between each movie. First we had fifteen years and then there was a four year span meaning that chances are most people hadn’t seen the previous movie or just didn’t remember it. Still, try to have some continuity and I think the filmmakers finally got on the right ball by not restarting in War Zone and just “kind of” picking off where Jane’s film left off.

The second two movies in the Punisher set I enjoy, but wouldn’t watch over and over again. Let me catch them on TNT or something like that on a Friday night at home and I’ll probably leave it on. Have me catch Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher on the air and not only will I not watch it, but I doubt that the channel it comes on will ever grace my television again.