Preview by: Jack Foley
ITS been almost 15 years since Dolph Lundgren made his
bid for A-list, action-man status by taking on Marvel Comics
bad-ass law enforcer, The Punisher, so it is hardly surprising
to find the character has been revived, especially given the success
of the Spider-Man and X-Men
The 2004 version of Marvels darkest comic book hero stars
Thomas Jane as the eponymous crime-fighter and John Travolta as
the movies big villain.
And, in the words of co-producer and Marvel Comic supremo, Avi
Arad, The Punisher is gritty and real, and we wanted to
make a movie that reflected that.
Marvel Comics first introduced Frank Castle, the vigilante known
as The Punisher, in February 1974, as a supporting character in
The Amazing Spider-Man.
Castle arrived in a popular culture that had responded strongly
to loner anti-heroes like Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle (The French
Connection) and Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry,
Magnum Force) - cops who confronted urban crime on their own unsparing
Five months after The Punisher's debut, in July 1974, the premiere
of the controversial Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson as a
New York architect turned vigilante, took place.
Comments Arad, who is also CEO of Marvel Studios: "Like
movies, comics are reflective of the time in which they are being
published. The Punisher is a by-product of 70's anxieties about
crime and social breakdown."
From the beginning, The Punisher stood out in the Marvel universe
as a different kind of super-hero. He had no supernatural gifts,
and his skills - whether hand-to-hand combat, weapons mastery,
or battlefield strategizing - were strictly organic.
The Punisher was flesh and blood, like his readers, and he proved
so popular that he was given his own series. Hence, by 1990, he
was starring in as many as three titles a month.
In recent years, the franchise has reinvented itself with a series
of sharply written, evocatively illustrated books by writer, Garth
Ennis, and illustrator, Steve Dillon, whose titles include the
Welcome Back Frank series.
In 2000, The Punisher re-emerged as one Marvel's top-selling
solo books and remains a top seller for the company.
Despite the failure of Lundgrens portrayal to ignite with
cinema-goers, writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh believes the
latest version is indicative of the type of film modern audiences
want to see.
"The problem with revenge stories is that they're a staple
of American cinema and because of that, the genre is a little
"But this particular revenge story held my interest - it
brought a fresh coat of paint to the genre. It had a starkness
to it, and also a sweetness with the ancillary characters. The
tenement apartment dwellers were very prominent in the Welcome
Back Frank series. I think that they had a great deal to do with
my attraction to the story. It wasn't just nihilistic."
In the original comic, Frank Castle becomes a vigilante after
his family is killed in a random act of violence in Central Park.
But Hensleigh adapted the original story, crafting a darker scenario
in which Castle's entire family is the target of a criminal's
merciless vendetta - a vendetta that has its roots in Castle's
work for the FBI.
Castle's rage is thus compounded with a sense of guilt, and the
wrenching knowledge that the governmental structures he trusted
to protect him and his family failed.
The resulting picture has left American critics divided.
Rolling Stone, for instance, felt that the film laudably
exposes the dark core of the human heart.
While Film Blather wrote that it constantly prods
and provokes, hitting certain emotional notes and asking why we
reacted the way we did... One of the most thoughtful comic book
adaptations I have ever seen.
But Splicedwire lamented that it can't begin to
measure up to the popcorn vengeance of Mel Gibson's Payback or
the moody, provocative, primal reprisal of Steven Soderbergh's
While Montreal Film Journals film critic scathingly
insisted that I miss Dolph Lundgren.
The New York Times was quite scathing, too, noting that
'its lack of subtlety is clearly a point of pride, and Mr. Hensleigh's
flat-footed, hard-punching style has a blunt ferocity that makes
Kill Bill look like In
And Entertainment Weekly referred to it as 'a moronically
inept and tedious piece of death-wish trash'.
But on a more positive note, to wrap up this overview, was the
Los Angeles Times, which concluded that 'Hensleigh has
made a film that is less self-consciously operatic, something
that has both the visual flairand the lean, determined drive of
Old School comics'.