On the eve of the release of Netflix’s The Punisher season 1, I take a look back at the last three attempts to do Frank Castle in live action. The great superhero movie rewatch examines the 1989 and 2004 versions of The Punisher as well as Punisher: War Zone.
Most fundamentally, the movies improve each time in terms of casting the lead. Dolph Lundgren is, in a word, terrible. He grimaces a lot and mutters his lines and stares blankly into space. Thomas Jane actually manages to make Castle a person in the opening parts of the movie, making the blank affect he has as the Punisher much more effective, because we actually see the change. Even so, though, Jane’s character reminds me a lot of the character the Punisher is based on, Mack Bolan, who’s pretty much an automaton, and spectacularly boring. (I do like how Jane delivers the monologue about the meaning of the word “upset” during his brief conversation with his old FBI partner and their boss on the subject of the lack of arrests for the Castle family massacre.)
It’s left to Ray Stevenson to actually bring nuance to the role. Stevenson’s facial expressions are subtle and pained. You can see the agony of his life etched on his face, from the visit to his family’s grave to his realization that he killed a federal agent to his unwillingness to let Budiansky go down the same dark road he’s on.