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The Punisher (1989) versus The Punisher (2004) versus Punisher: War Zone (2008): And the winner is.......Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012)!

genre: action, crime, comic book, super hero

Season 2 of Daredevil inspired me to watch all of the Punisher movies again to see how they hold up today. And let me tell you this was not easy to do. But I do have to emphasize that I am going to look at these movies as a film lover and not as a comic book fan. My knowledge of The Punisher is limited. Before the movies and Daredevil I came across him in some Marvel comics and cartoons. But that is about it. I think this will enable me to give a more objective view on the movies.

For a long time the first Punisher movie with Dolph Lundgren had been a favourite of mine. Not being familiar with the character or the comics (at the time) I always viewed that one as a top notch B action film that got more things right than it got wrong. 

Next to the action it has a great musical score and incredible dark atmosphere. Having watched it back though a case could be made that it is lacking in some ways story and character wise. Although the minimalistic approach to Frank Castle works for Dolph since he of course is not the greatest of actors around. The problem is that he doesn't have chemistry with any of the other characters. He did have some funny lines once or twice but nearly not enough to make the viewing experience memorable. Another issue I had was Jeroen Krabbé. He is a fine actor except his Dutch accent is so prominent it distracts. I did not buy him as an Italian mob boss for one second. Then there is the action. For it's time more than passable. Today not so much. Mostly because it's not intense and gritty enough. Now I have to address one of the main criticisms towards this film. Dolph Lundgren not wearing the skull on his suit. That just makes me laugh. In one of the dialogues it is said that Frank has murdered 125 criminals and that therefore he is insane. Frank disregards this by calling it work in progress. Doesn't that sound like a killing machine? Do you really need that particular symbol to define him? Honestly be real people. I agree on the naked Dolph in sewers thing. That is just plain weird. His painted beard was also rather questionable.

But believe it or not compared to the 2004 version it's a masterpiece. Thomas Jane who claims to be a big fan of The Punisher comics arguably is the best actor of the Punisher films. But then what is wrong with the film? 

I think a better question would be, what's not wrong with it? This version gets more wrong than right. Again looking at this as a film fan. The Punisher (2004) is incredibly boring. It should not have been but it is. There are some highlights (fight with The Russian and the massacre on Frank Castle's family) present but unfortunately not enough of them to save the movie. The biggest problem is the pacing. It takes forever for this film to get to the point. Instead of mowing down the mobsters responsible for Castle's family he resorts to torturing Travolta's character by making him think his wife is cheating on him with his best friend. You know that kind of psychological warfare is pretty creative I must admit that. Still did it really had to be waged for so long? I mean come on even my hands were itching to hurt these fictional characters. There is also very little payoff for making you wait for the action to happen. Sometimes it's understandable that action is used sparingly especially if the non action scenes build up to making the action more explosive.  The finale for example is very disappointing since the preparation for it takes up more time than the execution itself. Just when things were starting to get good it was already over. And it was hardly exciting as Frank waltzed in without any struggle or defiance. So no sorry to say I don't understand why some people praise this film.

However I do have to mention the fan made film (by Thomas Jane and others) called Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012) which you just have to watch for yourself since it is probably the best Punisher film you never heard about it. If this is the Frank Castle / Punisher that Thomas Jane had envisioned it is puzzling why the big studio's didn't go with his idea. It rocks big time. Watch it underneath!

Which brings me to Punisher: War Zone. Here is my review of the film written in 2009:

The Marvel Studios couldn't go wrong when they decided to make the comic adaptations themselves in stead of outsourcing it to other studios. With the success of Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk and the promise that it would be more like the comic I was expecting a lot. Well, other than the gore and violence this movie had nothing else to offer. While I have not read any of the Punisher comics I am familiar with the Frank Castle character since he made several guest appearances in other Marvel comics. He is indeed a relentless killer with methods so cruel and direct that it is hard to see him as a good guy even when he is killing criminals who deserve it. Sadly there is no depth to the character which is much needed since there is almost no plot. The villains were pathetic and not threatening by a long shot. From what I understand Jigsaw was a formidable foe in the comics. In this movie he is more a clown than a force to be reckoned with. (Although I must admit that the scenes with Dominic West are the most fun to watch.) The action scenes didn't cut it for me since the focus was more on gore than style. The scenes were too fast and short. Maybe fitting for a comic (and the Way of The Punisher) but in a movie you do expect more to see. Compared to the previous Punisher movies I liked the Dolph Lundgren version the best since it did have that extra action, drama and depth that made us understand and sympathize with Frank Castle. 

The strangest thing is that after having watched this again I think I have to change my opinion somewhat. I think from all movies I like this one the best. Why? Since it is so over the top and ridiculous that it becomes hilarious. It is hard to take this film serious. How can you if one of the scenes in the film displays Frank Castle driving his fist through a young man's face. And that is just one of many bizarre moments this film is filled with. Add to that Dominic West and Doug Hutchinson hamming it up big time. Although it has to be said that Dominic's performance is what kept me entertained the most. This guy is so underrated it simply is not funny any more. If you have not done so by now then please go watch The Wire as soon as possible. You simply have to see Dominic as McNulty.  It's brilliant. Aside from this it is also Ray Stevenson who plays the role seriously and that way creates a contrast that is hard to escape from. 

I do hope you realize that all of the movies are very flawed and not particularly good if you compare them to other super hero or revenge films. And especially if you compare it to The Punisher in Daredevil. So here is hoping that Jon gets the chance to shine on the big screen with his version next to his own show on Netflix. 

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