I can’t really remember my first introduction to The Punisher. For some reason, his very first appearance in the pages The Amazing Spider-Man seems very familiar to me, and I suspect I actually had that particular comic book as a child. But I definitely remember when I “rediscovered” the Punisher sometime after being reintroduced to comic books after the 1989 Batman movie. Here was this total badass guy that was more vigilante than super-hero. He killed the bad guys. He didn’t tie them up and leave them as presents for the local police.
But he was kinda like a traditional super-hero in that he wore what he called a uniform, not a costume, emblazoned with a huge skull across the chest. While he had no super powers, he was expertly skilled with most weapons, martial arts, street brawling…and had a scary intellect that worked just well enough to control the hatred he had for criminals and kept him just slightly sane.
After my fascination with Batman subsided some, I looked for more comics to entertain me, and I really got into The Punisher. It didn’t hurt that his adventures were drawn by the likes of Jim Lee and Eric Larsen, whose dynamic art really blew me away. Looking back, I really dug the Punisher books… (but this movie is probably more inspired by more recent, harder edged comics written by the great Garth Ennis)

In the late 80’s / early 90’s, Marvel Comics was in a heap of trouble, and could only associate with lower tier movie companies, and so a low budget Punisher flick was produced, and eventually went straight to video. This movie, which still plays on cable every now and then, was nothing more than a straight up vigilante – revenge flick. It starred Dolph Lundgren, who wasn’t bad really, but wasn’t given much to work with. Unfortunately the only hint of the Punisher persona was that he occasionally used daggers with skulls on the them. They didn’t even look like the Punisher skull. And so the movie has basically become a joke in both the movie world, and especially in the comic book world, second only to the God Awful Captain America straight to video opus that included an Italian Red Skull (uh, hello, he’s a Nazi!) and a Cap costume which actually included rubber ears! Nice…

So here we are all these years later, and a slew of comic book related flicks have hit the big screen to much critical and commercial success, and so The Punisher is reborn…
…and, well, it’s basically a revenge flick again.

This time around Thomas Jane is Frank Castle, decorated soldier and retired FBI agent extraordinaire, whose last case goes awry, and in turn results in his own family being brutally murdered. OK, good enough…pretty close to the comic book origins! And there are more tie ins to the comic…he does wear a skull across his shirt, and he does do some pretty crazy stuff in order to exact his revenge, but over all, it does just seem like a guy getting revenge.
I guess I was just hoping for or expecting more. That being said, I still like the movie. It is dark and surprisingly cruel at times, and the “comic relief” is kind of annoying (but kinda nice, if you buy into it.) John Travolta as the villainous Howard Saint is actually pretty good, but his henchman, played by Will Patton, is even better.
But it’s Thomas Jane’s movie. He does a good job, really. I don’t know if he was the best choice for this physical, imposing character, but he pulled it off nicely.
There’s already talk of a sequel for The Punisher, but that may change if it doesn’t make tons of $$$ at the box office. I hope people check this movie out.