Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Punisher

The Punisher must be a deceptively simple character. I say "must be", because I can't really think of another character who has had three separate movies made about him, each with a completely different actor/plot/director etc, and have each movie be uniquely terrible. The third movie still hasn't come out here yet (Australian websites list it's release date as late February, what the hell?) so in order to prepare for it I watched 1989's The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren, and 2004 The Punisher starring Thomas Jane. I've also been reading through some of the Punisher: MAX trades (which are great fun).

When the Punisher started out, he wasn't a hero, he was an antagonist to the spectacular Spider-Man. He actually killed the villains, something that was considered way out of bounds by the super-heroes of the day. He was a Vietnam Vet whose family were executed after witnessing a mob killing during a family picnic. Frank went underground and uses his knowledge of weaponry and military tactics to wage a one-man war against the mob. I guess a problem with making a movie about the Punisher is that this is not a particularly compelling story. It has been executed about a thousand times, with varying levels of success.

Another big problem with The Punisher, or indeed any revenge-based entertainment, is that most of them at least pretend that the protagonist is "going too far" in quest for revenge. They act like you're not supposed to be rooting for him. He is sick and disturbed. The problem is that everybody knows that you can't stop crime by killing criminals, except the mentally ill and Texans. That's why I go to the movies. It's an escape to a fairy-tale land where the world is neatly divided into good guys and bad guys and violence is a viable solution to most problems. I can't imagine anyone not cheering for Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood or Frank Castle. Fascistic approaches to crime prevention make for a fun time at the movies.

What I'd like to see in a Punisher film is something like Death Wish 3. Here is where the Death Wish series where it abandoned any notion of subtlety, and it was not particularly subtle in the first place. Any of the hand-wringing politics or conflicted morals of the first couple of films are tossed straight out the window (most of it was bullshit anyway), and goddamn if the result is not entertaining. The final fifteen minutes must be seen to be believed, with Bronson and his partner running through an open street, mowing down criminals like they're in a shooting gallery. Old women and children cheer as they beat injured punks to death, and it all played completely straight. It's really quite incredible. I'll have to do a review of that film sometime.

Anyways, commence the Punishment.

No comments: