The third in the Double Bill series moves into the comic book world of the anti-hero, and a look at the two big screen adventures of The Punisher.
We start off in 1988, the first time Marvel’s gun man first appeared on the silver screen. The title role of Frank Castle is taken by Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, not long after he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV.
As a typical 1980’s action piece, it’s okay, but when compared to the original source material, it’s pretty poor. Lundgren is woefully miscast as Castle. His delivery is strained, his acting is wooden, and it’s obvious he was only cast in the role because, with his hair dyed black, he looked the part. It’s obvious that some of Lundgren’s 80’s action contemporaries, people like Stallone or Gibson, would have been far better suited to the role.
Jerome Krabbe is okay as the villainous lead, but the film is full of stereo-typical Italian-American villains. In short, this film does nothing for the original comic series.
In 2004, sixteen years later, The Punisher made a second appearance in cinemas, and made much more of an impact. With the title role taken by Tom Jane, this version is much more faithful to the original material, and unlike it’s 1988 counterpart, we actually see the events that lead to Frank Castle’s path of vengeance.
Jane is excellent in the title role, far more suited to the role than Lundgren. Unlike the first film, the viewer is able to make an emotional connection with Castle, as we see his world collapse around him.
Kudos must also go to John Travolta, perfectly cast as Castle’s main antagonist, Howard Saint. No racial stereo-types here.
While there is plenty of action in the 2004 version, there’s also plenty of tension and drama here. As well as destroying his goes physically, Castle also destroys them emotionally. These kind of plot twists were missing from the 1988 version.
In conclusion - if you’ve never read any of the comic books, and you really want to know what the Frank Castle character is all bout, watch the 2004 version. Forget the 1988 version, unless you want an evening of mindless tedium.