Why Can’t Hollywood Understand Frank Castle?
After three failed attempts to bring The Punisher to the silver screen, one wonders will we ever see a proper tale about Frank Castle?
Frank is still waiting.
I recently completed my first full FanFic here at CBM, or anywhere for that matter. PUNISHER MAX: IN THE DARK WOODS was my take on Marvel’s antihero supreme and was a hell of a good time for me putting it together. It is the Punisher I would like to see on screen. Over the course of compiling the story I found myself revisiting Frank Castle in all his incarnations over the years throughout comicdom and other media and I came to one conclusion: outside the world of comics there is little to no room to expand enough on Frank. The films thus far have really just ranged from the 80’s B budget actioner, to the contrived Tampa based western wannabe of 2003, to the final Schumacherian influenced failure of the more recent War Zone. So what went so terribly wrong? Why can’t Hollywood seem to grasp who and what Frank Castle is? At a glance he doesn’t seem like a hard character to fathom, but I think that is the root of all the missteps taken with the character. He is simply seen as a vengeful man gone wrong, a tragic case of pissing in the wrong man’s corn flakes. I think this over simplification of the character is the main problem.
Over the years the Punisher has ridden the wave of political correctness and had his share of awful story arcs in the comics, he was relegated to C lister hell in the early eighties, turn briefly into an African American ala “Soul Man” (check that shitty movie out and you’ll see what I mean) and then killed and returned as a supernatural based hero after his nineties heyday, and then finally brought back as a nearly comedic violent hero of Marvel Knights in the new century, before finally having the reigns cut by the Marvel MAX line and allowed to truly shine under the story telling of Garth Ennis. Lately Marvel has again forgotten the early basis of the character and we have “Frankencastle” on our hands.
Seriously guys, “Frankencastle?”
It seems like after War Zone and Ennis’ departure from MAX Marvel just lost all notions of what to do with our friendly neighborhood sociopath. I think that is one of the main problems in making a good Punisher tale, no one wants to address the fact that a normal functional human being would go on a thirty year rampage of bloody murder carnage and dismemberment. Marvel seems afraid at current to simply call Punisher what he is, a serial killer. I know a lot of the purest are going to dislike that, but let’s look at it this way; Frank has long since gotten vengeance for the death of his family in spades. What keeps him going; Batman is openly written as an obsessive character to the point of neuroses why then is Marvel so frightened of embracing the fact that there is something seriously mentally wrong with Frank Castle.
Is it because they feel it will make him too unsympathetic? Surely they have seen the success of films and television shows like the Hannibal Lecter series of films and Dexter and realized the American public have a real love for characters that are damaged goods and violent beyond any semblance of reason. Why then, I ask, can’t they agree that Punisher if played as devoid of emotion and human empathy as he is; is a man walking just on the other side of Crazy Street, in the lovely suburb of Ted Bundyville? Have we not shown that if made relateable enough in their motivations we will embrace a fundamentally “evil” character? Sometime it is fun to root for the bad guy. Many would not call Frank a “bad guy,” but this is how he is perceived by the other more morally responsible heroes of the Marvel Universe so why not give in to the dark side.
So long as he has a code, which Castle does have. No innocents, no children, no cops by direct action, or dogs, puppies, kitties, duckies, or other assorted forest creatures smaller than a Rottweiler need fear the wrath of the Punisher. I kid, but the point remains he has set limits for his actions which he adheres to. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about unleashing a level of hell on earth hitherto unseen since the hoards of Genghis Kahn, in fact in the story “Up is Down, Black is White” Ennis himself showed a dream which Frank described as recurrent in which after killing the scum he then turns he gun in the innocent who have gathered to watch the beast as he puts it. It was a damn fine but of storytelling and one I emulated in my FanFic
Were Hollywood unafraid to embrace these aspects of The Punisher, I feel confident we could finally have a proper Punisher film. Frank doesn’t need a damsel to rescue, he doesn’t need a super villain, he doesn’t need powers; he just needs a target. He is a man at war with himself, with the world, with the inequities of a system he sees as too lenient, and a society too forgiving in its judgment of those who have committed acts of evil, and too afraid to see the pain of the victims least they see themselves as vulnerable to the horrors themselves. I think in many ways modern Hollywood is too PC to look on society with such a mirror darkly. They see a comic hero and think that it must be softened for mass appeal and marketing for the kiddies. Punisher needs to be looked at as a film in the vein of “Death Wish” turning a laser eye to our society and shaming some of its high-mindedness and morality and address the savage nature of man. That blood lust any parent feels when they see a child rapist paraded before the cameras and for just a split second you wish the most horrid offenses of the Spanish Inquisition could be unleashed from the bowels of antiquity, before catching yourself and thinking that we live in a more civilized time.
I know, a lot of you are saying, it’s just a guy shooting people. It is. But it could be more given the proper tone and subtlety of message. Why should we be afraid to think a little watching an action movie? Subliminally the point is made anyway. We trod off to see the fictional and sensationalized carnage at the theater everyday just as willingly as the Romans made a day of it to see the real thing at the Flavian Amphitheatre in the first century. Give us a good script and a good psychologically interesting protagonist and I predict the studios will get their money’s worth in box office and the true fans of the Punisher will get “their Frank Castle” on screen for the first time. It only takes a little creativity, societal scrutiny, and blood to make an action movie great. I think after all this time Frank has earned his day. I say we give him the ammunition to come at us with both barrels
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