THE PUNISHER (2004). The best incarnation of this character

Against the bombastic superhero films, filled with lavish action sequences and CGI effects, “The Punisher” seems almost intimate.


13 April 2024


Over the past few decades, mainstream cinema has been dominated by films based on (mostly American) comics, with the greatest success in this field coming from Marvel’s stable of superheroes. Though there are also productions from other genres, such as “A History of Violence” or the fantastic “Adventures of Tintin,” the limelight is mostly taken by the guys and girls in tights. However, before the world went crazy for Iron Man and company, there were at least a few noteworthy offerings. Today, I’ll talk about one of them, namely Jonathan Hensleigh’s “The Punisher” from 2004, which I consider the best incarnation of this character.

The Punisher made his debut in comic book pages in February 1974, appearing in issue 129 of Spider-Man’s adventures. Initially an antagonist, he played more of a supporting role for others. For several years, he roamed the Marvel universe, meeting Daredevil, Captain America, or clashing with Spider-Man. But in 1984, he got his own miniseries, followed by a regular series, and with few interruptions, this character continues to appear to this day. The plot idea was simple, if not crude. Here’s the story: Frank Castle, a Vietnam veteran, goes on a family picnic (with his wife and two kids) to New York’s Central Park. Unfortunately, they get caught in the middle of gang warfare, shots are fired, and Frank’s loved ones become random victims, leaving him critically wounded and hospitalized. Once he recovers, he swears revenge on all types of murderers, rapists, and criminals. That’s it. No philosophy. Just straightforward, gunpowder-scented entertainment.


The Punisher, wonderfully renamed “Pogromca” by the now-mourned TM-Semic publishing house in Polish, was a product of his time. Similar to tough detectives Harry Callahan or Popeye Doyle, he ruthlessly fought crime, providing a brief respite to the inhabitants of American metropolises plagued by drug problems and rampant crime. He didn’t mess around with villains, giving readers a fleeting sense of justice.

The cinema first picked him up in 1989, with Dolph Lundgren portraying Frank. It resulted in a typical mid-range action flick. Fans had to wait fifteen years for the next screen adaptation. Jonathan Hensleigh (known for screenplays like “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “Armageddon”) wrote and directed a slightly modernized version of the Punisher’s adventures. Castle (played by Thomas Jane) becomes an FBI agent who steps on the toes of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta). Saint seeks bloody revenge, sending killers to murder Frank and his family. The rest, you can guess – the hero miraculously survives and, upon recovery, vows revenge, implementing an elaborate plan to punish Saint and his accomplices.

Against the bombastic superhero films, filled with lavish action sequences and CGI effects, “The Punisher” seems almost intimate. While dynamic scenes and explosions abound, everything remains grounded. The comic book aesthetics are barely touched upon, except perhaps during the brawl with the giant Russian (Kevin Nash). Nonetheless, it’s simply a very well-executed action film, devoid of fantastical elements. Thomas Jane shines as the Punisher. His “under-the-brow” gaze and slightly hoarse voice perfectly capture the character’s essence. Although Lundgren, Ray Stevenson, and Jon Bernthal (the latter two portraying Frank later on) also did a good job, Jane will always be the ideal Punisher for me. He reprised the role twice – vocally in the brutal 2004 video game and in the phenomenal short film “The Punisher: Dirty Laundry.”


Today, the film has been somewhat overshadowed by MCU productions and later Punisher incarnations, but I really enjoy revisiting it. It’s a simple story with a straightforward hero and motivation. Plus, the film boasts a pretty solid musical theme. Definitely worth revisiting or watching for the first time.

Written by Piotr Zymelka



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