Starting with the 1989 Dolph Lungren Punisher, I've mostly dug how Marvel's vigilante has been depicted on screen. I mean, I did raise an eyebrow at such elements as Lungren's Frank Castle spending so much time naked in a sewer and the absence of his signature chest skull but overall, that first movie was true to The Punisher. That's the thing about The Punisher, he's hard to entirely screw up. The only thing that could make a Punisher movie utterly fail is if he decided to go soft on crime.
While Lungren's film was an adequate attempt (especially for the '80s, not a great time for Marvel characters on film), the 2004 reboot, with Thomas Jane, was an improvement. It wasn't quite perfect but it was solid. Jane was a nice pick as Castle and having Roy Scheider as his dad was cool. Not so cool was John Travolta as a weak adversary. Also not so cool was the sometimes curious tactics employed by this Punisher. I just can't wrap my head around why anyone involved with this film thought it'd be smart to have the Punisher bring down Travolta's character through an elaborate scheme involving a fake fire hydrant and a series of traffic tickets for his wife. It seems more like Ashton Kutcher's M.O. rather than Frank Castle's. Not very Punisher-y at all.
That said, most of the 2004 Punisher was commendable. The film didn't quite recapture the right darkly absurd tone from the Garth Ennis-penned comic tales that they lifted most of the supporting characters from (like Joan and Spacker Dave) but at least the movie acknowledged the comics and it felt like an old-school action movie so props to director Jonathan Hensleigh for that.
The real motherload came in 2008 with Punisher: War Zone. It would've been cool to see what would've happened had Hensleigh and Jane reunited. It would've been cool to see what a Punisher movie could've been like with a more layered, literate script. But none of those things happened on this troubled production. On the upside, director Lexi Alexander cast a total beast as Castle (the imposing Ray Stevenson), indulged in more stylized comic book visuals, gave the Punisher his most famous foe from the comics (the maimed and mutilated Jigsaw), and served up all-out violence. Even better, the MPAA let it all slide by with an R. Whereas previously this movie would've been hacked down to a twenty-minute short, Punisher: War Zone went to theaters apparently untouched by the ratings board. Nice!
The fact the movie tanked (not surprising, given Lionsgate's half-hearted marketing) didn't give me much hope of ever seeing The Punisher on film again but I'm glad to find out that won't be the case. I'm not sure how Marvel will handle a Punisher movie on their own that is substantially different than any of the three films that have come before it but I'm interested to find out. The obvious way to approach it would be to take some of Garth Ennis' stories (like "The Slavers") and really stick to them. Ennis' lengthy Punisher run is one of the all-time greats, a run I'd put up against Frank Miller's Daredevil or Walt Simonson's Thor.
If they stuck to Ennis' ultra-grim version of the character and its despicable roster of villains, you'd have something really special. It also might be too rough for most audiences but who knows?
As a fan, I have to say I don't much care how well the next movie is received by the general public. History tells me that even if it bombs, I can still look forward to much more punishment at the movies.
Go Frank, go!