Punishing Dirty Laundry

Courtesy LionsGate

I’m going to go out a limb and post my initial reaction to a short film from San Diego’s Comic Con, which I will link you to right here.

Holy. Shit.

I haven’t said a lot about Marvel’s character of Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, since way back in 2010 when I wrote about our heroes and their booze. I happen to think he’s somewhat underrated and incredibly interesting, not to mention a blast to watch in action. Without the cash, high-profile secret identity, or superpowers of other members of Marvel’s mighty pantheon, Frank takes his crusade against crime to the streets in a very straight-forward, brutal way. He opts for firearms, but isn’t above using edged weapons, bows, explosives, traps, industrial equipment, or even his bare fists to get the job done. There’s a rawness to the Punisher, and as much as he might seem to be emotionless at times, to me he always seems to be operating on anger bordering on unstoppable homicidal rage, tempered only by the memories of his family and the innocent people that he does, in fact, protect.

They’ve tried to adapt the Punisher the big screen several times. The first attempt was back in the 80s, and was little more than some shallow attempt to use the name & likeness to cash in on the Death Wish series and similar franchises of the time. Dolph Lundgren got the title role, and while he may be a physically intimidating presence, he acts about as well as a lumpy side of beef with a crew cut. Once Marvel became the cool comic kid on the block again, in 2004 Lionsgate took another stab at it with Thomas Jane in the lead role. It mixed elements of current books with a dichotomy of aesthetic that some found jarring, while others had trouble taking a villainous John Travolta seriously. 2008 saw the release of Punisher War Zone, which again was lead by a different Punisher, this time Ray Stevenson of Rome fame who would go on to become Volstagg the Voluminous in Thor.

I am of the opinion that while both 2000s Punishers are equally valid interpretations of the character, War Zone feels closer to the comics while Jane’s Punisher has more emotional weight and innovative ideas. Pretty much War Zone’s answer to everything is “shoot it”. I’m all for shooty action, but the non-shooty bits with Detective Soap and Frank’s relationship with non-criminal humans feel too short. Meanwhile, Thomas Jane is seen quite often outside of shooting situations. The violence comes in quick bursts outside of the inevitable tragic massacre that is part of his origin and the extended sequence at the end. Finally, Frank does things with phone surveillance, laundered money, and a portable fire hyrdrant that shows him as more than a mook with some guns and a grudge.

This is why I think the short film Dirty Laundry works well enough to get the Holy Shit reaction.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Ray Stevenson. But Thomas Jane just nails the slow burning buildup of Frank witnessing crime after crime. He conveys a great deal while saying very little. He’s taciturn without being stoic, if that makes any sense. Again, violence happens quickly and with unflinching brutality, and as we approach the climax of the film, the building tension is palpable. And hell, it’s got Ron Perlman in it.

Hey, guys at Marvel, writers and directors and producers: Can we get more of this, please? Imagine what this could do for Daredevil. Some tension-building set pieces, maybe a mention of the Kingpin, Hell’s Kitchen by night, and BAM, Man Without Fear. I’d also love to see a short of Doctor Strange visiting an older woman or a child who’s been possessed, and he needs to some astral projection to kick the demon or whatever out of the victim. And you can’t tell me Hugh Jackman wouldn’t be behind donning the sideburns and hairdo for ten minutes of badassery in a backwoods bar or a Pachinko hall or something.

But over and above all the pie-in-the-sky speculation, I’m really happy with how this short turned out, and hope to see more work of this nature, especially if Thomas Jane’s Punisher is involved.

Welcome back, Frank.

1 Comment

  1. I saw this a few days ago and my reaction was also “HOLY SHIT!!!” (but with caps lock on and several exclamation points, as you can see). I immediately wanted to see more of it, and considered watching Jane’s Punisher on DVD just to get a fix NOW. They seriously need to watch this carefully and see it as a mature franchise in their portfolio, something to develop alongside their other projects that would, if done well, draw in more people to Frank Castle’s story. I wouldn’t say that Jane’s Punisher is a “cult classic” but it’s getting close.

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