Time and time again, as far as comic book films are concerned and now TV shows, we are seeing a stream of character reboots. Attempts to right the wrongs and breathe fresh air and new life into characters that have either been forgotten or turned stale. Everyone is so caught up with the reboots of major characters like Batman, Superman and Spiderman, that sometimes the lesser characters get forgotten. So is the case of The Punisher. So far, we are on the 4th version of this character and with his reemergence in the second season of the uber-popular Netflix series, Darerevil. So, I think it’s time we play a round of “Who Played it better.”
For those of you who are new to the character and/or only really witnessing him for the first time in Daredevi,l I’ll shed a little light on his background. The Punisher, formerly known as Frank Castle, is the ultimate badass, military trained in all forms of combat and weaponry. His family is murdered, forcing him to quite literally go off the deep and bring forth the wrath of revenge upon his enemies eventually extending that rage toward all evildoers alike. Very similar to Batman and various other comic characters with one small exception, his form of justice comes by way of murder. He’s not trying to apprehend you or put a temporary stop to your villainy, he wants you dead and gone and will do so however possible. Stab you, shoot you, blow you up, beat you to death, you name it. He is a permanent solution for stopping criminals.
Over the years, we have seen many different versions of this character brought to life, which is in fact a good thing because it shows that the film industry is still interested in this unique character. We are currently on our 4th version making his return, this time not on film, but to television. Is this the best version we have seen thus far? Let's take a walk down memory lane before we answer that question.
The Punisher #1 - Dolph Lundgren
Lundgren brought us our first onscreen adaptation of The Punisher in 1989. With his solid physique and stone-cold serial killer stare he definitely looked the part. He had this dark, brooding presence that at one glance you knew this wasn’t somebody you wanted to mess with. The problem was with the movie itself and not the actor chosen to play the character. It was definitely dark and gritty as anything involving The Punisher should be, but it was a flat, lifeless film that ultimately served no purpose. The problem was that this film came out at a time where comic characters outside of Batman and Superman weren’t given the royalty treatment they are today. Had this film been made today with a solid director and some good writers involved there probably wouldn’t be much to complain about as Dolph fit the part.
Yes, he’s a brutal killer, he’s mean, but in this film he may have been a little too mean without showing any human side to him. With barely any spoken lines and a mean mug always on his face they morphed him into a lifeless character that presented no real interest outside of the way he killed people.
The Punisher #2 - Thomas Jane
Here we have an actor that admittedly loves the character, and you could see that in his portrayal of Frank Castle. Though he didn’t truly look the part as Thomas Jane always has this Mr. Nice guy look about him, he did his best. He’s the kind of guy that has the look of someone approachable, that you may actually try and start some sh!t with until he pulls out a gun and shoots you. His version, my only complaint was that his look wasn’t as menacing as The Punisher should be.
The film itself was awful. Bad scripting and laughable performances from John Travolta as the lead villain killed this film. However, Thomas Jane made a valiant effort and I did enjoy his take on The Punisher. If you really want to see Thomas Jane play this character in true form, do yourself a favor and go to Youtube and search for Dirty Laundry. It’s a short, fan film starring Thomas Jane as The Punisher. That short film trumps anything that came before it as far as being true to the essence of the character is concerned. Though he didn’t have the hardened death stare and hulk-like figure of Lundgren before him, he did bring out the human side of The Punisher. You could relate to the character and almost feel his pain. He was a ruthless killer but he still showed emotion.
The Punisher #3 - Ray Stevenson
Okay, first and foremost Ray Stevenson, as far as looks go, was the damn Punisher taken straight from the pages of the comics. As I said, Lundgren definitely had the size and look to a point, but as far as looking exactly like the character, it’s almost scary how much so Stevenson did. He was menacing in every sense of the word, and being the brilliant actor Ray Stevenson is, he brought a lot of life and raw emotion to the character. He was brutal, but he wasn’t lifeless. But once again, the problem wasn’t with the actor but the movie itself. The movie was terrible. It was bloody with over the top violence the way a Punisher film should be, but with a terrible story and horrendous acting from the supporting cast, the industry once again failed to make a solid Punisher film.
The Punisher #4 - Jon Bernthal
Holy hell, we finally have the version of the Punisher we have been waiting for, for so damn long. Jon Bernthal is a hell of an actor and he brings forth an A list performance as Frank Castle. He may not be as physically imposing as Ray Stevenson or Dolph Lundgren, but I feel like having a smaller guy like Bernthal was needed for this role within this world. Ray Stevenson is a fantastic actor as well and I’m sure if he was cast in Daredevil, with the right script behind him he would be phenomenal, but in this realm his version would be unstoppable.
Honestly, could you picture Charlie Cox fighting with Ray Stevenson? Charlie beating him wouldn’t even be believable, whereas Bernthal's physical attributes make those fights believable. He carries himself with this highly unstable presence that is almost scary in some scenes, but mixes in raw emotion to bring us a very real version of The Punisher. He’s insanely brutal, but he’s human and Jon Bernthal brings fourth that side of the Punisher that was only truly seen in Thomas Jane’s version before. When he’s talking to Daredevil about his family, especially his daughter you really can feel his pain and sympathize with his character. Bernthal is outstanding but what truly makes him great in this role is that he has an excellent supporting cast around him with great direction and writing, ultimately making him the most successful version of The Punisher thus far.
So who was the best version of The Punisher? As mentioned previously, it's safe to say that Jon Bernthal is by far the most successful, not only because of his incredible acting chops, but by having the right platform behind him as well. But to truly label him as THE definitive Punisher is a hard thing to do. Ray Stevenson was cloned right from the comics, Thomas Jane did a great job, even Dolph Lundgren presented us with an underrated version. Unfortunately those 3 were sandwiched into terrible films that never provided them with the opportunity to properly bring life to their portrayals.
If I had to rate them based on the closeness to the comics, bad movies aside, I would list them:
- 1. Ray Stevenson
- 2. Jon Bernthal
- 3. Thomas Jane
- 4. Dolph Lundgren
If I had to rate them based on overall performance as the best onscreen version of The Punisher I would have to say:
- 1. Jon Bernthal
- 2. Ray Stevenson
- 3. Thomas Jane
- 4. Dolph Lundgren
Thanks again for reading and I would love to hear your opinions as to who you think was the perfect Punisher. Take the poll and let us know who you think the best Punisher was!