What do you remember about the three Punisher movies starring Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, or Ray Stevenson? Please say “nothing,” it’s gonna make this article a lot easier to digest. Each of these films took a different perspective on Marvel’s uber-violent vigilante, but none really captured the essence of the character in quite the same way as Jon Bernthal in Daredevil Season 2 (and continues in his new Netflix series). But did any of the Punisher films inspire or otherwise inform the Netflix version?
Showrunner Steven Lightfoot (Dexter, Hannibal) spoke with CinemaBlend to explain his take on The Punisher and whether the prior films were an influence:
“Not really. I’ve known those movies as they came. I’m an action genre guy. I love that stuff. I’d seen all those movies. I’d seen the Dolph Lundgren one when I was like 14, or whatever I was when it came out on VHS. And I’d seen the Thomas Jane one and I’d seen War Zone. And I didn’t go back to them in any way, because I thought my touchstone was what Marvel had done on Netflix and what Jon had done in Daredevil, and I sort of carried on from there.”
So Lightfoot clearly knows the films, but he chose to reference the Netflix iteration as his blueprint, instead. Bernthal’s depiction of Frank Castle/The Punisher leans heavily on his military experience as a U.S. Combat Marine Officer, and he’s a darker and more inwardly motivated anti-hero than any of his film cousins.
Lightfoot also explains that the long-form freedom of Netflix allowed him to explore themes and topics that would not have translated to a two-hour film:
“I feel that’s the joy of the super-smart approach that Netflix and Marvel have taken. And as a story-teller, having 13 hours to get around to the skin of it. You can’t do that in two hours in a movie. And I think the slow burn of letting the audience in piece by piece is what’s so great about television these days.”
Some critics have argued that this “slow burn” approach is just a euphemism for “padded” and “overlong.” However, I found The Punisher to be an intense character piece that’s interested in big themes (discarded veterans, coping with PTSD, government corruption) rather than the more action-y nature of the film versions.
Overall, Netflix’s The Punisher, even with its extreme violence, still fits within the model of the other Marvel series airing there, but the show also leans into its military roots with a dash of noir, which feels unique, and yet also respects its source material.
The Punisher is now streaming on Netflix.
Have you seen all 13 episodes of The Punisher yet? Let us know in the comments down below!
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