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The first film was in 1989 and was released straight to video and starred Dolph Lundgren. The second film was released in theaters in 2004 and starred Thomas Jane. After an unsuccessful attempt to script a sequel to that film, the franchise was rebooted in 2008 with the film Punisher: War Zone, which starred Ray Stevenson. Because War Zone underperformed at the box office, no further plans were made for the franchise.
The film rights are now back in the hands of Marvel, and Marvel Studios allegedly plans to give the franchise yet another reboot.
The Punisher (1989)
The Punisher (Lundgren) is a one-man weapon against crime; in the past five years, he's killed over 125 people. In reality, The Punisher was once Frank Castle, an ex-cop whose family was murdered by mobsters. Legally declared dead, Castle strikes back from beyond the grave by killing mobsters wherever he can find them. As a result of Frank's one-man war, Gianni Franco takes control of the various mob families and moves to tie them together as one unit; this attracts the attention of the Yakuza, which decides to take over the families and all their interests — and kidnaps the mobsters' children to force loyalty to their cause. With no other choice, Franco teams up with The Punisher to fight for the lives of the children of the people Frank has fought against for five years (while, at the same time, fighting alongside the man who killed his family).
The Punisher (2004)
The second of the films, which is completely unrelated to the previous film. FBI agent Frank Castle (Jane) retires just after an undercover assignment that lead into the death of Bobby Saint, the son of famous Tampa crime boss Howard Saint. Holding Castle responsible for the death of his son, Saint orders Frank's entire family to be butchered during a family reunion; the kill squad leaves Frank for dead after slaughtering his family and killing his wife and son right before his eyes. Burnt out and taunted by memories of his murdered family, Frank returns to Florida and sets out to avenge his family. Becoming a one-man judge, jury and executioner, Frank decides to punish Howard Saint and his associates for their crimes — and he isn't willing to give up until they're all dead.
An extended cut of the film was released on DVD in 2006; it featured seventeen minutes of additional footage that fills in some of the plot holes (such as one that revolves around Jimmy Weeks, Frank's best friend, and Frank realizing that it was Weeks that sold him out to Howard Saint), features an animated introduction that follows Frank's time in Kuwait (based on the work of artist Tim Bradstreet), and generally improves on the film as compared to its theatrical cut. (This version of the film often airs on the FX network as well.)
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
The third of the films; it, too, is not a direct sequel to the previous film. Ruthless vigilante-hero Frank Castle (Stevenson), waging his one-man war on the world of organized crime, sets his sights on overeager mob boss Billy Russoti (Dominic West. After Russoti is left horribly disfigured by Castle (who accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent during his attempted hit), he sets out to get revenge on Castle under the alias of Jigsaw. With the "Punisher Task Force" hot on his trail and the FBI unable to take Jigsaw in, Frank must stand up to the formidable army that Jigsaw has recruited before more of the mobster's evil deeds go unpunished.
Tropes featured include:
- Altum Videtur: From the 2004 film: Si vis pacem, para bellum
- Armored Closet Gay: The Dragon in the 2004 film, a secret that Frank used for his advantage.
- Badass Biker: Frank in the 1989 film.
- Big Applesauce: Frank is nearly always depicted as a New Yorker, but the 2004 flick moves his story to Tampa. The DVD commentary reveals that the main reason to move to Tampa was Florida's tax incentives for film productions. The budget was too tight to film anywhere else.
- Punisher: War Zone moves Frank back to New York, as Marvel probably caught on to the whole every hero in New York thing and decided to start expanding a bit, like they did with Iron Man.
- Chekhov's Armoury: With the exception of the ballistic knife, nearly every weapon Castle uses is shown beforehand either in a montage or as part of a scene.
- Darker and Edgier:
- The 2004 film was basically the entire comic-book movie slate up to that point save for Blade and its sequels.
- The 2008 movie compared to the 2004 one, adding Bloodier and Gorier to boot.
- Diagnosis From Dr. Badass:
- In the 2004 film, Frank takes a blowtorch to Mickey Duka's back and describes what he's doing in great detail, including telling him that it's not painful yet because the nerve endings are seared and when the flame's that hot, it actually feels cold. This turns out to be a subversion, as the Punisher is really just swiping a popsicle across the man's back to create the described symptoms, while simultaneously using the blowtorch on a steak to create the smell of charred flesh.
- In War Zone, Loony Bin Jim, during his fight with Frank Castle in the toilet, began to say what was wrong with Punisher during each blow:
Loony Bin Jim: Blood in the urine, an early indicator of kidney failure.
- Faux Affably Evil: Billy "Jigsaw" Russoti, though he does really seem to care for his brother.
- Guile Hero: The 2004 version of Frank Castle. How so? As part of his Batman Gambit, Frank's plan for revenge was that after returning to the States, make it appear to Howard Saint that his wife and his right-hand man are having an affair. After Saint kills both of them for the perceived betrayal, Frank makes his final assault on Saint's posh nightclub; Castle kills Saint's other son, tells Howard he killed his wife and best friend for nothing (he framed Saint's wife as cheating with his best friend, not knowing his friend was gay), then sends him to a fiery death.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The first thing Loony Bin Jim does when he's busted out of the mental hospital is eat an orderly's kidneys.
- Karma Houdini: Jimmy Weeks. That's if you watching the theatrical cut.
- The theatrical cut leaves out the scene of Howard Saint blackmailing Weeks, making it seem like Weeks was innocent and his goons just figured out how to find Castle on their own.
- Large Ham: Dominic West was surely having a ball as Billy Russoti/Jigsaw.
- Never Bring a Knife to A Gun Fight: Quoth Harry Heck in the 2004 film, "You are one dumb son of a bitch. Bringing a knife to a gunfight."
- Little did Harry know, it was a spring-loaded ballistic knife.
- Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: In this poster, Frank Castle is in a war zone and about to shoot you.
- Shout-Out: Although the comic book Jigsaw has appeared long before the Saw franchise, near the end of War Zone, Jigsaw says "Let's play a game" and then forces Frank to choose between the lives of Micro or the little girl.
- The 2004 movie features a hitman that's a tribute to Johnny Cash's character in '5 Minutes to Live'.
- Billy's post transformation is possibly a shout-out to The Joker's transformation scene in Batman.
- That Man Is Dead
- In the 2004 film:
The Punisher: Those who do evil to others-the killers, the rapists, psychos, sadists-you will come to know me well. Frank Castle is dead. Call me...the Punisher.
- In the 2008 film:
Jigsaw: Billy is dead. From now on, you call me... Jigsaw.
- Think Happy Thoughts: At the end of the 2004 film, Castle has killed all the criminals responsible for his family's deaths, and thinks he has nothing further to live for. He puts a gun to his own head, but a memory of his wife prevents him from pulling the trigger.
- True Companions: In the 2004 film, Frank doesn't believe he's friends with his neighbors. That changes when he gets to know them after he helped with Joan's boyfriend problem and left them some of the stolen mob money he took early in the film.
- Wrote the Book: In the 1989 film, Jake refers to himself as "the man who wrote the book on busting bad guys".
- If you want peace, prepare for war.