We use superheroes to reflect societal issues, to converse on behalf of and to the disenfranchised as well as to engage a wider audience with sensitive issues. Larger than life characters become the vessel in which we communicate problems in the real world; Hulk is a commentary on repressed anger, the X-Men on what it means to be an outsider. With Frank Castle a.k.a ‘The Punisher’, we analyse the nature of conflict and consequences of war.
For over forty years, rising out of the public reaction to Vietnam, the Punisher has embodied the Western conscience towards violence. Sometimes a good guy, sometimes bad, often elements of both. After three failed attempts to bring the character to the screen, Marvel are putting Frank Castle front and centre with a new miniseries on Netflix. With gun violence at the forefront of political debate once more, and in a time of increasing international tension, a Punisher series may be exactly what contemporary audience’s want - but perhaps not what we need.
Argue with any self respecting film enthusiast and they will tell you that gratuitous violence on the screen in no way reflects real life. When John Woo shows bottomless gun clips emptied at multi-angle slow motion - he’s not fetishising violence but rather voyeuristically exploring what we imagine it to be. Tim Roth bleeding out at the start of Reservoir Dogs is violence realised. Al Pacino blowing away the Bolivian Cartel at the end of Scarface is violence fantasised. That is the distinction between a Punisher series as violent entertainment and entertaining violence - and the line it needs to land on the difficult side of.
The idea is not to do a straight remake but a new movie in the spirit of the original
With a new shooting incident taking place weekly in America a serious commentary should be made on the Second Amendment through the Frank Castle character. Whilst Jon Bernthal’s incarnation was introduced well in the Daredevil series, now, with the Punisher at the forefront of the story, there’s opportunity to observe what contemporary violence in America truly looks like. If they go for style over substance they risk a vocal audience turning against them quickly, and with a hush-hush release date and a cancelled premiere in the wake of the recent Las Vegas shootings, it’s hard to detect much confidence on the part of Marvel or Netflix. And that’s a shame, because a real conversation on violence through the Punisher character could make for very compelling television.