While comic book fans and critics alike didn't look too kindly on 2004's "The Punisher," Thomas Jane's portrayal of Marvel's gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle is widely regarded as one of the high points in the film. The actor has never been shy about his affinity for the character, and very publicly parted ways with the franchise prior to 2008's "Punisher: War Zone," citing creative differences over the character's direction in the films.
I recently spoke to Jane about his impressive directorial debut "Dark Country," a noir-horror thriller that hit shelves this week, and had to ask him what he thought about Frank Castle's big-screen prospects these days—and whether we'll ever see the Punisher movie he's been dying to make.
"My interest has always been based more in reality than in superhero fiction, and with the original 'Punisher' I very much pushed them to try to make a movie that was more like 'Death Wish' or 'Taxi Driver' than 'Spider-Man,'" Jane told MTV News. "The strengths of 'The Punisher' that I did lie in the reality that we were able to bring to the character, and the weaknesses of 'The Punisher' I did were all based on people trying to make this a 'comic book movie'—with funny characters and goofball s--t that has no place in a 'Punisher' film."
"'Punisher 2' went more in the direction of goofball comic-book world than in reality," he said. "The portraits of Punisher that Tim Bradstreet did, that’s the movie I want to see. [Those portraits] have a reality, grit and truth to them, and I think every 'Punisher' fan out there agrees with me. That’s what I was pushing for and that’s why I dropped out of 'Punisher 2'—because I’m not going to make a 'comic book movie.' It’s just doing a disservice to Frank Castle."
Jane went on to say that he feels the "definitive Punisher film" has yet to be made, but would very much like to return to the character for that very reason. Clearly having given the subject some thought over the years, Jane described the perfect "Punisher" movie as a blend of tones found in the films of dramatic, tough-guy writer/directors like Walter Hill ("The Warriors") and Sam Peckinpah ("The Wild Bunch"), and a far cry from what he described as the "cartoon" version of the character.
"Frank Castle has not got his due in the film world," said Jane. "I feel like it's been left unfinished."
Jane reluctantly admitted that some years will probably have to go by before audiences will be able to revisit the character, but said the success of the darker, grittier Batman in "The Dark Knight" proves that the Punisher story he'd been pitching for years isn't such a risky gamble.
"['The Dark Knight'] made $500 billion at the box office, so I felt vindicated—because everybody in the business who was familiar with what I was trying to do with 'Punisher 2' recognized that as the tone I was going for in 'Punisher 2,'" explained Jane. "Now that somebody actually accomplished that and put it on film and it received that response from the audience—[that] validates the idea that a Frank Castle movie needs to be a gritty, reality-based film."
According to Jane, in order to make the perfect "Punisher" movie, there needs to be a sea change in Hollywood's way of thinking toward movies based on comic book characters.
"Everyone gets it backwards," he said. "The 'Punisher' comic is striving for a sense of reality. They’re not striving for a sense of 'comic book.' So in the film, you can actually take the reality element further—not the comic book element. You don’t want to strengthen the idea that it’s a comic book in film, because film gives you the chance to actually bring it one step closer to reality—and that's the direction that 'Punisher' wants to go in."
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