My fandom for The Punisher peaked around 2004-2005, when the Thomas Jane movie was released. I feel like Jon Bernthal was a better Punisher and his series is the definitive Punisher ever put on screen, but in 2004 the Thomas Jane movie wasn’t so bad. It had a great villain in John Travolta, and Jane looked incredible. The action was tight, the revenge was well sought out, and with exception of a few budgetary decisions (removing the opening scene, setting it in Tampa), the movie was as good as it could have possibly been.
It was the 2004 movie that introduced us to the broken skull emblem that has become so popular the past fifteen years. It was so cool at the time; I actually got it tattooed on me. I also made homemade Punisher t-shirts for me and my friend since we couldn’t find any with the broken skull emblem on them to buy.
Superhero movies weren’t the rage in 2004 (although X-Men and Spiderman had been huge hits) and The Punisher was a low budget action film starring a little known actor. It had a tiny budget of $33 million and a very short shooting schedule of just 52 days. Still, the product that came out wasn’t bad. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever, but it was entertaining and a joy to watch in the theater.
I really liked all The Punisher tie-ins that came out around that time. The Punisher MAX books were on fire (and inspired the movie). Then in 2005, Thomas Jane voiced Frank Castle again in the excellent The Punisher video game.
The video game was super violent. It was so violent they had to turn some scenes black and white just to get an M rating. You got bonus points for triggering extra violent deaths like curb stomping, and the game was an all-around joy. The voice acting was spot on, it was relentlessly violent, and it’s a game I’d love to see a remaster made with an updated control scheme.
I just learned today that a novelization was written for the movie and I’m hoping to seek that out sometime in the near future and give it a read.
Thomas Jane was up for doing a sequel, but the sequel lingered in development hell for a while, until having its budget cut, and then cut, and then cut some more till finally he walked away from the project. The Punisher: War Zone was released in 2008 which acted as a reboot, but ultimately it was a disappointment in my eyes. I know some people appreciated how violent it was, but the movie was so boring I barely remember anything about it.
In 2012, a ten minute short film was released called Dirty Laundry, which has Thomas Jane reprising his role as The Punisher. The film was a bigger budgeted fan film, but prior to the Netflix series, it was arguably the best representation of The Punisher to have been made. I really loved it and hoped that it would lead to a proper Thomas Jane sequel, or possibly a reboot, but that wasn’t in the cards. Instead, Netflix would announce the Bernthal series sometimes shortly thereafter and even that has run its course.