This past weekend, Guardians of the Galaxy dropped in theaters across the world, and has been absolutely leveled by critical acclaim and financial success. As a comic book fan equal in my adoration for street level stories to space-based ones, I’m elated that Guardians was a great film, but also additionally pleased that Marvel Studios had the courage to finally take the comic book based film and go full-on cosmic with it.
Our own Ben Pearson, while also very pleased with the outcome of Guardians, still noticed something that has seemed to be a bit off in the majority of Marvel Studios films. Outside of Tom Hiddleston’s terrific portrayal of Asgardian God of Mischief Loki, the vast majority of villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s films thus far have failed to widely resonate with audiences. On one hand, I think this may actually be a good thing, since the previous era of superhero films (like the Burton-Schumacher Batman films) focused far too much on the villains. The point and cliché of a hero being only as good as the villain is still very true, though, and in most cases I agree with Ben (except in the case of Red Skull. I thought he was awesome).
Now that Marvel has spent the last few movies building up the larger scale, maybe the solution to this “villain problem” is a little more ground-level. The Avengers did an awesome job in melding ground-level with cosmic in a sort of medium meeting ground, but the villains themselves were all not of this world. The Iron Man films, though taking place on Earth with human antagonists, still feel locked in a higher level of fantasy, largely because of the mass of technology and wealth that those films portray. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a bit closer to what I’m thinking, but the scale there is still a bit too big, considering that the latest Cap film dealt with the rise and fall of massive regimes.
No, what I’m thinking is far more on the ground, even in a literal sense. Marvel’s Netflix series will be starting soon, and Daredevil definitely has the potential I’m thinking about, with characters like the Kingpin and Bullseye. Still, though: what if there was a way to take things a step further? Instead of using a straight villain, why not have some of Marvel’s heroes square off against an antihero? The definitive movie for the comic book antihero has yet to be made, and if Marvel Studios has now innovated what the cosmic superhero film can look like, maybe they can give this a try as well.
Fortunately, the best antihero of them all is already a property that they own, sitting right under their noses. Of course, I’m talking about Frank Castle himself: the Punisher.
Frank Castle is one of Marvel’s most interesting characters because he’s so unique. In a world where heroic characters face moral dilemmas and tread the line between right and wrong, Frank is a man that sees absolutely no value in his own existence if he’s not using every waking moment of the rest of his life bringing “punishment” to the guilty and corrupt. Frank doesn’t see any moral dilemmas at all. If you’re guilty, he will relentlessly pursue you until you’re dead. If you’re innocent, he will try and see to it that you live.
The Punisher is one of the absolute best antiheroes in comics, and with a firm place in the Marvel Comics Universe, more often than not he is portrayed in a capacity that often sees him clash with the other heroes. On more than one occasion, Frank has crossed paths and squared off against the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and even Thor. He drugged Bruce Banner and used the Hulk as an effective and massively destructive weapon against the mob.
In a number of different interpretations, Frank has also been portrayed as an adept agent of Nick Fury, as well as a decidedly formidable foe against the likes of the Winter Soldier and Wolverine. So, is there a place for the Punisher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Yes, there is: as a villain.
The groundwork for Frank’s existence may have even already been laid. In the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King, Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) is being escorted through prison to an interview. As he passes a group of cells, two names are visible for a split-second on-screen above two of the cells: “Luis Allegre,” and “Guido Carboni.”
Within the Marvel Universe, both of these characters are associated with the New York City mob. Carboni is a tough crime boss in his own right, but Allegre is actually an unknowing architect in the creation of the Punisher: he is a part of the family that would murder Maria, Lisa, and Frank Castle Jr. one fateful day in Central Park. The loss of his wife, daughter, and son would drive Frank to dedicate his immense skills to the brutal murder of those responsible.
So, if the crime families exist, then it’s very possible that Frank does as well. Imagine an episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” where the team is trying to sting a gunrunner. They’re this close to incrimination when a force of nature sits up from the table, stabs the gangster nearest him in the throat, before putting a bullet in the arms dealer’s head. The Punisher can both launch a new franchise and help solve the “villain problem” that the studio faces.
Punisher could be a force that weaves in and out through “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Daredevil,” and even a film or two before he culminates in a greater supporting capacity in one of the Netflix series, or maybe his own venture. The mythology is rich enough, particularly with critically acclaimed comics runs by writers like Garth Ennis, Matt Fraction, and Greg Rucka. While the Punisher has been explored in more specialized “adults only” comics formats, there are now a significant number of portrayals in the ongoing Marvel Comics Universe that both permit him to exist in a shared universe with characters like the Avengers, while also making the notion of a hard ‘R’ rating in a future film less important than it may have been in the past.
By using the Punisher as a potential antagonist across future Marvel Studios stories, and perhaps across mediums, they can present him in the context of a villain that opposes the heroes, before educating the heroes and the audience on what the Punisher’s true motivations and aims are.
With a strong creative team and deft execution, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Punisher can overcome the critical slump that he’s seen in his prior three film appearances. With Marvel Studios having recently reacquired the rights to the character, all they need is a solid vision before letting Frank do what he does best once again.
So, that’s the idea! What do you think? Should the Punisher be let loose on an unsuspecting Marvel Cinematic Universe? Do you think he can fulfill the role of a great villain before we get behind him in his own adventure? Or do you think the Punisher should be kept separate as he has been for prior films, or just left in the closet to rot?
Sound off below! For those looking for the kinds of Punisher stories I’m talking about, be sure to read Greg Rucka’s 2011-2012 run with the character, as well as definitive stories by Garth Ennis like “Welcome Back, Frank,” and “Army of One.”
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