People just can’t get enough of The Punisher right now.
There’s a phrase you thought you might never hear in the aftermath of some of the previous big-screen outings of the character, and yet it’s quite factual. The most hyper-violent and notorious anti-hero ever to grace the pages of Marvel Comics is now rapidly becoming one of the company’s most critically acclaimed MCU properties, thanks in no small part to an achingly emotional performance which stole the show in this year’s second season of ‘Daredevil’. The fans watched in awe as Jon Bernthal went deep down into places never before seen with the other live-action portrayals of the character, channeling levels of loss and rage that would move even the stoniest of cynical hearts. Yes, my friends, Frank Castle is hot property. But this was not always so….
The Punisher has had one of the rockiest transitions from page to a live-action format that a Marvel property can have. And this is the company that gave us talking trees and space raccoons. Attempting to relocate Frank to the big screen has resulted in problems on a similar level to the previous versions of Bruce Banner, but thankfully not on the level of The Fantastic Four. And whilst the idea of a non powered anti-hero sticking it to the super villain community deeply connects with comic book readers, it seems to have had difficulty in doing the same for larger TV and film audiences.
First up, we had big Dolph Lundgren way back in the day. The movie was a true reflection of the film industry back in 1989, and as a result, it hasn’t aged particularly well. Dolph leered and gurned at audiences as he machine-gunned and sliced his way through hordes of Ninjas, and in doing so, killed any chance of a sequel. But things briefly picked up, when Tom Jane was cast in the reboot fifteen years later. Jane’s version was largely accepted by Punisher fans, prior to Bernthal’s, as the definitive portrayal of the character, even within a movie containing a classically scenery-chewing turn from John Travolta.
And then, a step back again. Jane departed the sequel that had been planned for his outing, with brit actor Ray Stevenson stepping up to the plate off the back of his massively enjoyable turn in ‘Rome’. And whilst Stevenson did manage to absolutely nail the look and feel of the violent vigilante, the rest of 2008’s ‘Punisher: War Zone’ is a mess of neon, and hammy overacting, that ended up a notorious commercial and critical flop. With the exception of a couple of animated movies in the following years, it looked very much like this performance would be the last we saw of Frank Castle, consigned to the Marvel cinematic trashcan along with Howard The Duck.
But finally, after much trial and error, the character has received the performance he deserves, and fans have been able to use social media to scream loudly enough to persuade Netflix to give him a solo series. And with such a long and illustrious comic history, and the existing cinematic versions to work off, there are also a whole wealth of supporting characters and villains for the new series to draw upon and reincarnate. Which has left some fans to ask the question, might we be seeing some of those previous Punisher actors making a cameo appearance?
It’s not actually anywhere near as mad as it might first sound. First up, having already appeared in the MCU is no barrier to re-appearing as someone else. Ray Stevenson has already rejoined the MCU in the form of Volstagg, part of Thor’s ‘Warriors Three’, and a number of Marvel TV actors such as Enver Gjokaj and Alfre Woodward already appeared in Marvel movies in small unrelated roles. Secondly, Marvel do love a good old cameo. From the Bill Bixby references in the Hulk franchise, to Lou Ferrigno and Stan Lee cropping up in every other movie, and Rebecca Romijn popping up in the new X-Men movies, the studio delights in dropping out a little walk-on role here of there much to the delight of audiences. It’s a trick that DC have quickly picked up on, having recently recast original actors John Wesley Shipp and Linda Carter in the new versions of original TV offerings.
So, let’s just work off the theory that the fans could actually gain the momentum to persuade Marvel/Netflix to give a previous Punisher actor a role in the new series, out of all the deep and interesting array of supporting characters could they play? Lets find out…
1. Brian Bloom – Will Rawlins
Bloom is a well-renowned voice actor, with over 30 years experience in the business. Whilst his live-action appearances have been somewhat limited, you may recognize him from turns in ‘Smokin Aces’ and ‘The A-Team’. You’d also immediately recognize his deep overtones from the countless video game performances he’s racked up, including ‘Call Of Duty’, ‘Dead Space’ and the ‘Batman: Arkham’ series.
He played Frank in the first full-length animated film based around the character, ‘Avengers: Confidential’, back in 2014. A Marvel animated movie is somewhat of an oddity in itself, and the anime style of artwork also led to the movie being less well known as other projects, but it’s an enjoyable enough little romp, which see Castle and Black Widow dispatched by Nick Fury to foil a plot to sell super-soldiers on the black market.
So who could he play? Well, given his turn as a duplicitous government agent in ‘The A-Team’, and his menacing vocal abilities, we’d suggest he’s a good fit to play corrupt CIA operator William Rawlins, from the MAX storyline. The slimy Rawlins is the facilitator and messenger for a group of shady military officers, who cuts deals with gangsters and foreign governments for considerable financial rewards, usually at the expense of American soldiers.
He’s a delightfully evil character, enjoying his work, and happy to monologue to his victims, which would make him a great addition to the Netflix series. Initially operating behind the scenes until a bigger reveal further down the line, because Billy Russo’s corrupt security firm ‘Anvil’ must be getting its orders from somewhere, right?
2. Norman Reedus – The Mennonite
Sticking with Frank’s animated outings, ‘The Walking Dead’ star Norman Reedus had a brief appearance voicing the character in ‘Rise Of The Technovore’ back in 2013. Whilst he’s literally only in two short scenes, this portrayal is delivered with a strong dose of dark humour, as a fugitive Tony Stark turns to the only person he feels he can trust, which puts the two heroes in a collision course with SHIELD.
Reedus is already well known to be a big fan of the character, having posted a large number of photos to his Instagram feed of himself wearing the trademark skull tee in support of fellow TWD actor Jon Bernthal. The more expert of the Marvel fan base will also already be aware that this isn’t Reedus’s first foray into the franchise, as he made an appearance in Blade 2 back in 2002, as Blade’s duplicitous sidekick. So, with vampire slayer and zombie slayer already under his belt, where could we go with Reedus in the new series. Let us tell you, The Mennonite, that’s where.
Okay, so there isn’t a perfect physical match between Reedus and this character but our argument is naturally anchored in fact. Towards the end of he MAX run, which was drawn by the late great Steve Dillon, Wilson Fisk calls on The Mennonite in a desperate bid to eradicate Castle. A former Mafia hitman, who swore off violence for his dying wife, the religious renegade leaves his two sons behind in order to kill The Punisher using only the most low-tech of weapons. Reedus already has history as a hitman in ‘The Boondock Saints’, and spends all of his time on TWD using blades and blunt objects as his weapons. He easily has the acting chops to tackle the tragic and conflicted killer in some new version.
3. Dolph Lundgren – Christu Bulat
Maintaining our strong run of notable characters from the MAX Universe, we find ourselves trying to find a fit for arguably Sweden’s greatest contribution to world cinema, Dolph Lundgren. Despite two decades of having been relegated to the bargain bins of ‘straight to DVD’ fodder, the big Swede has enjoyed quite the resurgence in the last few years thanks to his inclusion in the ‘Expendables’ franchise.
Admittedly, he’s not the most expressive or emotional of actors, and he has got an accent that creates some difficulty in the writing and crafting of characters who can be portrayed by a bodybuilding Scandinavian, but we think we know where to go. And before you ask, it’s not ‘The Russian’…
Hollywood doesn’t tend to have an oversensitive ear when it comes to the casting of foreign actors, and Lundrgen has already portrayed pretty much every nationality under the sun during his long career. If there’s one storyline that the fans want to see in the new series, it’s ‘The Slavers’. They were criminally handled back in ‘Punisher: Warzone’, and now’s the time to get them right. Cast Lundgren as the head of the people-trafficking Bulat clan, and let the fun begin.
4. Ray Stevenson – Yorkie Mitchell
Right then, that’s the minor players out of the way, and we’re up to the main event, the two biggest Punisher actors beside Bernthal. Traditionally, Stevenson’s best performances have come when he’s playing one of the good guys, with his turns as a villain a little on the hammy side. ‘GI Joe’, ‘The Other Guys’ and ‘Big Game’, we mean you.
So what we need is a legendary Punisher character for a legendary Punisher actor, and Yorkie Mitchell perfectly fits the bill. A former SAS and MI5 operator, who’s gone through some serious shit at Frank’s side, he first crops up in Hell’s Kitchen seeking revenge on a rogue IRA Bomber who’s resurfaced and cropped up on Castle’s radar.
Unfortunately, as with anybody who steps up to help The Punisher, things don’t end well for Mitchell, who ends up captured and tortured by Barracuda, tragically forced into revealing Castle’s secret daughter with his dying breaths.
The stocky Northern Irishman has both the look and the feel to play the world-wearied security operative, essentially having already played a similar role in TV crime procedural ‘Crossing Lines’, and it would be the casting choice of the century to put him working on the same side as Jon Bernthal’s version of Frank. All it’s missing is a knowing wink at the camera…
1. Tom Jane – The Hood
Jane remains an immovable strong favorite amongst some fans, and his unofficial return to the role in 2012’s ‘Dirty Laundry’ is still cited as the benchmark role to beat. It’s also the best ever free advertising that Jack Daniels have ever had. He’s a physical actor, and he can go from caring to full-on crazy at the drop of a hat. It would also be a masterstroke to bring him into the new series as a villain, directly in the sights of the new Punisher.
Marvel have no shortage of characters that they have yet to bring to the screen, either good or bad, and one of these just happens to be a classic Punisher bad guy. We’re talking about Parker Robbins, AKA The Hood. A low level criminal who encountered a demon and lived to tell the tale, he stole the Demon’s cloak, granting him immense supernatural power, which he uses in conjunction with a pair of handguns to make him one of the company’s most memorable recent creations.
Naturally, some tinkering would be required to take a pistol-packing Red Riding Hood and adapt it for a Netflix incarnation, but hell. They did it for David Tennant and The Purple Man. The Hood has a tragic backstory, and lives his life tortured and cursed by the powers he has inherited. Jane’s a great actor, and would pretty much act as a mirror to Bernthal’s version of Castle, leading a massive gang of brutal criminals in an effort to take what Wilson Fisk has lost. C’mon, Marvel. You’ve already given us he hero we deserve, now give us a villain.