Category: Comics

Capes and superpowers, grit and cultural shifts…

Marvel: “Go to Hell Castle” – The Punisher on Film

Punisher on Film

Punisher on Film

The Punisher’s back, skull, firearms and singular purpose complete and with its longest ride yet. Could the small screen at last give one of Marvel’s most adapted, and still most difficult character’s a break?

DAREDEVIL SERIES 2 HAS JUST UNLEASHED AN ALL NEW PUNISHER ON THE MASSES, THIS TIME FINDING A WAY FOR FRANK CASTLE TO BREAK INTO THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE AS HE DEBUTS IN SMALL SCREEN LIVE ACTION. That Netflix contained Hell’s Kitchen, so far shaped by the first closed seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, looks perfect for him. And in taking on the patch patrolled by the often more brutal Man without Fear, it looks like his anti-hero/villain status will have just the bridge he needs.

A square peg. With a skull on it

The Punisher is and has always been a difficult fit for the Marvel Universe, but typically, that’s exactly where the huge appeal the character springs from, continuing to attract creators no matter the Marvel imprint or scale of crossover event.

The Punisher doesn’t just have the potential to bring death and extreme violence into the comic book universe, darker and blunter than the various homicidal villains and amoral antiheroes in that huge universe, but also a complete lack of redemption. As countless films remind us, this is not vengeance or revenge as much as various storylines have found ways to drag up the tragic past that broke policeman Frank Castle. This is punishment. And as soon as the Punisher was born from that broken shell, as soon as the skull shirt was put on and the wicked punished, all hope of redemption was off the table. There sits on his shoulders the weight of many deaths, no matter how avenging or moral they seem. Rumour has it that’s a key part of him entering Daredevil’s universe…

Still, that’s a remit that makes the Punisher all the more difficult to slot into a film. You have all manner of three act and tragic precursors to drag this difficult slant into the mundane. One of the nearest comparators in comic books, with a career shaped by tragedy is of course Batman. But the Dark Knight quickly became a metaphor within his fictional city, and creators have had great fun playing with the idea of escalation that chucks increasing layers of the grotesque at him. The Punisher’s encountered his fair share of grotesques, but in the hard reality of his America, the two shadowy figures are entirely separated by the use of fatal force.

Issues. With a skull on them

Still, as with the Dark Knight, Punisher stories and particularly adaptations find it difficult to stop reminding us about Castle’s stark tragedy, albeit only one of the three film adaptations so far have wandered onto that difficult canvas of trying to solve it.

Batman represents the loss of childhood innocence. He was steered into a life where he sought to protect following a savage murder that he could not have stopped as a child. In comic book lore, Frank Castle was an adult, a highly experienced soldier who failed to protect his wife and two children. He was forged in the heart of Manhattan, in Central Park. While both may lurk in dark hideouts, unlike Batman Castle doesn’t have an incredible array of technology that can mimic and counter his grotesques. His brand of justice requires huge firepower, ultra-violence death and action. He employs every tool of the villain to make that happen. And many, many of his victims are minor mafia attached criminals.

Spider-Man may have jumped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe just in time to take up a valuable role in Marvel’s tent-pole film of 2017, Civil War, but there’s no chance the Punisher will. Frank Castle first appeared in the pages of a 1974 Spider-Man comic and wold go on to play a considerable role in Mark Millar’s original Civil War comic event. However, once again, the irreconcilable, utterly irredeemable qualities of what’s left of Frank Castle mean that even in moments of extreme Marvel crisis he’s no easy fit with the rest of the Marvel elite.

Peak Punisher. With a skull on it

There are three films starring Marvel’s awkward antihero to look at, but it would be impossible to ignore the work of the Punisher’s definitive contributor on the page. Above everybody else is Garth Ennis. As ever a writer who prefers to steer clear of superheroes, but unfortunately writes them brilliantly.

His ongoing series cancelled in the mid-90s, Castle spent some time clinging onto in mini-series before Garth Ennis’ 12-part run at the beginning of the 21st century returned his popularity. The Punisher’s look was pared down (farewell those Mickey Mouse gloves) and soon Ennis had moved across to the adult MAX imprint, legendarily given an unlimited run on the character; one that produced heavy, realistic and wonderfully dark tales for 66 issues. That series would continue tackling modern world events, having established a universe where Vietnam-veteran Punisher had been active for 30 years and taken over 2,000 lives, until the character’s own death. Other comic series would drag Castle into superhuman scraps, mutant meltdowns and even transform him into the undead like of FrankenCastle during the publisher’s Dark Reign event.

There’s nothing like a good antihero, and he’s one of the psychologically damaged originals. So it’s no surprise that aside from his devastating runs on animated series and his huge homecoming on Netflix, he’s fronted three feature length films. But none of these have sustained a franchise, each picking up a different actor for a different portrayal of Castle. Perhaps the prolonged serial story of the new Daredevil adaptation will finally be able to piece together a compelling persona for one of the most damaged Marvel has to offer. Continue reading “Marvel: “Go to Hell Castle” – The Punisher on Film”

Marvel: Minimising Daredevil and Maximising Ant-Man

Ant-Man - ants and helmet

Daredevil and Ant-Man

2015 has seen Marvel’s media dominion diversify more than ever. And that’s saying something. But on small and big screen, the conclusion of their Phase Two demonstrates a healthy return to the good old basics of their juggernaut machine. A return to corporate espionage mashed together with some second-chance vigilante justice that’s a tad grey, and not in that old-fashioned SHIELD way – Jokerside turns to Daredevil and Ant-Man. *Spoilers as guaranteed as an end credit teaser*.

Read on or jump to: Ant-Man

Daredevil (Netflix, 2015)

The Devil in Hell’s Kitchen

“I had to choose paths or fate would choose for me”

JOKERSIDE’S ALREADY ADMITTED ITS FONDNESS FOR PREMIER SILVER AGE HERO FLASH OVER AT DC COMICS, AND NOW IT’S TIME TO COME CLEAN ABOUT MARVEL. DAREDEVIL’S ALWAYS BEEN A FAVOURITE. Was it the Frank Miller comics or perhaps his link up with Bill Bixby’s Incredible Hulk? No, apparently it was Marvel Superhero Top Trumps (1988 variety) – one fixed and classic image among the many (64 to be precise) that will always steer Jokerside’s view of the heroes and villains of the Marvel universe.

Or maybe it’s just a red thing.

Whatever, an unmissable adaptation of Daredevil has been a long-time coming. An instantly fascinating character, but an awkward one, Daredevil was Fox’s second big stab at the Marvel machine following X-Men in 1999. But that 2003 film, despite getting a lot more right than people gave it credit for, performed poorly. And that was even before the emergence of the solid Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was packed out with characters from the Daredevil myth including Electra, Kingpin and Bullseye but its lack of success showed how comic book films have always teetered on a razor edge. Although Joe Carnahan’s 70’s pitch at the end of the Fox era was intriguing, it came too late in the game for the rights bods at Fox and the Man without Fear soon found himself back in his home fold. But what could Marvel do with their returning devil?

Downsizing

“This is the part where law meets reality”

Daredevil lends himself to a series, with famous storylines on page, particularly Frank Miller’s stunning runs, doing much to cast him as a compelling character. Beyond the accident, the subsequent blindness, the fierce protection of Hell’s Kitchen, the law and the Catholicism, Daredevil’s far more a product of top creators’ lengthy explorations of how all those elements fit into a tight and claustrophobic universe. He’s certainly not as mass-friendly as Spiderman despite being a mere two years younger than him in publication, and quite easily the ideal choice to spearhead Marvel’s charge on Netflix.

Daredevil knows just when and when not to comply with the Marvel universe. Ant-Man’s heist structure is a good example of the studio’s ‘genre’ approach to their films, a tack that’s served them brilliantly, particularly through Phase 2. If anything Daredevil thematically responds to legendary 1970s films of New York, from Scorsese to Friedkin, in setting out a grittier and defiantly earth-bound hero amid the phase that set out Marvel’s extra-terrestrial agenda. That was unavoidable, especially after Carnahan’s speculative sizzle reel.

Alleyways

“This district is changing”

Most importantly Daredevil plays very well to the small screen budget. The climax of the second episode Cut Man with its brilliantly orchestrated corridor take-down of Russian henchmen, who keep coming back for more against this quite human vigilante, shows that at its best. Just think how this is going to pan out with The Punisher’s entrance just round the corner…

Continue reading “Marvel: Minimising Daredevil and Maximising Ant-Man”

Marvel: Back in the Fold… Where can it all go right for the new Spider-Man?

Spider-Man and Marvel's New York

Spider-Man and Marvel's New York

Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man is finally future-proof. The Amazing Spider-Man’s two film haul of $1.5 billion was stopped in its tracks with the wintry news of Sony Pictures’ deal with Marvel Studios. Having looked at those two films, now destined to be written out of history, Jokerside looks to the future of Sony’s top superhero franchise… In the bold new ‘world’ of Marvel Cinematic universe. Spider-Man’s not alone anymore.

FOR EVERYTHING THAT CAN CLAIM TO BE PURE MARVEL COMICS, SPIDER-MAN’S AT THE TOP. Until the Dark Knight and the Avengers leaped the billion barrier he was the dominant force in superhero flicks during the formative days of their 21st century cinematic takeover.

The background web

Bucking the rule of diminishing returns

Let’s jump the 1970s TV movies as affecting as they were. The 80s and 90s saw Spidey film rights jump around Hollywood studios like Cannon and Carolco while Tinseltown Alphas like James Cameron and Tobe Hooper circled. The end result was Sam Raimi effective Spider-Man in 2002, a film that served up an eye-watering $821million to prove that the comic movie was ready to seize the heart of the blockbuster season and that the web crawler was top of the pile. By the time Spider-Man 3 was released to lack-lustre reviews five years later, that trilogy had amassed nearly $2.5 billion. By contrast, Fox’s X-Men trilogy, which concluded a year earlier, grossed just over $1.1 billion. Almost inevitably it was Spider-Man’s weaker final entry that took the top spot in his franchise with nearly £900 million. But despite bucking the rule of diminishing returns, the critical stock of the property had fallen sharply as ‘creative pressures’ between director, producers and the studio were clear to see in the finished product.

After some prevarication over a fourth Raimi instalment, Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise five years later, complete with a fresh origin, raised plenty of eyebrows. Just how would the public take to yet another version of that well known Spider-Man origin?

The answer wasn’t too clean cut. 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man got a lot right. Praised but blockbuster-rookie Marc Webb swung into the director’s seat and produced a confident and stylish film, ably backed by the late James Horner on scoring duties and a fine cast; in particular Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in central roles that conjured up better chemistry than the Raimi films managed. In all, that was just about enough to power past those unsettling re-origin problems. But it seemed strangely unsure of how it should react to those Raimi films. It set a course closer to the comics but hastily established a great deal of baggage on the way.  And the CGI-overload and bland villain’s plot brought to mind some unsettling comparisons with the dark and icy days of the mid 1990’s Batman films.

Continue reading “Marvel: Back in the Fold… Where can it all go right for the new Spider-Man?”

Marvel: Are Franchises Electric… Where did it all go Wrong for the Amazing Spider-Man?

Whatever happened to the Amazing Spiderman?

Whatever happened to the Amazing Spiderman?

Was it the adjective? A bit over the top? It worked on paper…

Moving on to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. After The Amazing Spider-Man took over $750 million in 2012, it seemed that Sony’s top superhero franchise was back on track, even if not raking in quite as much as it had a decade before. Still, it was closer to the comics, was well kitted out in front and behind the camera and there was a city full of enemies to be explored… So, the inevitable sequel was just the tip of the iceberg. Or so it seemed.  It wasn’t a great start when the inimitable James Horner didn’t return to score a film he later described as “terrible”’… And it was all going so well, wasn’t it?

On with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – the swift end to Spidey’s last blockbuster life before he joins his friends in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL AFTER THE FIRST FILM. SPIDER-MAN ON FILM WAS NOW AS CONSUMED WITH TRAGEDY AS HE WAS ON PAPER. And a particular bell was tolling for Gwen Stacy. Jokerside previously took kindly to The Amazing Spider-Man (TAS), the first part of the Andrew Garfield starring Spidey franchise that came to an abrupt end this winter thanks to behind the scenes studio deals. Certainly, that film was too quick to re-spin the origin, and it was too bogged down by coincidence and a terribly bland villain with a very retro-plot. But… It was just about saved by excellent cast and crew. It was a beautifully and confidently shot film, but its release was unlucky, or silly, to coincide with the first Avengers film and the last of the Dark Knight trilogy. It featured a wonderful score by the late James Horner, while the chemistry between Garfield and the constantly impressing Emma Stone was a real highlight, elevating it beyond the gigantic Sam Raimi trilogy of ten years before as it left silly love triangle stuff to Superman films. Still, amid its quest for a convoluted background plot, it was clear TAS didn’t quite know whether to ignore or embrace its illustrious predecessor.

Amid all of that, TAS may have been lucky to fall just $70 million or so behind the nearest Raimi film. It was still considered, in whispered tones, a bit of a disappointment, but there was never a question of stalling the franchise. And when the sequel emerged two years later, the battleground of the superhero film had moved on still further. Now Spidey studio Sony couldn’t have anything other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its sights…

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Looking at the four colour page, it’s been mooted that only Spider-Man’s gallery of rogues can rival Batman’s. New York houses a huge and festering pile of madness for the web slinging one to crack jokes at. And while it’s not ostensibly as dark as in Gotham, it’s tinged with tragedy. And while Batman’s foes often take their lead from the world of fairy-tale and literature to deal melodrama, so Spider-Man’s often combine science with some kind of animal symbolism and human drama. You only have to take a look at the fan-baitingly cool scenes deep in the vaults of Oscorp Tower late on in this film to see that. The waiting tentacles of Doc Ock, the wings of the Vulture… They’re instantly recognisable.

Continue reading “Marvel: Are Franchises Electric… Where did it all go Wrong for the Amazing Spider-Man?”

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