Marvel: “Go to Hell Castle” – The 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. Read more…

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Marvel: Minimising Daredevil and Maximising Ant-Man

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…

Read more…

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

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.

Read more…

Batman Beyond: The Devil and Ben Affleck

Darebats

Ben Affleck is the Dark Knight. 

THE NEWS SPRUNG OUT OF THE SHADOWS LATE ON THURSDAY – AGAIN I WISH THAT WARNER WOULD GIVE SOME WARNING FOR THEIR SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENTS. BEN AFFLECK IS THE DARK KNIGHT.

More than usual, the genre press led with ‘What do you think?’ headlines – and that’s saying something. There are few actors who’d create more of a stir. Recent weeks have been consumed with rumours that Warner Bros were casting around for an older Batman to match their 33 year old on screen Superman – even pursuing Christian Bale’s return to the tune of $50 million. Recently retired Caped Crusader Bale is just two years younger than Affleck, but it turns out that offer was either flatly rejected, a neat distraction or both. The sudden and definitive announcement surprised many, more than guaranteeing an argument.

Indifferent commentators have been increasingly quiet during a Summer where superhero films have dodged blockbuster box office meltdown. But this news stirred them. They stress that for them it’s not an Affleck issue. It’s more a lament – usually an ill-considered one – that it’s time to seal the comic book film genre away in UV protecting plastic sleeves. In an attic. For once, fans with vision the size of the bat cave entrance may be more clued up, but not necessarily for the right reason. The problem is that Ben Affleck has form.

Red Devil

2003’s Daredevil hangs over Affleck like Kingpin over Hell’s Kitchen. And that’s a little unfair. Far from being the victim of misfortune, it’s been mainly Affleck who’s distanced himself from it – with an emphasis on never playing a superhero again. 2003 was an odd time for the genre, falling in an odd hinterland half a decade before Marvel Studios kicked off their ambitions. At the time Fox’s X Men franchise was successfully burgeoning but remained quite low key. That Summer also saw Ang Lee’s tortured Hulk suffer (mind you, in a difficult season even Harry Potter underperformed).

Daredevil is an established and well regarded Marvel superhero, with one of the most eminent fathers in Stan Lee. But he’s always been one that fits a little awkwardly into the Marvel film roster. Now Fox have rejected Joe Carnahan’s intriguing 70s reboot and the rights have reverted to Marvel Studios it’s hard to see the Man without Fear slipping neatly into the Avengers universe anytime soon. While tragedy and classic monster horror runs through the Hulk’s veins and comedy and coming of age angst drip from Spiderman’s web, Daredevil marries one of the hokiest origin stories with themes of religion, law and city-grit. The horned one is perhaps the darkest fantasy creation to ever wear scarlet in comics and over time creators such as Frank Miller have honed him into a fascinating character – so much more than disability and toxic ooze. Those B-Movie roots that even the Turtles couldn’t totally steal remain, but his position as the real Batman of the Marvel Universe is clear. Pipe down Iron Man.

Director Mark Steven Johnson, a director who often finds it very difficult to please, got a lot right. Daredevil’s power was startlingly realised if a little too stylised. The curse of heightened senses and the Devil’s Catholic guilt were implemented well while the cast was well filled out. The late Michael Clarke Duncan was a superb Kingpin in particular. Fox certainly didn’t fear the worst before it opened, ordering an extra post-credit scene that showed rising star of the moment Colin Farrell’s or rather his character Bullseye had survived for a sequel. Still, despite those apparent strengths in a second string costumed hero film, it didn’t even touch $180million in receipts. It scored under half the amount that the sublime X Men 2 clawed in for the studio just two months later.

A lot of the supposed faults of the mini-Devil franchise were cemented by the unwise Electra spin-off film. Despite the presence of small screen directing legend Rob Bowman, things didn’t go well. Just a cursory look at one of Electra’s comics shows that it would have been hard to conceive the film more poorly. Affleck wasn’t slow to remove himself from the disappointment, but an even more uncomfortable year was to follow. Having already bounced back from Pearl Harbour in 2001, 2003/4 saw him endure the release of Gigli, Paycheck and Jersey Girl following Daredevil. Each proved a nail of various sizes, and it wasn’t long until the former Hollywood golden child found a better stable behind the camera. However, not before, interestingly, he found time to portray doomed Superman actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland.

And so 10 years later, after a chequered decade, Affleck returns to superheroes, this time as that other famous vigilante of the night, the one with the black cowl.

Dark Knight

2013 has cemented Affleck’s remarkable repositioning. Taking the directing reins and major roles in a series of serious, gritty and political films has quickly established him up as a talent to watch. His choices and oh so serious bearded persona could be seen as mildly cynical were it not for the critical acclaim and awards… He’s making money as well. Argo raked in $232 million and he’s well on the same path as Clint Eastwood took, but in a far shorter timeframe. His best film win at the Oscars this year may have surprised, but in hindsight it was the one film that allowed the Academy to acknowledge politics at arm’s length. George Clooney had Affleck’s back. Their beards were strong.

So really, it’s the timing of the casting that’s most surprising. Affleck’s name’s been linked to Bruce Wayne’s before, most recently in the flurry of activity surrounding the presumed Justice League movie. Affleck was linked with that directing gig before Snyder was locked in… But there must be some truth to ever rumour, especially in Gotham.

Warner ultimately decided on a cleverer route to realising their big screen ambitions than leaping into their own Avengers. While they can introduce a rebooted Batman in the next Superman film, building and boosting Man of Steel 2’s box office, it’ increasingly likely that they will be growing other characters from the small screen. Series two of DC Superhero series Arrow is set to feature the origin of Scarlet Speedster Flash (which bears some similarity to Daredevil’s hokum) starting a run that may well continue straight onto the big screen. It’s a far cry from previous years where television appearances were overruled in favour of screen development. That change in thinking, while brilliantly opposite to Marvel’s, uncoincidentally collides with the box set generation’s rapidly changing habits. On Wednesday one-time Lex Luthor Kevin Spacey, a praised the golden age of television that is outshining a lot of cinema’s offerings. Warner’s plan increasingly looks multi-format, benefitting from a cohesion that the empire has fecklessly mishandled in recent years.

However, there’s a more telling indication in Affleck’s casting. He’s not the man without fear, the arrogant Hollywood star unaffected by critics…

Affleck is director of the Best film at the 2013 Academy Awards, with a strong recent working relationship with Warner Bros. Further details have surfaced over the last day that Nolan’s serious stab at Gotham-lore was enough to pique Affleck’s interest and he may even have been in the frame for Man of Steel. Certainly it seems reasonable that Affleck’s also eyeing up the contribution he can make to the character behind the camera, either in a solo tale or as part of the larger DC universe.

Casting wise, the past week has seen speculation grow around Lex Luthor with many names connected to the role signalling a similarly serious intent. Among some heavy-hitting fan-baiting names, imagine Bryan Cranston’s Luthor flexing stocks and shares and Kryptonite opposite Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. It looks like, having settled on the serious direction inspired by the Dark Knight trilogy – one which at least limits the possibility of a critical failure – Warner and DC are building a family for the future. It’s a strong one if David Goyer, Nolan, Snyder and Affleck continue to orbit it.

If Affleck had sought the advice of his friend George Clooney, the response may have been as brutal as some of the internet’s reaction. Some have observed that Warner may just as well have put Clooney back in the cowl but that’s another unfair reminder how one misplaced appearance can disrupt a career. Clooney was an excellent Bruce Wayne and hardly responsible for 1997’s Batman and Robin debacle. Put him in the cowl now and it wouldn’t be a terrible choice by any means, but unfortunately it represents far more of a nadir than Daredevil. In many ways, their respective superheroes have made the modern Affleck and Clooney.

Affleck’s chin, sans beard, will return to fantasy once again, but this time to a fantasy one steeped in allegory and metaphor and not a slavish origin. DC has built a universe of consequence and repercussion – not terrible things to have in a blockbuster. While the Dark Knight is a closed and dusty shop, this Batman isn’t likely to be a total reinvention. While undoubtedly dark and vigilante, this Batman will be as crucial to the plot’s capitalist and political scrutiny as inevitable Snyder-size devastation. Affleck will join an ensemble. He won’t take on the mantle of a new and repurposed Batman that some fans are calling for, but he certainly won’t be a Daredevil.

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