Dirty Laundry (2012 short film)

Posted: September 23, 2014 in Marvel, Punisher
Tags: ,

Dirty Laundry is an unofficial continuation of…you know what, just watch it yourself.

There.

The character of Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) has always been kind of tricky to adapt. He’s a vigilante who murders criminals and since much of comics’ expanded media seems to be aimed at children, he’s a bit of a tough sell. He’s had few appearances in cartoons or television (typically only references to him are made) and those that actually adapt him, soften him to the point of unrecognizability. Film has fared better. But even still, many of the adaptations seem to miss something crucial in either their structure, storytelling or characterization that occasionally make them seem fundamentally “un-Punisher”. Despite (or perhaps because of) that, the character’s film franchise (or lack there of) is very interesting to me.

There have been three theatrically released adaptations of the character with no connection whatsoever. Each version has its own successes and failures and I would argue that all are flawed but not without merit. I feel like if you could combine elements from all three stories into one film then you’d likely have the perfect Punisher film. I don’t want to spend too much time on the other films in the franchise (besides, I’ll write in depth about each when the time comes) but it’s important to give some context to this particular adaptation.

I really want that poster…

Producer Adi Shankar (one of the people instrumental in the creation of Dredd) got the idea to make a short film showcasing how he imagined The Punisher should be portrayed on screen. And even though it’s unofficial, it stars one of the cinematic Punishers. In fact, Tom Jane is the only actor to portray the character in live action more than once. “Live action” is an important distinction to make since Jane has voiced the character in a pseudo-sequel video game to his take on the character and Ray Stevenson (of Punisher: War Zone) provided the vocals for Frank Castle on an episode of The Super Hero Squad Show.

“How about a little fire, scarecrow?”

Jane starred in 2004’s The Punisher as the titular antihero who is hell-bent on finding and brutalizing those responsible for his family’s murder. Of the three cinematic interpretations of the character, his take has been roundly accepted by fans. The film isn’t without its issues, but Jane’s particular performance of Frank Castle is one aspect that is almost universally praised. He seemed to be incredibly committed to the role and imbued it with no small amount of nuance and pain, all under a healthy skin of stoicism. That is probably the most important reason that this short used a past Punisher for the role: there’s an instant connection. Once the audience realizes that it’s the same person, there’s no need for any backstory or flashbacks to sell the character’s pain. We’ve already made the leap and accepted what the story is giving us.

Apparently they didn’t get my fanfic where Punisher and
Hellboy team up and kill demon drug dealers. This’ll do.

As if having one of the bona fide Punishers in its cast wasn’t enough, this film also boasts the acting talents of Ron Perlman, who should need no introduction if you’re reading this. Perlman isn’t a stranger to comic book roles having played Hellboy a whopping five times (two live action films, two animated movies and a video game) and antagonized Blade in the second film in that franchise. As such, Perlman brings a level of instant credibility to his role as the disabled store clerk. His monologue is haunting and stirs Frank into action and only someone with Perlman’s gravitas could sell the weight behind such a scene. Perlman’s talents aren’t wasted, but with such a short running time, it seems like there could always be more. I guess that’s not bad as far as complaints go.

“No gun? Eh, I’ll make do.”

The Punisher is one of the more “street level” characters in the Marvel Universe. Sure, he’s had his share of ridiculous adventures (remember when he was a bounty-hunting angel? No?) but he works best when he’s tackling smaller crime. One of the issues that pops up when adapting this character to the big screen is ensuring that the adventure is appropriately “cinematic” in its scope. That’s how we end up with scenes like the skull shaped explosion from the Jane film and the bio-terrorism MacGuffin that Stevenson’s Punisher was up against. I’m not saying there’s no place for that in a Punisher adaptation (and god knows the comics have gone there plenty of times) but I think he’s more palatable when he’s in the street eliminating lowlifes who prey on defenseless people. We get enough grand adventures from other comic book movies, and it’s nice to get some counter-programming occasionally.

The cinematic rights to The Punisher have recently reverted back to Marvel. As of right now, it’s unknown if they have any plans to reboot or use the character in any way within their Cinematic Universe. If so, this should definitely be the template that they draw from. With Daredevil currently filming for Netflix, I think it would make sense for Frank to get a similar treatment. They’ve tried the cinematic route, and for whatever reason, no single take on the character has clicked with audiences in the way that they wanted. Perhaps it’s time to try out episodic storytelling. It would certainly lend itself to the grim and gritty aesthetic that this short utilized. And that would also keep the budget down, allowing the show-runners to be a little more graphic (thus less marketable) which would stay true to the character. While it’s unlikely that they would retain Tom Jane in the role, I think it would be worth considering. The makers of this short can tell you, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it.

More coming soon? Hopefully?
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