Many fans can agree that The Punisher hasn’t achieved the cinematic success he deserves. From Dolph Lundgren’s barely-released 1989 version, to Thomas Janes’ box office flop in 2004, to Ray Stevenson’s box-office disaster in 2008, Marvel’s anti-hero — the one-man army against crime — just can’t find a break in the box office.
Enter Dirty Laundry, a 10-minute fan film debuted by Thomas Jane at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International. The short film is written by Chad St. John, directed by Phil Joanou (the U2 concert film Rattle and Hum) and produced by Adi Shankar. The lead actor playing The Punisher is none other than Thomas Jane, who reprises the role, and had the following to say about the film:
I wanted to make a fan film for a character I’ve always loved and believed in – a love letter to Frank Castle and his fans. It was an incredible experience with everyone on the project throwing in their time just for the fun of it. It’s been a blast to be a part of from start to finish — we hope the friends of Frank enjoy watching it as much as we did making it.
One might go as far as to consider this film a spiritual echo of the 2004 reboot released eight years prior. Even though The Punisher wasn’t a box office success, Jane prepared to start filming a sequel but backed out because the script wasn’t good enough. Jane is a self-professed lover of The Punisher, and he wouldn’t commit his time to producing subpar work. It was a commendable stance, but it led to the box office crippling 2008 Punisher: War Zone, which finally sealed the coffin on the franchise.
In Dirty Laundry, the audience gets a Punisher free from Hollywood studio formulaic tampering. They get a Punisher who has settled into a life without his family, and with the target of his vengeance defeated; they get a Frank Castle on the path to becoming The Punisher that the Marvel cinematic universe deserves.
Within this film, the audience gets what is arguably the best representation of The Punisher to date.
More than half of the short film features a moody Frank Castle who remains unresponsive to violent happenings on a run-down street where gang leader, “Goldtooth,” harasses some prostitutes. It isn’t until a young boy becomes a target for the gangsters that Frank begins to react. After a short interaction with convenience store clerk, Big Mike, played by Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), and the purchase of a trustworthy bottle of Jack Daniel’s, the remainder of the film is a pulse-racing build to the climax. The final encounter features visceral, superbly cut fight choreography, with a Frank Castle who says little, and achieves results in as few actions as necessary. For those who have read Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub series, Jane’s Punisher in Dirty Laundry is akin to that series main character ronin, Ogami Ittō.
With the rights to The Punisher returning to Marvel in 2010, and with Marvel hoping to “bring him into the fray shortly,” could Jane be establishing himself on a course for being the fan’s choice? With Marvel Studios controlling the property, there’s no reason they can’t introduce the Punisher in future Captain America films, or Avengers films.
Finally, with the growing stable of street-level heroes returning to Marvel’s control, the studio can now build up these heroes the same way they did the Avengers, and maybe, just maybe, The Punisher will finally find a break.
The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012, USA, 10 mins). Directed by Phil Joanou. Written by Chad St. John. Starring Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman.