Fan Films@24 Panels: PUNISHER: NO MERCY

Punisher: No Mercy, a new 18-minute comic fan film by The Kombat Krew, is making the rounds. Once again we get Marvel’s most renowned vigilante making a fan film appearance. The project was started by a group of enthusiastic filmmakers with a passion for combat who call themselves “The Kombat Krew,” made up of Shawn Baichoo, Davila DeBlanc, Jason Ambrus, and Amber Goldfarb.

No Mercy started as a small project amongst friends, who had locked down the script, locations, cast, and crew. After a successful Indigogo campaign, this small project was striking out to carve a place for itself in the fan film circuit.

At first, dear reader, you may be wondering: why another Punisher film? Three of these films failed at the box office already, didn’t they? Well, different people have varying thoughts on this matter, but many can agree that the Punisher franchise is a bloated corpse, bobbing under some shady, seaweed-laden, dock. [cough… because Hollywood murdered the franchise… cough.] That can’t be said for Punisher fan films though.

There’s not much to understand about the Punisher. Frank Castle’s family was killed by criminals. This should sound familiar by now, even if you’re not a comic book fan. It’s an origin archetype in comics: Batman’s parents were killed by a criminal; Spider-Man’s, Uncle Ben, was killed by a criminal. This origin is the trigger that turns ordinary folks into heroes within the comics. With Batman and Spider-Man, the persona they embrace still wants to be good, even as they struggle to bring criminals to justice.

Punisher doesn’t care. He’s willing to become a criminal to fight criminals. He has no need to hide behind a mask when he does it. Frank Castle lost his family, and Frank Castle become The Punisher–Punisher and Frank Castle are one and the same. There is no safe alter ego to hide behind. The moment Frank Castle chooses to wear the skull, he’s accepted death in his life, and it’s a part of him because he will punish the guilty, and accepts the day that he too will be punished in return. But until that day comes for him, there is no mercy for criminals. Period.

The summary of Punisher: No Mercy sums up perfectly the kind of Punisher meant for the world of cinema, so I turn it to The Kombat Krew:

Expect no deals, no compromises and no mercy in this fan-adaptation of Marvel’s dark vigilante. In “The Punisher: No Mercy” Frank Castle delivers his brand of brutal justice to criminals who prey on the innocent. And as they will find out, they may be above the law… but they’re not above punishment.

Shawn Baichoo and Davila Leblanc (co-writers) have written a story that is well-structured from beginning to end. Jason Ambrus (director) executed a solid strategy when approaching the non-linear narrative that is an anchoring component in this short film.

The film starts with a tied up criminal in a chair, the faint dialogue exchange between a woman and a man happening off the screen, and the criminal saying the line “I figured the bitch would’ve finished you off,” as a man enters frame and puts on a black trench coat. The audience remains behind the Punisher while he loads a gun. The criminal rattles on about stuff, and the Punisher responds to none of it. Then a quick “Let’s make a deal!” –then a BANG! to the head. “No deals.” Body falls out of frame. We see the skull. This isn’t a spoiler of the ending of this Punisher fan film. It’s the harsh reality that comes with the Punisher.

At this stage of the story, it’s necessary that we as an audience understand that we’re watching a Punisher that doesn’t waste time, or words, on scum. We’re watching a Punisher that’s going to get where he wants to get to, and he’s going to kill the target he’s marked for death. The story, then, is in the how he does it, and that’s what the film focuses the majority of its time on.

Shawn Baichoo delivers a solid performance as The Punisher; his voice is gruff and deep, and can easily be mistaken for Christian Bale’s Batman if heard out of context. There’s no denying that the first time Punisher appears on screen, Baichoo breaks the expected mold of the older, grizzled, war vet appearance of the Punisher. Although that introductory moment was a bit distracting, the look grew on me as soon as I associated the Punisher’s symbol–the stark skull, white print on black cloth–to Baichoo’s pale, bald, angular head surrounded by ambient shadow. This may all be a strange point to raise, but this choice–whether intended or not–adds a powerful detail to the Punisher’s conceptual design. It’s a look I can’t help wishing was used in the comics now.

Baichoo’s history of practicing and teaching stage combat shows in the fight scenes. They’re well choreographed, fluid and engaging–this is what The Kombat Krew is all about, after all. The fights are well edited, maintain strong continuity, and make good use of speed-ramping to highlight moments. This technique is always fun to see in comic book movies, in particular because they pay homage to the ability of a comic panel to capture highly kinetic action in a freeze frame.

The film culminates back at that opening scene, unifying the whole film wonderfully. This time, though, the point-of-view is switched. We’re at the criminal’s back as he rattles on, the audio on his words muffled this time around as a silent Punisher looks down on him while loading his gun–this moment was inevitable, just as the beginning of the film promised.

The challenge of making a successful Punisher story isn’t that he’ll kill the bad guy. The challenge is in how to construct the message, and how that message gets delivered–both to the fictional criminal world, and the audience–and this tightly scripted and edited film delivers a perfect “echo” in the narrative that brings it all together with a very satisfying ending. Few words. Few actions. Unquestionable finality.

No mercy. That is the Punisher way.

The Punisher: No Mercy (2013, Canada, 18 mins). Directed by Jason Ambrus. Written by Davila LeBlanc and Shawn Baichoo. Starring Shawn Baichoo, Amber Goldbarb.

NunoXEI

Nuno XEI is a programmer and designer by day; artist and writer by night. Always entertained by his overtly energetic pug, Mogwai, and forever distracted by ideas and projects, it’s a wonder anything productive actually gets done at all. Currently, the biggest project being worked on is a 272-page comic project called “Raven Nevermore” and an 88-page graphic novel called “Koroo, the Black Lion” for his small press, XEI.IO.

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