All the Avengers-related hype at Comic-Con's Marvel Studios panel this weekend was obviously a tough act to follow. However, there was one major bit of news we got out of the festivities that seems to have gotten lost in the fray. It was announced that Marvel Studios has reacquired the rights to the Punisher. What this means, is that we could be seeing yet another reboot of the Punisher film franchise. After notorious attempts to bring angry widower/vigilante Frank Castle to the big screen in 1989 and the last two by Lionsgate Entertainment in 2004 and in the recent box-office dud Punisher: War Zone in 2008, one might shudder at the thought of another incarnation being put out there to slander the good name of Marvel's iconic skull-sporting badass. However, I'm going to tell you why it could be a good thing.
While upon first hearing this, one might not think this is a big deal, but if you are aware of how Marvel's most popular movie properties like Spider-Man and X-Men are actually in the hands of Sony, beyond the reach of their own control, the Punisher's liberation from Lionsgate had to be a moral victory in the company and may be the first step in trying to unify its own lineup of superhero films. If the sight of the entire cast of The Avengers taking the stage together at Comic-Con proved one thing, it's that the old constraints of comic films being myopic self-contained epics may soon be a thing of the past. For the first time, we have not just Marvel characters on the big screen, as interpreted through the lens of a director, producers, and writers. Instead, we have a Marvel Universe itself that's become something bigger than each individual film's directors, producers, and writers. This means that comic films in this incarnation of the Marvel Universe are going to be held to certain standards which would make them reflect well against one another.
Therefore, what we may finally get, is a version of the Punisher who's a more old-school, comic book-friendly interpretation of the character. He could still be the brutal vengeance-seeking vigilante we all know and love, but there may be more of a likable tinge to him. The key here, is that he would have to be compatible in a "universe" where Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers team are running around saving the world. (And hopefully one day, so would Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, should Marvel get those guys back.)
What they can't do anymore, is fall into the trap of making another film that's too dark and more focused on Frank Castle's torment than his actual experience of being the Punisher. This tends to be a problem with these "one and done" comic films, which tries too hard to cram in so much psychological insight of the character. The idea of what makes the character entertaining in the comics tends to suffer, since the filmmaker's natural instinct is to gravitate towards what he/she perceives as poignant. On the other end of the spectrum, there's also the cardinal sin of defaulting to style over substance, creating a generic action film, packed full of conventional cinematography. (Fancy bullet-time gun fights in loud techno clubs = Not cool anymore.) Because, at the end of the day, the Punisher is fundamentally a Marvel superhero.
So, what do you think of the possibility of another Punisher movie? It may be a LONG way from now, but by the time it happens, the landscape may have changed dramatically.