The Punisher is one of the most popular characters in Marvel’s repertoire. Frank Castle, the man behind the skull T-shirt, was first introduced as an antagonist for Spider-Man. It wasn’t long afterwards that he went on to star in his own self-titled series, though, which really took off with the boom of the anti-hero in the 90s. The comic would spawn several spinoffs featuring Marvel’s most violent vigilante and he became an enduring figure in pop culture.
Since then, there’ve been a number of adaptations featuring the Punisher. The character has appeared in everything from movies to guest spots in animated TV shows. Nowadays, however, audiences are most likely to associate him with the iteration from Netflix, where he was portrayed to great acclaim by Jon Bernthal.
This wasn’t the first time that his war on crime could be seen in live-action, though. There’ve actually been three separate attempts at bringing the Marvel legend to the big screen. While none of the films are considered critical darlings, the second try in 2004, which starred Thomas Jane in the titular role and John Travolta as the villain, certainly has its share of fans.
In fact, speaking at a recent event, Travolta reflected on his time in the part, discussing how it was “fun” for him because of how “demented” the big bad he was portraying proved to be.
Any role is easier to play if it’s well-written. And if a villain is well-written, there’s a little more freedom [in how you play it]. Even in The Punisher — that’s a fun movie — the cold, deep, dark place that that character’s from. He throws his wife in a front of a train and then he says to the guy he thinks she was [cheating on him with], ‘She caught the train.’ It’s so demented, but fun to play. So, there is a little more freedom in the dark bad guy characters.
Back then, one of the major issues that critics had with the film was John Travolta’s over-acting. Many thought he was too over-the-top, though he was lauded for giving his all to the role. But time and distance has shown the movie is better than it was initially received and moreover, Travolta’s demented Marvel baddie, while not a standout performance of 2004’s The Punisher, was, if nothing else, very entertaining to watch.