26. The Punisher/Frank Castle (Thomas Jane, The Punisher, 2004)
This film works quite well as a throwback to the 70s and 80s action revenge movies. It starts off a little slow and uneven – a few plot holes and things that make no sense. The action is pretty good, especially the scene with the Russian, and it ends up being a pretty good film in the end. Very few of the flaws of the film come from the character himself or Jane’s portrayal, which were very good.
First of all, it was a little strange that they decided to change it so that, instead of just his wife and son being killed, it’s his entire extended family. Over 20 relatives who have gathered at a family reunion. That seemed a little bit like overkill – surely having his wife and son die would be enough motivation? Why do Aunt Martha and Cousin Jimmy have to bite it as well? I guess having his parents killed on top of that could be okay, but why did we need to add to that the death of several extras that were never introduced to us who were related to him in some way that we don’t even know about. He emotionally reacts when seeing his wife and kid die, he doesn’t even get too broken up about the random relatives, so I’m not really sure what the point was of upping the ante to this degree, the scene seemed a bit ridiculous.
I did like the character and Jane’s portrayal quite a bit. We get some decent establishing time with his wife and son beforehand, and Jane is likable, and gets some badass scenes. There are some weird moments and plot holes, though. Some of them are solved with the director’s cut (most notably being why he outs himself to the media when people think he’s dead if he’s about to engage in a revenge mission – in the director’s cut its part of his plot to find out who betrayed him, in the theatrical movie it just seems baffling) but like I said with Daredevil I’m judging based on what was shown in theaters. That being said I don’t think the character would have moved up much because of the director’s cut, unlike Daredevil who probably would have raised up a decent amount.
Thomas Jane does a good job showing that there’s a little bit of the Punisher’s trademark deranged-ness and extremity in his actions. Script wise, there isn’t quite as much of a trace of the extremes that make the Punisher the Punisher in this one. A lot of the comic Punisher’s appeal is the fact that you can see that he’s unhinged and extreme – other heroes are wary of him, and a good deal of them think that the Punisher should be locked up. The reader is supposed to be somewhat conflicted and on the line (in a good way) about whether the Punisher’s war on crime is worthy of praise or if it’s far too brutal and extreme and is going too far. There’s real grey in his actions, and that’s part of his appeal.
Plot and script wise, Thomas Jane’s Punisher is less of that and more of a protagonist in a standard 70s or 80s revenge flick. Every single character he kills in this movie, he is 100% justified in doing so. Almost every single person he kills for the most part is a mobster that works for the guy who killed his family, and most all of them were actively seeking him out to kill Castle first. There is no extreme renegade tone, no real grey in his actions – the audience is not conflicted about him, we’re on his side beyond any shadow of a doubt (especially as he also has several moments of altruism). He definitely uses some quite brutal methods, but everyone he uses them on completely deserves it and then some – it’s not like in the comics where he uses brutal methods against people who commit somewhat lesser crimes like drug dealers and money launderers (that aren’t trying to kill him first, and had no part in killing his family) who probably deserve to be sentenced to prison instead, leaving you a bit conflicted about him. The only things that comes close is his initial torture of Eddie Jemison’s character (as the character, despite being a weasel, is obviously pretty helpless, and eventually comes to help him later) and his killing of the former partner who betrayed him, but he’s justified in both those actions when they happen.
That isn’t a flaw of the film at all, I’m just making an observation. It makes perfect sense – this is an origin story, a revenge and survival tale. He doesn’t come into accepting the role of the Punisher and figure out what he wants to go out and do in the world until the very end.
Thomas Jane’s portrayal is what really sells it, though, and we can see plenty of traces of what makes the Punisher the Punisher in his words and actions. The way he seems to get pleasure out of some of the torture and methods he used were sold quite well. I especially liked how he killed Saint’s son by making him hold up an 8-pound trigger bomb with an outstretched hand when he was stuck.
A lot of the reviews for the film said that the film and the character himself were too grim, dark, and humorless. Umm, his ENTIRE family was just killed, I think I can cut him a break for not making wisecracks the entire time. Besides, the film does have some humor, as there are two comic relief neighbors, and the fight with the Russian has several humorous tongue-in-cheek moments in it.
So despite some weird plot holes (why can’t Howard Saint track him down if Castle has publically revealed himself on TV and isn’t hiding at all?) and the film overall is pretty good but not fantastic, Jane did a good job onscreen and made me feel like I was watching the Punisher in the flesh.
25. The Thing/Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, Fantastic Four, 2005; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)
Ah, the Thing. Another character who’s ranking I had to grapple with because attributes of the character achieved both high valleys and low peaks. Let me break those down for you.
The Highs: Michael Chiklis’s performance as The Thing
The Lows: Everything surrounding it
Okay, that’s not entirely fair. As I said in their respective entries, I thought Johnny was okay and Silver Surfer was pretty good.
Since this is a superhero character ranking and not a superhero movie ranking, you would think my breaking it down like that would mean that he should be higher. Still, I can’t help but penalize a character for embarrassing themselves by being actively involved in the wackiness and stupidity of the films and their plots.
That being said, Chiklis does a great job. He campaigned hard for the role, and also campaigned for the character to be portrayed through the use of suits and prosthetics as opposed to CGI. It works out quite well – we get used to the character and accept him very quickly, and it looks pretty good.
Chiklis does a good job in the second movie, but it’s the first one (although that film was overall weaker) that he really shines.
In fact, the performance was so good, that if the movie had chosen a different villain (I’m not even going to entertain the notion of “If the movie had portrayed Dr. Doom with justice” – that’s just asking too much from these people) I might have actually considered it an “overall, pretty good” film, largely based on the strength of this portrayal. (in fact, the people I saw it with who weren’t comic fans and weren’t familiar with Doom in the comics and therefore unaware of how much he was bastardized all thought that it was a pretty good movie, mostly due to Thing.)
Chiklis takes us through the emotions he feels at his transformation in a very natural and sympathetic way - we really like the guy and feel for him. The other three got nothing but positive abilities in the accident, but he got disfigured into a monster, and Chiklis sells that rage and pathos, and the tragedy of the character.
The scenes where Ben isn’t interacting with the other members of the Four and he’s contemplating his changes are great, and we feel like they were copy/pasted from another much better film into this one.
And then we cut from those great scenes into “OMG I can’t believe I’m somehow naked in public AGAIN, tee hee!” and “Rawr, I’m an evil businessman with electrical powers who has nothing to do with Victor von Doom” and feel sad.
His debate over whether to keep his inhuman form and whether to change back is also given a satisfying ending within the first film. Although we see all of his struggles, and his exhilaration at being changed back into human form by Doom, we are given the ability to appreciate the sacrifice Ben makes at being transformed back into The Thing at the end of the first movie in order to come in and save his friend. This however, is not accomplished without a massive plot hole. In order to change Ben back to human form, it is established that Doom uses Reed’s invention to reverse the effect of the galactic wave by giving it enough electricity to power it from within his newly acquired electrical powers. It has been established that Reed could not power it himself because he did not have enough of an electrical source. However, when Ben decides to change himself back into the Thing to rescue Reed, we are not given any description of how he was able to accomplish that. He just does it, despite the fact that in order to accomplish this feat he would have to be privy to an extreme electrical source (which he was not, at the time) and would also have to be able to operate the complex scientific machinery, which he would presumably not be able to do as he was inside it at the time. Ben is changed back into The Thing without any explanation at all for how it could be possible. Still, despite this plot hole, this moment is given appropriate weight, and we feel the burden of this decision had been earned.
As Gruffudd, Alba, and McMahon are quite subpar, Ben’s interactions with Johnny are probably the strongest interaction in the films from a character perspective. There are a few genuinely funny moments between the two of them, and the interaction between the two is definitely a highlight of both of the films. A pretty good capturing of the playful relationship between the two in the comics.
In the second film he isn’t done quite as much justice and doesn’t have as much to do, but Chiklis’s portrayal is still good. One one note, I took a little bit of issue with the whole wacky “swapping powers around because of the Surfer’s board” comedy routine nonsense. To start it off, Johnny touches Ben and they swap powers, so now Johnny is a rock monster and Ben looks normal and can control fire. This is played completely comedic. Now, even though Ben went through a process of accepting his altered state in the first movie, Ben should at least show SOME regret or genuine emotion at the fact that he can finally see and feel himself as a human with human flesh for the first time in at least a year. Instead it’s “Derp derp, hey look Johnny you’re the rock monster now LOL hey check it out I can control fire this is kinda cool” and then leads to a series of wacky hijinks (which of course ends up with Sue being naked.) That’s pretty weak.
Still, this is an overall good very good portrayal of a classic comics character, despite the fact that it’s an island in a sea of suck and the character can’t be completely exonerated for appearing in most of the ridiculous moments required by the plot. He’s the second highest rated character who only appears in films that are overall negative without actually appearing in one overall positively rated movie.
And the first, is the first member of the “Great” tier. This is where stuff starts to get really good.
The Great Tier
First, a note about this tier. I had a very hard time balancing out the positive attributes of the five remaining supporting characters (who in some cases are perfect, but don’t get nearly as much screen time and don’t have to carry the film) and the major characters (characters who are in the top three in terms of screen time and importance for their movies, who may actually have more flaws than the supporting characters, but shoulder the burden of carrying the film). Eventually, I came to the realization that the positive attributes of the lowest-rank top 25 “major” character probably overall relayed more positives than the highest ranked supporting one. Therefore, the next five characters to be listed are basically a list of the “top five best supporting characters in Marvel/DC comic book movies,” and after number 20 it’s all major characters from that point forward.
The Great Tier
i. Supporting Characters
24. Beast/Hank McCoy (Frasier Crane, X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
I’ve written a lot about X3 and the problems therein in previous entries. X3’s Beast is not one of them, and is in fact the highlight of the film, by far.
When the casting of Kelsey Grammer was announced, a lot of fans were excited, thinking that his demeanor perfectly matched the Hank McCoy of the comics and TV show. And when the character appeared onscreen, we could tell our excitement was justified. Grammer nails the role, creating a Beast that is perfectly erudite, sophistical, and whimsical. He nails the Beast of the comics and cartoon to a T. He even gets a “Oh my stars and garters,” in there, which is a bit cheesy but I was happy they put it in.
It’s also worth noting how visually impressive they were able to make him. He’s a big furry blue guy, but he looks natural and doesn’t look silly, which makes it all the more perplexing why First Class couldn’t recreate it to any degree and made him look quite bad.
Beast’s best moment was when he visited the lab where they kept Leech, and we see his hand turn into a human hand as he nears Leech’s proximity. Grammer’s face tells you everything you need to know about his regret and thoughts, how it would be great to be human again, but he knows for the greater good that it can’t happen after everything he’s done as a mutant rights activist.
I mentioned in my Storm review that the lack of chemistry or any definable relationship between Storm and Logan was a major flaw that played a big role in causing the movie to fall flat. It’s a good thing that for most of the later acts that Beast is also along for the ride with these two. His chemistry with Wolverine is great. These are two men who have a very specific thing in common – their powers are both animalistic in nature, and cause both of them to have a feral side that they sometimes exhibit and sometimes try to suppress. Hence the exchange “Wolverine. I hear you’re quite an animal” followed by “Look who’s talkin’.” But other than that, their personalities couldn’t be more different. Logan is the blue collar middle class working man who speaks in a pedantic and straight forward manner, likes to relax by having a beer at a dive bar. By contrast, Beast behaves like a proper, sophisticated aristocrat with refined tastes, who speaks formally and relaxes by reading literary classics. The dynamic between the two and how they interact reflects this, as they tease each other and joke while at the same time developing a strong mutual respect.
I have a lot of problems with this movie, which I’ve written about at length, but I can’t think of any issues specifically related to Beast. He’s higher than the Thing even though we don’t get as much of him because, unlike the Thing, Beast doesn’t embarrass himself by appearing in ridiculous moments (although there is a deleted scene where he awkwardly recites Shakespeare before they go off into battle – if that had made the final film this ranking probably would have been lower). Also, if you aren’t a comics fan X3 is a poorly paced and flawed movie but not one that is embarrassing to watch at times like the Fantastic Four movies are.
So I don’t really have any specific complaints, this character being done so much justice was the best thing about the film, and the only reason he’s not higher is that he doesn’t really have much of an arc or character development, and the positives I experienced from watching a well-pulled off Hank McCoy in a supporting role in an otherwise bad movie weren’t as high as the positives of the characters in front of him.