It's not surprising that the first Marvel superhero to appear in the movies was The Punisher. The history of comic-book characters in film is pretty much the history of special effects. I remember the tag-line for 1978's Superman: "You will believe a man can fly." The flying scenes with Chris Reeve were a lot better than those with George Reeves on TV in the Fifties, but could not hold a candle to the aerial ballet of Spiderman or Ironman in the 21st Century. The animated film is perfect for comic book adaptation because it is drawings with movement, and often not a lot of that, but live-action with human beings can be very expensive. The Punisher was not required to fly, or burst into flame, or shoot lasers out of his eyes, he was only required to kill a lot of bad guys, which movie heroes had been doing since the beginning, when the earliest film-makers fired a gun into the terrified audience, tried to run them over with a train, and peeked at a couple making out, which pretty much set the agenda for movies ever since.

The Punisher first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #130. Frank Castle, a true vigilante--a former U.S. Marine whose family had been murdered--was deceived by his ally The Jackal into believing that Spider-Man was a criminal and should be terminated, until Spidey convinced him otherwise. He starred in four different comics and three movies. Each time, the movie role was played by a different person.

Dolph Lundgren, of course, can kill bad guys, and good guys, in his sleep, and some have accused him of doing just that. Frank Castle is a broken man, an ex-cop with nothing to live for but revenge, but a better actor could still make him compelling. Louis Gossett Jr. plays his former partner Jake Berkowitz, the only one who believes in him. The movie improves whenever he is on the screen.

In the beginning, 125 mobsters have been mysteriously murdered, and no-one knows who did it, unless it's the mysterious man called The Punisher. Since everyone except Jake believes Castle was killed in the cross-fire that took his family, The Punisher takes on the mantle of an avenging dark angel of retribution.

The movie starts out rather unremarkable, but in the hands of Director Mark Goldblatt (who edited Terminator 2, X Men The Last Stand, and True Lies), and I like to think because of the compelling nature of the Marvel character himself, it improves with time as the plot thickens. Castle's number one target is mob-boss Gianni Franco, played by Jeroen Krabbe, who usually plays Nazis, but the mob is targeted for takeover by Lady Tanaka of the Yakuza, played by Kim Mayori as if she had ice in her veins. She kidnaps the children of the mobsters and The Punisher is in the ironic position of having to rescue the families of the people who killed his family.

This is where the movie picks up, with a good chase, intrigue, more interesting mayhem, and even some emotional engagement for the audience.