In American Assassin, Mitch Briggs takes a vow of vengeance after his only family is killed, and it transforms him into darker kind of hero that acquires the skills and weapons needed to kill terrorists and lesser thugs. Doesn’t that sound like everyone’s favorite brutal Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher?
We never got to see The Punisher’s full origin story in Daredevil* Season 2, in which Jon Bernthal played the character, even if we heard about the experiences that made him a killer. In American Assassin, we get the next best thing: A hipster (of sorts) millennial that might as well be an alternate-reality Frank Castle that gets recruited by the CIA to join a black ops team.
Dylan O’Brien plays newly engaged Mitch Rapp who loses his fiancée during a terrorist attack at a tropical paradise. The whole vibe is very The Punisher (2004), in which Frank Castle’s family is gunned down while he’s at a family reunion — also at a tropical paradise.
In The Punisher, Thomas Jane plays Castle, an undercover FBI agent and Delta Force veteran that successfully foils a huge smuggling operation that leads to the death of a mob boss’s son. Later, that same mob boss uncovers Castle’s true identity and sends a bunch of assassins to kill Castle and his family.
They succeed for the most part, but Castle escapes with just a gunshot wound. He’s nursed back to health and goes on a totally crazy killing spree, dismantling the mobster’s organization in a calculated way. He kills almost everyone that was even remotely involved with the death of his family, officially dubbing himself “The Punisher” at the film’s end.
Castle’s already a badass before he goes on his quest for revenge, which is the key difference between The Punisher and Mitch Rapp, who’s just like any other renegade orphaned millennial wooing a beautiful young girl when the movie starts. It isn’t until after she dies that Rapp grows out his beard and learns how to use high-tech spy equipment and wield all sorts of weapons.
Both The Punisher and American Assassin are distributed by Lionsgate Films, so you might even think this was some sort of reboot or recycled plot if it weren’t for the fact that American Assassin is based on a 2010 novel written by Vince Flynn of the same name.
American Assassin can be even more fun to watch if you approach it as an updated origin story for The Punisher, one steeped in technology and international espionage. After Rapp is recruited by the CIA, he trains with Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley, a Cold War veteran spy. Eventually — and predictably — Rapp becomes his star pupil and closest ally.
So rather than transforming himself into a loose cannon that sometimes kills recklessly like The Punisher, Rapp becomes an operative working under the jurisdiction of the CIA. He’s still totally badass, skilled, and murderous — he’s just also a character you can call a “hero” without having to stick “anti-“ before it.
He’s a different kind of gunslinging hero than somebody like Frank Castle or even John Wick because he can be both badass and more relatable than those two.
And in case you were wondering whether or not we can consider Mitch Rapp a hipster, here’s him proposing by putting an engagement ring on a piece of random green string:
American Assassin hits theaters September 15, 2017.