The first question is why should anyone even care about this? The answer is relatively simple, John Wick is a major success and a perfect example of how a high action violence and guns fueled revenge flick should be done, and the Punisher struggles from reboot to reboot, bad B movie to bad B movie. The ironic thing is that the two have more in common than they have different.
So what’s the deal?
The protagonist is a highly competent, highly capable, and supremely dangerous man who is well versed in hand to hand fighting, using guns, looking badass in all black, and killed the Hell out of the people who wronged him. The movie largely consists of the protagonist walking through hordes of bad guys, gunning them down, a few side encounters with allies and contacts, followed by a big throw down where the protagonist basically kills everyone else in the movie.
Which movie did I describe?
Technically both of them. But as I mentioned, one is amazing, the other is a series of ultimately failed ventures. It’s not star power, Keanu Reeves plays Keanu Reeves (Neo, John Wick, Constantine, etc) while the Punisher has seen the likes of John Berenthal (The Walking Dead) Dolph Lundgren (roughly 33% of all 80s action movies) and Thomas Jane.
Ultimately it is because the viewer cares about and connects with the character of John Wick, and not with the Punisher.
John Wick’s wife dies, and the casual murder of a puppy she gave him spurs an hour and a half murder spree. Frank Castle’s entire family is killed by the Mafia, sending him into a costume and donning as much firepower as a Marine platoon. We care about Wick, but not Castle, despite the latter’s loss technically being the greater of the two.
John’s wife is a transformational figure. Before meeting her, we learn that Wick was Babayega, the Boogeyman, a man who was sent on impossible jobs and came back unscathed. We see that for a time, she redeemed him, he gave up the career of mafia murder to become a normal man. She dies from natural causes, and Wick is left in a fragile state of grief, the only consolation he has is a puppy she arranged for him to get after her death. The puppy becomes a symbol of his old life, and then it’s killed. Good job, Theon Greyjoy, you killed the puppy. John returns to his old life, being a man of focus. He digs up his weapons, calls in his favors, and unleashes biblical wrath on his foes. It is ultimately a form of grief and catharsis. Wick is by no means a good man, but we see him change, we see him in pain, we see him in grief. We empathize, and we care.
Frank Castle’s family, his wife and daughter are murdered. We see them in flashbacks, but there are no lines of dialog, just hazy out of focus scenes, ghostly laughter, and a grim faced Punisher ‘angsting’ maybe? Castle’s family are non-players in his story, and he goes from a grim cop to a grim vigilante. None of them are transformational, and aside from changing outfits, we don’t see a change from Castle to the Punisher. He’s a comic book character telling a comic book story, a quasi-juvenile shoot em up, complete with skulls made of fire, black jackets, and the rest of brooding loner motif. We don’t empathize with Castle, he is a force of destruction, nothing more.
Thus, John Wick prevails where Frank Castle fails. It doesn’t matter what the protagonist of the story does if we do not care, if we do not empathize. Wick is a bad guy who goes off on an insane murder spree, slaughtering a crime family because one member of this family had the misfortune of deciding to steal his car and kill his puppy. John Wick is at best a chaotic neutral to lawful evil character. Castle is a cop who goes off on a rampage against a crime family that not only evades justice, but does so after murdering his entire family. While Castle kills a lot of people, they are all almost without exception, culpable for the murder of his family, and greater acts of violence across the city. Castle is a chaotic good vigilante.
If you make the viewers or readers care, they will root for the protagonist, no matter what horrible things they do through the course of the story (sans rape, puppy killing, and torture)