Punisher: War Zone (2008)
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There really hasn't been a true guilty pleasure for me in 2008. There have been some fantastic films and there have been some terrible films, but there haven't been any films that were so bad they were good. Until now. "Punisher: War Zone" is a remake of a remake of a comic book adaptation - the whole 'third times the charm' scenario for Marvel Comics, with Lionsgate once again on board. The film is directed by former martial arts champion Lexi Alexander whose last film, "Green Street Hooligans", is one of the most underrated macho films ever made. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her short film, "Johnny Flynton", a film about boxing. So, the girl knows how to direct action and lots of people are calling her the new Kathryn Bigelow. What she does with "Punisher: War Zone" is admirable. She takes a franchise that has been such a disappointment to comic book fans and injects a little life into it. She threw caution to the wind and decided to make the craziest, bloodiest, most honest-to-god "Punisher" film ever made, and one of the most violent comic book adaptations ever. Alexander knows what this film is and she plays it up, but what helps her is the fact that she has some great actors, some lush set design and art direction and one hell of an eye for action. This is, without a doubt, my guiltiest of guilty pleasures for this year.
Forget the previous "Punisher" films. This picture opens with Frank Castle aka Punisher (Ray Stevenson) unleashing a can of unholy hell on a group of gangsters, including the egomaniacal Billy Russoti (Dominic West), hideously disfiguring him. In the process, The Punisher accidentally kills an FBI agent, which attracts the attention of that agents partner, Budiansky (Colin Salmon). Budiansky joins forces with Detective Soap (Dash Mihok), the head of the Punisher Task Force, to help bring Frank Castle to justice. Castle is ripped apart by guilt over the agent's death, having killed one of the good guys, and he even contemplates leaving the world of The Punisher behind. Meanwhile, Billy is now referring to himself as Jigsaw, has sprung his batshit insane brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) from the nuthouse and is planning to find his money and do whatever it takes to get his revenge on Frank Castle. The film ends with a showdown between Castle and Jigsaw in an old abandoned hotel, complete with more bullets than a gun supply store and more blood than most Troma films. Wayne Knight co-stars as Micro, The Punisher's tech guy and arms dealer. You'd think Knight would be serving as the comic relief, but you'd be incorrect - those honors belong to the films two villains.
Let me start off my saying that this film looks like a "Punisher" film should look. The problem with the previous two films was that they both approached the material from the wrong angle. The Dolph Lungren "Punisher" was too over-the-top Stallone-esque and lacked any and all credibility with the comic book legion. The Thomas Jane "Punisher" tried too much for realism and lost all comic book mentality in the translation, except for an insanely Jack Nicholson-esque performance from John Travolta. This "Punisher" meets in the middle. Ray Stevenson is the perfect choice for this role because he has such a mute expression and such subtle displays of emotion. He doesn't underplay the role and he doesn't overplay the role. He looks menacing, he feels menacing, but yet you can sympathize with the man for what he's been through. The landscape and the world Alexander creates is just fantastic - with bright, vivid colors enhancing dark and dreary structures - making a church look more like a Vegas showplace. This is the way a film like this should look. All of the structures look far older than they should and the New York City created is one that rivals Gotham City in terms of Dario Argento-esque collision of color and chrome. The city takes on a life of its own.
The other exciting thing about this "Punisher" film is the choice of villains. Dominic West is fantastic here as Jigsaw and just chews up the scenery throughout. He has so much fun with this role and really creates a multi-dimensional character. This is one of the most complete performances from a villain in a comic book adaptation that I've seen. Doug Hutchison is also tons of fun as West's sadistic brother. Hutchison overdoes the accent, but I think that's the point. They are both overdoing the accent, but there really are people who talk like that, as ridiculous as it sometimes sounds. These two villains also serve as the comic relief for the film, especially in a sequence when they're walking around to various neighborhoods, recruiting gangsters and criminals. West has a nice speech in front of a projected American flag that is quite nice. And I should mention that it was nice to see Dash Mihok in an unusual role for him, and Wayne Knight in a role that doesn't do a whole lot, but shows Wayne Knight might have a career revival ahead. The rest of the performances are solid also - "Punisher: War Zone" benefits from a host of strong performances because everyone understands that is going on and everyone seems to be on the same page as director Lexi Alexander with the material.
What a surprise this was for me. I was expecting "Punisher: War Zone" to be just another lame comic book adaptation, especially considering it is a remake of a remake of a comic book adaptation. "Punisher: War Zone" blew me away with how tongue-in-cheek it handled so much of the material. My favorite scene in the film comes with three rooftop jumpers and the Punisher giving them a little surprise. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see the film. "Punisher: War Zone" proves that there is hope for this franchise, even though the film made such little money its opening weekend that I doubt we will be seeing a sequel, unless it heads straight to DVD. That is a real shame. Director Lexi Alexander finally gave me a Frank Castle to root for. She finally gave me a villain that didn't seem like a complete and utter vanity project. She finally have me the Wayne Knight comeback I've been waiting for. "Punisher: War Zone" is not a great film. By many standards it's not even a good film. It's a guilty pleasure. But I will recommend the hell out of it to each and every one of you.
Now, I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, but I'm a nerd. A horrible nerd. I enjoy many nerdy things: video games, film, classic literature, rap music, etc. However, a huge passion of mine has always been comics. Ever since I was a young boy I've had a huge love of the adventures of mutants, Kryptonians, caped-crusaders, hell-spawn and the like, but the ones that held my attention the most were never the super-powered heroes fighting cataclysmic forces ready to destroy the Earth, I always had an appreciation for the "every-man". You know, that hero that has become a crime-fighter through circumstance rather than special abilities, the hero who just decided that he/she needed to make the world a better place, and managed it through sheer force of will. Batman was a humongous influence on this, as I watched the average Bruce Wayne don a suit and a belt of gadgets and take on the likes of madmen and monsters alike, I began to enjoy the triumphs of a human versus powers far beyond their own. Slowly, my taste for it had stretched out, meeting such incredible forces as Judge Dredd and the ever-destructive, chaotic good The Punisher.
Review by Ginose
Added: December 07, 2008
As you may tell, I have a long history with this film's source material, so I will not lie, the grade at which I rate it may be a little bias, but I hope to make my observations clear as day. This is a comic-book film in its purist form. This film is over-the-top, violent, profane, a bit cheesy at times and all-around just unbelievable; knowing these things should tell you right away whether or not you'll enjoy it, as they should tell you exactly what you're going to see: A comic-book put to film. This is not going to be as hyper-realistic as Christopher Nolan's "Batman" films, nor will it be as down-to-Earth and character driven as Raimi's "Spider-Man" or the more recent "Iron-Man" or "Incredible Hulk" films. This is not a sequel to the 2004 adaptation of the material, and, indeed, has very little in common with it (much like Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk" film as opposed to Marvel's offering earlier this year). The only thing this movie really connects to would be the comic series that I enjoy so immensely, so, again, my bias should be obvious.
Frank Castle was an ex-special forces operative with a wonderful family and a life with beautiful future... that is until he and his family witnessed a mob execution and, in turn, were shot-down in cold blood; several years later Frank has become the justice-bound vigilante The Punisher, dedicating his life to ridding his city of crime... and making sure it stays down.
Our film begins with the meeting of a local mafia family after a large group had just escaped conviction by a surprise turn of events, this, however, does not stop the Punisher from making his appearance and brutally bringing justice down upon them, narrowly missing a small group as they escape to a nearby recycling plant. In his steady infiltration, Frank makes his extreme cleanup well displayed as he terminates nearly all of the scum in sight, tossing the header of the outfit, Billy Russoti, into a glass crusher. However, our hero's will is shaken as he discovers one of the Mafioso gunned down in his slaughter was actually an undercover FBI agent... one with a family...
Pressed with doubt, Frank attempts to make amends to the agent's family, possibly ending his war on crime altogether (fearing any more collateral damage). This comes at an alarmingly inconvenient time, as Russo is back (body adjusted through surgery, though horribly disfigured) by the alias Jigsaw, ready to head a new crime-family as well as get his revenge on Castle.
Now, let me start off with this note: "Punisher: War Zone" is, indeed, the most graphically violent film that I have seen this year. It made "Saw V" do a double-take as each blow landed, each shell fired, and each explosion ignited ended with a ridiculously over-the-top geyser of gore exploding from a newly formed, two-sided orifice. This was the first sign that this movie would most certainly not be taking notes from the decent (if not watered-down) 2004 film, and was also the first sign that I may need to change my pants due to the massive amounts of semen I would be excreting during the running time.
Alright, I may be exaggerating about the effect of the overall use of red (I only came twice), as the gore was indeed gratuitous but several of the fight scenes seemed to chop around during them, as to please the pagan Gods of the MPAA, I can only hope an unrated cut may be available on DVD in the end, as I could tell the effects were meant to be a driving point of this feature.
Acting, here, was FUCKING AMAZINGly mediocre all around. With few exceptions, most of the performances were down-right bad in terms of beleivability, but, again, we've got that fancy blanket of contrasting what should be over-the-top comic-book characters against that of a realistic human being; regardless, everyone was pretty bad, but bearably so, with t he exception of a few... Ray Stevenson certainly potrayed the Punisher in a far-less humanized vein than Thomas Jane did (the big pussy) and focused on putting the Marvel comic-book character in motion rather than attempting to turn him into the spiritual-successor to Travis Bickle, which is something I held GREATLY against Jane's performance. Many people may be put off by the new portrayal of the character, but those people need to kindly lean back and eat their own ass; Frank Castle was never tormented by his decision to declare war on crime and he was never interested in revenge, his only drive was to make the world a better place, which I saw myself sympathizing with much more than the "boo-hoo, my family's dead... I'll go avenge them!" tripe I got from the last film. Now, when Dominic West was cast as Jigsaw a few month's ago I was taken aback... severely... but I'm pleased to announce that my fears were unfounded. Although the character is somewhat detached from the source, West played this incarnation with such abundant amounts of energy that I couldn't help but love it anyway.
Now that the praise for the performances is out of the way, I can get on to the crippling wounds that kept this from being the best action movie of the year: Colin Salmon and Dash Mihok. Now, I've got nothing against Colin Salmon as much as I do his character: Paul Budiansky, an FBI agent sent to aide the police department in their search for Castle, apparently so swept up in pain over the lost agent that he has dedicated himself to stop the Punisher. Simple character, no? Yes, he is, and that's why the movie DIDN'T NEED HIM! He's easily the most unessential character I've seen in a super-hero movie! I don't feel like listing any of his flirtations with total irrelevance, as that's how unneeded he was. There. Now, Mihok as Detective Soap (a rather important character in the later comic series) is, by far, the worst performance in the film. Hell, minor characters out-act him and he's in the majority of the movie... all things considered, that could be why. The more you see his horrible grin, the more you hear his gut-wrenchingly poorly delivered lines... uggh... hell, everyone in this movie has one pseudo-corny joke or one-liner, but every word that leaves this man's MOUTH comes out sounding like one... and not very funny ones at that... damn, so close to all around greatness...
Now, to give some final thoughts:
This is a fucking fantastic comic-book adaptation, and this is why it's going to be over-shadowed by nearly every other comic-book film this year. If there's one thing that I've noticed by "The Dark Knight" jetting up to #4 in IMDb's top 100 greatest films of all time list BEFORE the DVD even comes out, it's that people love comic-book characters, but apparently aren't interested in the comic-book part, loving the idea but not the execution, if you will. That is a rule that Lexi Alexander obviously did not observe when she both directed and co-wrote this movie. I'll thank her kindly for this, but the box-office and Academy most likely will not... It's a damn shame, but I understand; my nerdy passion will be ignored in film so-long as the general-public enjoy humanizing characters... "maturing" them, as it were... If, to be mature, comic-book films need to be filled with spousal-abuse in karaoke bars and half-Kyrptonian babies then I'm already sick and tired of it all. I think I prefer it when a comic-book movie adjusts itself to being a comic-book rather than a film... at least his way it can be, ya know, fun. Remember fun? That thing you had when you use to read these stories as a kid (and, possibly today too, you nerd)?
Oh well, I loved this film, but I feel most people won't... that's alright, though, as I'll just outlet my nerdy obsessions through the new video game "Punisher: No Mercy" and long uncomfortable nights of sex while wearing a skull-shirt and full-body gun harness...
Quality of the overall product: 7.1/10
Personal enjoyment: 9.1/10
- added 12/08/2008, 09:36 AM
This movie was so much better than the first.
Like AVP2: Requiem and The Incredible Hulk. 10/10
- added 12/10/2008, 12:23 AM
This movie was utterly retarded, but extremely
entertaining. I'm not familiar with the source
material, but this was some cheesy shit. I laughed
the whole time. It was full of stupid scenes,
terrible dialogue and bad acting, but I actually
enjoyed myself. 6/10
- added 12/10/2008, 10:05 AM
That's the thing -- I don't think the acting was
bad. These actors knew what they were doing.
Dominic West is a classically trained stage actor,
as is Doug Hutchison -- they were acting this way
for a reason. I only consider it bad acting if
the performance is bad unintentionally. I think
every bit of this was intentional.
The Red Clover
- added 12/12/2008, 11:49 PM
If you consider the source material or the style
of Greg Ennis just for a moment before you go see
this movie you'll realize -- like everyone should
have by now, that "The Punisher" can't
be made seriously. We're talking about a comic
book character who had his own one-shot where he
pretty much destroys the Marvel universe, where
the X-Men and the Brotherhood meet their demise at
the business end of a NUKE.
writing is fantastic, the gore is just over the
top and there's almost no way you can make a
"Punisher" film without cheese and like
The Meanie said, it's only bad acting when it's
unintentional. I compare this to
"Grindhouse" pretty much.
I'd give this a 10/10 just because after two
tries, Lexi Alexander hit the nail on the head.
- added 12/13/2008, 12:12 AM
This movie was so unbearably awful, I kind of
enjoyed it. I spent most of my time laughing at
horrible dialogue and scenes there were meant to
be serious. As a regular movie, it gets a 0. But
as a terrible film that entertained me by being so
ungodly awful, it gets a 5/10. And nobody try and
argue this with me. I'm a fan of Punisher: War
Journal, so I know my shit. This was just a sad,
pathetic excuse for a movie.
- added 12/13/2008, 01:02 AM
Again, I disagree that the The Punisher property
couldn't support a more realistic treatment and
yet stay somewhat true to it's comic book
But I am in the majority, as
They said the same thing
before about Ironman as well... sigh...
- added 12/13/2008, 10:26 AM
Well, Tristan, you obviously got the special
volumes of "War Journal" that sucked.
This played the Punisher themes to the letter in
all respects. So yes, I will argue with you.
And, Greg, we've seen two... TWO attempts to
make a somewhat realistic story based on the
Punisher mythos and bothed failed to deliver and
entertaining, source-respectable films. This is
the first one that's managed to hold true to the
material while being amazingly fun, all in all,
this is the first success. I appreciate that this
is a "bad movie" but all technical
merits, but it was amazingly faithful and fun as
And just to really p iss in some
eyes: It was FAR more entertaining than "The
- added 12/13/2008, 02:43 PM
I would have to say that Tristan is the only
Punisher fan that doesn't like this movie, which
would make me believe that he is lying that he is
a fan cause I never hear him talk about it
- added 12/13/2008, 05:23 PM
You're absolutely right. Since I don't bring it
up bi-weekly, I'm a fraud.
- added 12/16/2008, 11:42 AM
I wouldn't say you're a fraud -- just a little
confused. Yes, the film is over-the-top. Yes,
the film is cheese. That is exactly what they
were going for 100%. Everyone knew what the
script was and everyone knew what to do to make it
work. And, boy, did it work. That final shot of
Frank Castle on the top of the landing with the
"Jesus Saves" sign behind him is exactly
what I want "The Punisher" to be. Kudos
to everyone involved -- definitely more
entertaining than "The Dark Knight".
grain of sand
- added 12/21/2008, 05:02 AM
Saw this about a week ago and fucking loved it, I
really hated some of the music though..
Honestly, I was far more entertained by this
than Dark Knight, But I'm a lot more of a Punisher
Can't wait for the unrated DVD! 8/10!
- added 12/21/2008, 11:37 AM
Ginose... I'm not quite sure how either of the
previous Punisher movies were
I found them
both to be utterly by the numbers and puerile...
this is not to say that each one didn't have tiny
moments within them that hinted at
While this movie was
totally over the top... it still lacked the really
gritty heart of a film that makes a character
extraordinary by couching his dramatic deeds in a
very convincing and realistic world. I'm not
saying that it wasn't fun as Hell... just a bit
too silly to be a truly accurate portrayal.
I'm still looking for a suitable style to
suggest what I'm talking about... but at the
moment, I'm a bit cotton-headed.
- added 04/12/2009, 10:15 AM
Bad-fucking-ass. It's a total guilty pleasure
movie, but I loved it. 9/10.