Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Punisher: War Zone (2008)


It will be interesting to see if 3 strikes = you're out in the bloated world of comics 2 film, but for what it's worth, Punisher: War Zone is superior to either of its predecessors. I went into the film with every expectation I was going to loathe it, and wound up getting a few laughs and some rather brutal, violent entertainment. Good cinema this is not, but as a way to kill a few hours it is sufficient.

I'm not a fan of Frank Castle (i.e. the Punisher) in comics or film. Though he's forever ingrained into the category of 'iconic' Marvel super heroes, his simple back story of revenge and often one-sided persona do little to satisfy my geek spot. A vigilante executioner running up limitless kills across the criminal underground of the Marvel universe, including numerous masked villains and he's also defeated some of the heroes. He's not got the super powers of a Spider-Man or Hulk but he's equally effective. In the first scene, he interrupts a mafia dinner and kills everyone at the table (molls included) in a different way, then suspends himself upside down from a chandelier and takes out a small army of goons. We get it. You're a bad ass who will walk straight through the movie with little to no opposition.

The strengths of the film lie almost exclusively within its cast. Ray Stevenson (who you may recognize from Outpost or the Rome HBO series) really embodies the look of the comic book Punisher. He also manages to balance the brutal edge of the avenging killer with a few moments of tenderness, without coming across as too lame. Dominic West is quite funny as Jigsaw, a handsome mafioso who has his face scarred and deformed in a fight with Castle, then decides to run with it. A new character was added into the mythos with 'Loony Bin Jim', brother of Jigsaw, portrayed by Doug Hutchison, who is sprung from the asylum. I've heard many complaints about the character's presence and his over-the-top dialogue, but I found him quite hilarious, especially in his exchanges with Jigsaw. The two work off each other well as a pair of misanthropic, macabre tough guys. And thankfully Loony Bin Jim is in the film, because he's the only character that gives Punisher even a semblance of a hard time in their bathroom battle. The supporting cast ranges from entertaining. Some of the thugs are pretty entertaining, in particular the doe eyed glares given by Mark Camacho as Pittsy and Keram Malicki-Sanchez as his son Ink. T.J. Storm appears as a part-pirate, part-parkour street runner. Of course, these three are all easily dispatched, but for the moments they were on screen they shined. Dash Mihok is passable as the police agent responsible for tracking Castle's movements. Colin Salmon is forgettable as Lawrence Fishbur...I mean Special Agent Paul Budiansky, though he is given some nice lines (while sitting in church with Castle, Budiansky quips "They don't call them the Ten Suggestions".) Wayne Knight is very good as Microchip, and has some of the better scenes.

The plot is pretty much A to B. As part of his genocidal crusade against organized crime, Castle accidentally kills an undercover agent, which brings his family (and agent Budiansky) into the fray. Then he has to kill a LOT of people. The action is fierce, bloody, and brutal. No punches are pulled, and I was kind of surprised since director Lexi Alexander is rather new and hadn't done a film like this before. In the climactic battle, Castle (with the indirect aid of a Russian mafioso out for revenge) has to gun his way through an old hotel against numerous stereotypical gangs (Asian triad, African-American gangstas, and of course them evil white skins & punks!) into a final showdown with Loony Bin and Jigsaw. As one sides as most of them seem, the fights are well choreographed and ugly as they should be in a Punisher film.

Some of the musical choices are passable (Rob Zombie, Slayer and Machines of Loving Grace) but the rest is quite a bit of nu-metal or pop punk garbage which is horribly queued into certain scenes. The original score from Michael Wandmacher fares slightly better, and I would have prefered them to stick with these serious tones and leave out the nu-metal altogether. The cameras work a little magic here, capturing a world of colorful nightscapes across which the violence ensues.

War Zone (and most Marvel properties, unfortunately) cannot excel in a medium which has produced such works as The Dark Knight and Watchmen to the big screen successfully. The source material here is simply not that strong. Thankfully, Alexander doesn't hit us over the head with a lengthy exposition of the character's origin (it is referenced in a few flashbacks and comments briefly). She throws us right into the action, and the actors have what fun they can. The film is superior to the 2004 Thomas Jane vehicle in all departments. It's not as sad or pensive, it cuts right to the comic book violence and over the top villains. Stevenson, Knight, West and most of the thugs chew up the scenery, but the times they're not on screen it becomes less exciting. If you love the source material then this is probably the best on-screen version of Punisher you are going to get. Otherwise, it's not the worst 104 minutes you'll spend in the cinema or in front of your TV.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
(blood in the urine, early indicator of kidney failure)


Kiel said...

I thought the movie was really enjoyable and suitably brutal. Don't know if I'd watch it again, maybe on Showtime or something. Honestly there are a million revenge movies and so its impossible to make a noteworthy Punisher movie. Having him show up in a Spider-man or Iron Man movie might be cool though.

Dreadkommander Nekrokreuz said...

Please, god, no more Spider-Man movies.

autothrall said...

Unless they are negatively charged, canceling out some of the ones that already exist.

Kiel said...

well you're in luck, raimi is getting started on number 4

autothrall said...

Maybe he'll butcher the entire Sinister Six this time out!

Marvel sucks. Save us Nolan.