04 April 2009


I have never read a Punisher comic book though I flipped through a few back in Seattle while killing time in some of the comic book stores while waiting for it to stop raining. Though I never read a complete story I knew basically that Frank Castle was a cop whose family was murdered and he became a ruthless vigilante who took the law into his own hands when the law failed to work or when criminals were simply untouchable. I seem to recall seeing the first Punisher film made in 1989 with Dolph Lundgren but it was a pretty forgettable film as are most Dolph Lundgren films. I picked up the DVD for the 2004 version that was released by Lions Gate Entertainment and starred Thomas Jane as Frank Castle and John Travolta as the villain. The movie was really bad and I felt the character just did not seem powerful or angry enough and I usually do not buy Travolta as a bad guy but he was pretty menacing, in a charming way, in Broken Arrow.

Thomas Jane was slated to star in the new Punisher reboot (a film that is not a sequel to a previous film with the same character but a whole new take on the story and character) and had even added twelve pounds of muscle to prepare for the role but dropped out before filming began because of what he said was a weak script. There were certainly script problems and original script writer Kurt Sutter would have his name removed from the final credits because he said the final product was so far removed from what he had started on that he could not take any credit for it. Castle would be played by British television actor Ray Stevenson. The villains, crime boss Jigsaw and his brother Loony Bin Jim, would be played by Dominic West and Doug Hutchison respectively. Directing the film would be Lexi Alexander who at one point dropped out of the project and returned after script improvements and assurance she would have freedom with redeveloping the character for the screen.

The film would be the first produced by Marvel Knights, the new line of films by Marvel with an adult audience as the target. It would be released by Lionsgate and initial reception was lukewarm or cold in general. It is the lowest money maker yet released by Marvel and critics in general panned the film. But it does not matter what the critics or box office says, this is a pretty damned good and graphically violent film. I was a little surprised that a Marvel picture could be so graphic and it deserves its R rating. Stevenson’s Frank Castle is a man who has been a vigilante for some sic years now. The film assumes you know his origin by this time. He is lethal and skilled and simply merciless and in one scene even snaps a woman’s neck. This scene is more acceptable since the director is a woman I guess. I am not criticizing the scene and in fact replayed it. This Punisher is a take no prisoners vigilante and the action is fast paced and extreme. The movie is dark and grim and in a very wise move is shot in New York City rather than somewhere like Florida where the last Punisher was filmed or Louisiana where this one was going to be shot originally. No city can look darker, dirtier and more sinister than NYC when filmed in the right hands. The music score is beefed up with lots of grinding metal by people like Rob Zombie, Slip Knot and Slayer. I downloaded the soundtrack and find it listenable if fast metal is one of your cups of tea. It is one of mine and the songs are okay but after the Rob Zombie one start sounding like a lot of the stuff that is brutally hard one minute then all soft and angelic the next and then brutal again. The Slip Knot type of sound which sounded cool in the movie but not as cool without all the action scenes.

The violence is simply unflinching and even a little over the top at times really. Fat guys get their heads blown off in elevators, little old senile ladies get their heads blown in half, women get their necks snapped by the good guy and the bad guy earns his nickname, Jigsaw, after he falls in a glass bottle grinding machine and is flayed alive but survives. The bad guys are evil and ruthless and Dominic West is great and convincing. Doug Hucthison as Jigsaw’s insane brother Loony Bin Jim however is a little agitating at times as the villain that is just too evil. In one scene he cannibalizes a fat slob of an asylum attendant and the scene is pretty graphic but I don’t know if it was necessary really. Not that I was repulsed or offended but it is certainly a hit over the head with a hammer. And that is one thing The Punisher: War Zone has little of, subtlety. And you know what, that is fine. And while the scene of Loony Bin Jim with the attendant’s bloody guts hanging from his mouth may not be necessary I say so what and give me some more. The movie is well made and moves along at a rapid pace. There are loops and gaps galore in the plot but they do not drive you too far up the wall in frustration.

The movie itself has been punished online and I seem to be in the minority here and give the film 3 1/2 skulls. It could have almost gotten 4 from me actually but there are a few plot issues I could not buy such as when a police chief makes some ludicrous deal with Jigsaw that sets him free from jail with millions of dollars in exchange for information about a shipment of biological agents. He may have made the deal but no good cop would stick with it and I did not gather that the cop was crooked. As well I thought Loony Bin Jim was a little too extreme to be believable but you find a character like him in most of these renegade cop action films so it is too nothing unexpected. The stock ruthless and slightly insane killer who rolls his eyes around as he prepares to kill someone and laughs insanely as he is doing it. But it is a good film and loaded with believable enough gun battles and lots of blood spatter. I could not get any vidcaps as my computer would not recognize the disk but found some decent images online. Don’t listen to the critics on this one. Listen to Uncle Willy. This film delivers.


1 comment:

  1. Wow! Great review. I've got this on my Netflix queue. I had really wanted to see it anyway. Plus I'm a fan of Ray Stevenson. I watched him on the HBO series Rome. I wanted to see him as Castle. You definitely have me wanting to see this film even more.