November 21, 2011

Movie Mondays: Punisher: War Zone

Frank Castle aka The Punisher
Frank Castle aka The Punisher

This looks awesome!

Title: Punisher: War Zone
Director: Lexi Alexander
Nick Santora, Matt Holloway, and Arthur Marcum; based on the works of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita Sr
Distributed By:
Lionsgate, Marvel Knights, Valhalla Motion Pictures, MHF Zweite Academy Film, SGF Entertainment
Ray Stevenson, Wayne Knight, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison
Release Date:
December 5, 2008
Rated R

Hey there everybody! Welcome to part THREE of our month long look into the gritty, seedy, violent world of Frank Castle…otherwise known as The Punisher! Throughout the month we’ll be taking a look at his various forays into the film industry, as well as looking at the franchise as a whole! This week, we look at the third, and so far most recent, Punisher film, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE!  A grim, hyper-violent, nasty, gory adaptation of the Punisher comic book franchise. Be sure to check this out, and any previous installments you may have missed. And come back NEXT MONDAY for our final installment, where we take a look at the PUNISHER franchise as a whole!

So…the movie is just over two hours, and I enjoyed about 1 hr 30 min of it (not in order).

Ray Stevenson is pitch-perfect as the battle-hardened veteran in a war on crime!

It’s my second favorite Punisher movie to be sure, which sadly isn’t saying much. It got a lot of stuff right. Ray Stevenson is PERFECT as Frank Castle. Wayne Knight was great as Microchip. I enjoyed a lot of the cast. I thought it was really decently acted by those that mattered (i.e. Microchip, the mother and daughter), and superbly acted by Stevenson. But, that cannot be said for the film’s “heavies” (more on that later). The film was FOR THE MOST PART what I expected from the movie based on Punisher War Zone, which ran from 1992-95 (and a lot of the Ennis run with the Marvel Knights printing of Punisher, yet managed to be gorier than any actual Punisher comic I can think of).

The action sequences were awesome. Every scene where Ray Stevenson gets to act is fantastic. Especially the more human touches, like flashbacks of his family’s death or his interactions with the little girl that, of course, reminds him of his daughter. The pacing and editing were very well done. The musical score (what little they used) provided by Michael Wandmacher was excellent. I especially enjoyed a brief exchange near the end where Frank Castle gathers himself in a cathedral. His old friend, a priest named Michael, tries to talk him out of his violent way of life.

Stevenson does such a great job portraying the tortured anguish that helps bring The Punisher to life.

Mike: “Why do you do this?”
Frank: “Somebody has to punish the corrupt.”
Mike: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. And in the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
Frank: “Matthew 7:2. I know. I’m okay with that.”
Mike: “God be with you, Frank.”
Frank: “Sometimes I’d like to get my hands on God.”

That being said, there were a lot of things wrong with this picture. The villains were ridiculously campy and over-the-top. Anyone who reads Punisher knows that the villains aren’t like that. It appeared as though the actors playing the villains all seemed not to give a crap about their performances. All of them played up the ham-and-cheese, overacting (with the worst offensive stereotypical fake accents, no less). The worst part of the film has to be the inclusion of movie-exclusive character “Loony-bin Jim,” whose every scene just about ruins the film. Which is really a shame, since the filmmakers seemed to really capture the LOOK of the comics. Even the makeup effects for Jigsaw, the main villain, were spot on.

Gotta hand it to the makeup department for making Dominic West look so much like his comic book counterpart.

The entire last two minutes of the movie should be taken out. It’s just more of the ham-and-cheese that only serves to bring this movie down. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it, or when you see it. There was too much humor, especially accidental humor. There were many scenes that you could tell were meant to be “oh, awesome” moments, but were so over-the-top they were funny.
For example:

During one scene, a henchman adept in the art of free-running gets his own slow motion jump scene wherein he does a cartwheel off a building, just to be blown up with a heat seeking rocket launcher. Violence can be a source of humor. But not cheesy humor. So, yeah, the over-the-top violence was too much, too cheesy.
Furthermore, the over the top violence was not only silly but inconsistent.  Frank would be punching people in the face and it would play out normally, but one random thug catches Franks knuckles with his nose and his entire skull caves in.

Ladies and Gentlemen! A shining example of the “humor” that kills this movie.

Another perfect example of the misuse of humor in this film comes from a sequence near the end, where our villain, Jigsaw (Dominic West), parodies military recruitment and recruiters. Recruiting gangs in the war on The Punisher with an American flag flying behind him, while “America The Beautiful” plays in the background.
I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to, people!
Little things happen like this throughout the movie, and they only bring the film down instead of build it up.

Ray Stevenson KILLS as Frank Castle! Sorry, couldn’t pass up the bad pun!

A perfect example of the dark humor playing through the violence DOES work:
Two deaths during the film, where the henchman both basically said “oh…well fuck” before biting the big one, were absolutely priceless and felt like something right out of the comics. I don’t want to spoil them for you, because they really are quite pitch-perfect for this adaptation. If only the rest of the movie had delivered the goods in the same way.  In fact, with very few exceptions (like the aforementioned skull-caving-in moment) the action is handled rather well.

So to sum up. Ray Stevenson rules!! Too much over-the-top violence made it unfortunately silly. The villains were ridiculous. The neon lighting for the different sets is distracting. The movie is well paced and edited. The many overall poor moments of the film (in total about 30 min) are enough to majorly detract from the rest of the film.

The actors’ facial expressions from left to right: 1) “What is going on with this movie?!” 2) “I don’t think we can save this movie!?” 3) “I’m the best part of this movie!”

Judging the film as an adaptation of the comic, as well as a film in general,  I’d give it a solid 6.5 out of 10.

Be sure to check out next week’s entry for MOVIE MONDAYS, for the final installment in our month-long look at The Punisher. We’ll be taking a look at everything PUNISHER related, from the original comics, to video games, and everything else! It’s gonna be killer! (Yay, more bad Punisher humor.)

Aaron Nicewonger