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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
Writers:
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
Starring:
Ray Stevenson, Wayne Knight, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison
Release Date:
December 5, 2008
MPAA:
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
aarongni@gmail.com
Aaron@comicattack.net

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32 Comments


  1. norse_sage

    Another very good review, which to a large extent mirror my own felings about the movie.

    «Punisher: War Zone» is a flawed movie, no doubt about that. But for all its flaws, it has some redeeming virtues that no other movie bearing the title has.

    1. Character motivation and backstory. Unlike the other movies, this movie is unique in that it actually nails who Frank Castle is, and why he does what he does. The Castles were at a picnic at the wrong place at the wrong time, and by pure chance and bad luck, they ended up in the firing range. Crime as a proverbial entity killed them, not anything else. This Frank Castle declared war on crime for the exact same reason and has the exact motivation and philosophical justification to do what he does as his comicbook counterpart. The story itself, while not perfect by a longshot, is also a PUNISHER story, which is more than what can be said for the previous movies.

    2. Ray Stevenson looks and acts as if he was ripped right out of the pages of the comic. There is nothing more to say about that, and I can think of no greater compliment. He OWNS the role.

    3. The cinematography is also ripped straight out of the pages of the MAX run. Sometimes it could have worked better, but most times it works like a charm. In any event, the ideal here is the comic itself, which scores points with me for effort. Hell, the (now late) mob family that killed Castle’s wife and daughter are even the same as in the comic!

    4. The score. Beautiful and fitting. I haven’t mentioned that in my comments for the other movies, but the score for the 1989 movies was in my opinion all right for what it was, while the score for the 2004 is the single worst score I have ever heard anywhere in my life. Seriously. The theme there is nauseating.

    5. The movie doesn’t pull any punches. At all.

    And then there are the flaws. Not all that many when you get down to it, but they are big.

    First and foremost, there is something about the tone that doesn’t work. It is in my opinion too cheesy and too stereotypical comicbooky, which undermines the movie as a whole. The opening scene would for instance have been far better had it been more like what was in the comic (The Punisher simply massacring everyone with a machine gun) instead of the relative silliness we got onscreen. But the tone issues are most prevalent in scenes featuring Jigsaw and his nutcase brother Looney Bin Jim, where both actors in question are so over the top and ham it up so bad that any scene they are in become damn near unwatchable. Together, they are the Jar Jar Binks of this movie.

    And then there is the acting, from pretty much anyone who isn’t Ray Stevenson. It ranges from barely passable, to simply not good enough – which is a shame, because they can all do so much better.

    But despite the flaws, this is the ONLY Punisher movie that actually nails Frank Castle to absolute perfection. It is the only Punisher movie that first and foremost tries to be just that, a Punisher movie. And in this, it is more successful than the two other combined, while being no worse as a standalone movie.

    As far as I am concerned, this makes “Punisher: War Zone” the best Punisher movie to date. Not because it is the perfect Punisher movie mind you, but because the others missed the mark by so damned much in the most critical ways.



  2. The acting in this film was horrible but considering these actors have shown their superior talents in other films and television series, I have to lay blame on director Lexi Alexander. She says multiple times on the DVD director’s commentary “It’s a comic book!” with such a glee that it is obvious she doesn’t understand the genre. As flat as the Thomas Jane film was, I have to go with that version over War Zone’s irritating gory giddiness.


  3. Kristin

    Ray Stevenson makes everything a little bit better.



    • Yes. He certainly does!



  4. Daniel:
    That reminds me.
    Lexi – ““It’s a comic book!” with such a glee that it is obvious she doesn’t understand the genre. ”
    Of how often Joel Schumacher was told to emphasize this with “Batman and Robin”. And we all know what happened there.



  5. @ Norse Sage:

    “Ray Stevenson looks and acts as if he was ripped right out of the pages of the comic. There is nothing more to say about that, and I can think of no greater compliment. He OWNS the role.”

    Yes. I totally and completely does.

    Also, in regards to Jigsaw and LBJ
    “Together, they are the Jar Jar Binks of this movie.”

    I get your reference, and in regards to how you feel about JJB, I completely agree. They practically ruin the film.
    Which is sad.
    Jigsaw is to Punisher what Joker is to Batman, essentially.
    It could have been handled so much better.


  6. Andrew Hudson

    Punisher War Zone wasn’t bad but like you said, got over the top. The goriness didn’t turn me off per say but it was so silly it took me out of the film at times. And you’re right about the villains. Jigsaw is basically a C-Movie version of The Joker (specifically Jack Nicholson’s one). In fact, he has almost the same transformation with The Joker. Not only that but the comparisons between falling into the vat of chemicals and falling into the shards of glass is almost shot by shot.


  7. Mike V

    First the positive, at first I didn’t really care for the lighting in the film, but it grew on me. Though tthe neon could have been dialed back, it was dangerously close to looking like a Schumacher Batman film.

    But yeah, I really don’t like this one. It’s just a bad movie through and through, it gets the origin right, but fidelity to source material doesn’t mean anything when you got bad acting, bad writing, and lackluster direction. I agree that the only ones that came out good acting wise were Stevenson and Knight, but when you got a cast as good as this movie had, you gotta think there’s a level of incompetence with the director.

    And then the movie takes decent characters from the comic and just shoehorns them into the movie for no reason other than fan service. Maginty, the Bulats, Ink and Pittsy, all wasted. Pittsy the most, because the fight he had with Castle in the comic was brutal and would have been great to see on film, instead we get Frank vs. LBJ which amounts LBJ kicking and biting Frank a bunch of times and Frank finally just throwing the guy into a wall after getting his ass handed to him.

    This Punisher seems to be the least tactical of the lot. Take the opening mansion scene, he cuts of the power, and instead of going down the table one by one slitting the throats of the mobsters, he jumps on the table plops a flare in the mashed potatoes and precedes to spin upside down from a chandelier. Then we go to the end of the movie, where he thinks the best way into the hotel is jumping 5 stories in the air through a boarded up window. Also the skull pretty much serves no purpose in the movie.

    Also this is a world where simple character logic doesn’t seem to exist. For example Castle leaves the widow and her daughter with the ex-gangbanger who Castle barely trusts, to go find Micro when he could have just sent the guy to Micro’s house. It all culminates in a scene that is pretty out of character for the Punisher, Castle telling a guy with missing arms and an ax in the chest “Don’t die on me.”

    Finally I gotta disagree with norse_sage, the movie does pull a punch at the end. Castle is forgiven, he kills the woman’s husband, puts them through hell, most likely scars her daughter for life; the just decides, ‘you’re okay.’ Again lack of character logic. Also, still disagree on the other movies not getting who Castle is/justification thing.



    • “Finally I gotta disagree with norse_sage, the movie does pull a punch at the end. Castle is forgiven, he kills the woman’s husband, puts them through hell, most likely scars her daughter for life; the just decides, ‘you’re okay.”

      I gotta disagree with this statement.
      Castle should and would be forgiven.

      Frank ACCIDENTALLY kills her husband, who also constantly told his wife that he believed The Punisher was a good man.
      Frank himself doesn’t get over it so easily. He decides to quit and has to get talked out of it.
      They even show him paralleling him killing the Fed to the murder of his own family.
      A fathers family being taken from him, and a father being taken from his family.

      And the wife doesn’t get over it just like that.
      She becomes aware that The Punisher would never do something like that on purpose. And after helping the ex-partner, and saving the wife and child they come to realize that it was an accident and Frank would never do something like that on purpose.

      It would be the same as if a cop got killed in the cross-fire in a shoot-out. It wasn’t murder. It was an accident. If Frank had known the guy was a Fed, he wouldn’t have killed him.

      The “putting them through hell” argument also doesn’t hold water.
      Because the only time they were put through hell, was due to the actions of the Mobsters in the first place. Frank was trying to save them.
      So, it’s either go through hell, or get murdered (and probably raped by the other gangsters, and then eaten by Loony Bin Jim).

      And the daughter is far from scarred. Especially by anything Frank does. She’s the only one who automatically accepts him.


      • Mike V

        It doesn’t matter he was protecting them or that him killing the agent was accidental, they are still put in the situation because of his actions. He shouldn’t have been forgiven, she should have told him ‘thank you for saving us, now fuck off’ at the end. He doesn’t need to be told he’s a good man or that what he’s doing is right.



    • “And then the movie takes decent characters from the comic and just shoehorns them into the movie for no reason other than fan service. Maginty, the Bulats, Ink and Pittsy, all wasted. Pittsy the most, because the fight he had with Castle in the comic was brutal and would have been great to see on film, instead we get Frank vs. LBJ which amounts LBJ kicking and biting Frank a bunch of times and Frank finally just throwing the guy into a wall after getting his ass handed to him.”

      I wholeheartedly agree with this statement.
      Too many random villains, just to claim accuracy to the material.
      If they had used Ink and Pittsy properly, they could have had a great fight.
      AND they could have beefed up the characters and left LBJ out completely.
      LBJ was the worst part of the entire film.

      And also:

      “This Punisher seems to be the least tactical of the lot. Take the opening mansion scene, he cuts of the power, and instead of going down the table one by one slitting the throats of the mobsters, he jumps on the table plops a flare in the mashed potatoes and precedes to spin upside down from a chandelier”

      THIS wasn’t meant to be tactical warfare. THAT was psychological warfare.
      Theatricality for intimidation’s sake.

      And the end, with multiple weapons, and clearing tactics, and distractions, suppressing fire, smoke bombs, and launching a grenade into a room of baddies without having to enter the room.
      I’d say he was a lot more tactical than the rest.


  8. Mike V

    Still, hanging from a chandelier is far from the smartest thing a soldier could do in a fire fight. Still who’s he intimidating if everyone at the table is going to be dead before the lights come up?

    Despite thinking the best way into a building jumping through a boarded up window, he does show some good tactics in the hotel fight, even if there is quite a bit of pray and spraying going on.



    • “Still, hanging from a chandelier is far from the smartest thing a soldier could do in a fire fight.”

      Yeah.. That’s rather true.

      “Still who’s he intimidating if everyone at the table is going to be dead before the lights come up”

      He’s not. He killed a lot of people AFTER the lights come up.
      That way, if ANYONE survives, they can spread the fear. Like run to the other gangsters and scream “Holy crap! I just saw the Punisher kill a dozen people while upside down!”
      Ya know?

      “Despite thinking the best way into a building jumping through a boarded up window”

      That was pure movie-stupid. But I accept it. Because it was showing off that Castle is an unstoppable wrecking machine.



  9. Addition: (we need to be able to edit our posts)

    The scene in the Cathedral alone, makes the entire movie worth watching in my book.
    That one exchange is better than any other scene in this film, and the other two movies combined.


    • Mike V

      I don’t know about the church scene, it looks really good though.



  10. Regardless of its quality, this is the BEST movie to get drunk to. I love this movie.



    • hahahaa!
      Whatever you say man.


  11. Mike V

    Thinking about it, the scenes I think that capture the coldness Castle from both Punisher ’04 and PWZ are these.

    PWZ, though it missed out on doing a nice character moment if they had Castle tell the girl to cover her ears. Kinda like what he did in the “Mother Russia” story.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO4kg4YhJpA

    Punisher 2004, it’s at the 4:50 mark. Castle just casually walking and shooting an injured guy without even acknowledging him.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVhCi-Sdc3k



    • I felt that the PWZ had enough character moments.
      The scene where he starts obsessively trying to rub the stain off his family tombstone.
      That whole flashback sequence.
      The cathedral scene.
      Talking to the little girl about his daughter.
      Hell, the first time he meets the little girl and gives her the flashlight.

      Little touches like that.

      If only the movie weren’t so hammy whenever the villains were around, it would have been great.

      As for the ’04 casually popping off an injured guy, he does that in PWZ too.

      Though, my favorite of THOSE moments comes from the ’89 movie, when Frank sticks a guy with his butterfly knife, while walking down a hall, after just having killed a bunch of henchmen.


      • Mike V

        That flashlight scene (and the scene after it) were pretty terrible, it’s one of the few times Stevenson is cringe worthy in the movie. The other two being, his conversation with Budiansky in the church, and when he’s telling the Latino with an ax in the chest, “don’t die on me!”, which really was an out of character moment.

        Yeah, he casually pops some guys PWZ, but not like in the scene above. I think it’s more cold that he doesn’t even look at the guy when he kills him.



        • I disagree.
          I think the only scene that was pretty terrible, was the “don’t die on me” scene, BECAUSE it was so pointless. The guy is clearly going to die. So, yeah, Castle saying something that cliche and that useless was out of character.
          The other scenes you mention, I really like.

          And as for not looking at the guy as you kill him, I liked that moment even better in the ’89 movie.


          • Mike V

            Castle is a pragmatist, he wouldn’t coddle anyone in that sort of situation, he should have told him simply “There’s nothing I can do for you”, then have the scene play out more or less as it did.

            Don’t get me wrong, he’s trying in those scenes, but he can’t make it them work. The church scene in particular comes feeling a bit wooden and forced, though I’ll concede the forced nature of it could be because it’s two Englishman trying to sound like tough Americans.



    • Here’s part of the church scene:
      The beginning, with the dialogue I quoted.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTPA7b8fnHU



  12. I still say if you take bits and pieces from all 3 Punisher films you would probably have a great Punisher movie. Until then, I’ll watch Man on Fire for my Punisher fix.



  13. “Castle is a pragmatist, he wouldn’t coddle anyone in that sort of situation”

    I disagree wholeheartedly.
    And now I’m unsure as to how familiar you are with the character.
    Exactly how much “Punisher” have you read?


    • Mike V

      Maybe coddle was the wrong word, but I still believe in a situation like that he wouldn’t tell a guy “don’t die on me” or “you’re going to be fine”, that is unless he actually can help the person, because there are moments in the comics where he has done that. But, two arms missing, and an ax in the chest, a true character moment would have been for him to tell the guy “there’s nothing I can do”.



  14. In THAT situation, where the guy is clearly going to die, I don’t think he’d say “Don’t die on me”. Because it’s a pointless thing to say. And The Punisher doesn’t make pointless gestures.

    Which is why I felt that shooting him and putting him out of his misery was in character.

    “a true character moment would have been for him to tell the guy “there’s nothing I can do”.”

    I disagree.
    I think it would have been more in character to not even acknowledge it, and just ask who it was, and if he knew if the mother and daughter were hurt.
    And then have the end play out like it did in the film, with Frank killing the guy so he wouldn’t have to die in such a slow/painful manner.


    • Mike V

      The end result of that scene was fine, it’s the lead up to it that makes it out of character. Really in the end having Castle say there wasn’t anything he could he do for him and having the guy gesture at Castle’s gun, etc…, or the scenario you mention, both would have been more in character then what was written and shot.

      Though it was kinda dumb for him to leave them with a guy he barely trusted, especially without a weapon.



      • “Though it was kinda dumb for him to leave them with a guy he barely trusted, especially without a weapon.”

        Now THAT we totally agree on.
        That was one of those moments of movie-stupid that really irks me.


  15. Mike V

    I just gave this a rewatch, and really was worse than I remembered. Just a badly made film, top to bottom. The argument that it gets the origin right, doesn’t mean much, I mean Daredevil got the origin, and that movie is and is widely considered mediocre to crap.

    Though this movie bombing and killing the franchise was probably the best thing about the movie, because it allowed Marvel to get the character back.



    • “I just gave this a rewatch”

      Oh, man. Why would you do that to yourself? hehe.

      “The argument that it gets the origin right, doesn’t mean much, I mean Daredevil got the origin, and that movie is and is widely considered mediocre to crap.”

      See, to me, it’s that it got the origin right AND had a few other shining moments.
      There was nowhere near the level of bad in this movie, that the Daredevil movie achieved.
      The ONLY good thing about the Daredevil movie was Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin.

      “Though this movie bombing and killing the franchise was probably the best thing about the movie, because it allowed Marvel to get the character back.”

      Not really any kind of franchise here.
      But it’s not really good news either.
      Last I read, there was going to be an attempt for a really lousy cop drama TV Show version next.
      And trust me, I can bet good money that the planned show will make any of the movies look good by comparison.

      That being said, I think I’ll watch the ’89 Punisher movie tomorrow.


      • Mike V

        Matter of opinion on the level of badness. I still think it has some of worst acting/dialogue of any of the modern day Marvel movies, and that includes Man-Thing. Stevenson tries though, and for the most part succeeds (the only other one is probably Wayne Knight), but he does come off as wooden in a few scenes.

        The TV show is dead, it never got past the script. So, maybe Fox passing will cause Marvel to reassess the situation.



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