Punisher War Zone (2008)
Director: Lexi Alexander
Doug Hutchison/Loony Bin Jim
The Punisher (Stevenson) has been cleaning up the NY streets of its scum for a while now and all has been dandy. But when Mr. P. turns sassy-sandwich mobster Billy Russoti (West) into the maniacal Jigsaw AND accidentally kills an undercover officer via one of his pow-pow raids; his punishing ways, begin punishing him!
Being a HUGE fan of THE PUNISHER comics by way of Garth Ennis’ revival of the character (he sadly quit writing THE PUNISHER title this year); I was “jonesing” for PUNISHER WAR ZONE to do what the other cinematic Castle interpretations failed to do: GET IT 100% RIGHT. The 1989 Lundgren version had the body count, tight script and morose attitude, but shot blanks when it came to the setting, prod values and the Punisher costume. The 2004 Jane version got the drama, brutality and intensity right but totally missed the boat as to how THE PUNISHER functions (fire hydrant), the setting (Tampa???) and with its schizo tone
And now we’re blessed with PUNISHER WAR ZONE. A film that I’ve had mixed feelings about since Tom Jane bowed out, but one that I eventually wound up rooting for. So when I walked into that theatre, I wanted to love the thing and prayed to the altar of Castle that it wouldn’t be another case of hardcore RIGHTS and WRONGS. So was it? Yes it was. Prayers were not answered…again. In a way PUNISHER WAR ZONE wound up being the more genuine out of all THE PUNISHER movies when it came to sticking to its source.
Much like the MAX PUNISHER comics, the flick had a twisted sense of humor that
worked when on the ball (RPG + roof jumping goon = lol) and it was set in New York (my hometown of Montreal, Canada stood in for it) as it should.
Although the “neon heavy” look somewhat negated the urban grittiness on hand, it was groovy to see Mr. P. do what he does best in a real City, where he damn belongs.
The Punisher himself as played by Ray Stevenson was right out of the MAX comic in terms of physical look. Silly “neck brace” aside, Stevenson looked, acted and felt like Ennis’s take on the Punisher and that carved a smile on my throat. Although I totally loved Jane in the role, I’m up for following Stevenson as THE PUNISHER in future entries. He had the “dead man walking” / “I don’t give a f*ck” thing down pat and the hints of emotion/sincerity that seeped out now and again made his take on the role a captivating one. Castle’s way of doing the human laundry was also up to snuff! This is the PUNISHER I know! No sneaking around with a fire hydrant in a Gym bag here, Mr. P. was all about stabbings, guns blazing and limb crunching. Seriously, the level of graphic violence found here was INSANE and
that was good news for this turkey. Alexander’s firm handling of her action
sequences made sure that the carnage hit where it counts – in the gut. I
actually felt like I was back in the 80’s, a time where we actually “saw” the mayhem go down onscreen. The Hey-Days of action baby! No close shot/quick cut madness here! Props!
Alas I did have some major beefs with this mofo; mostly all script based. First the Punisher character was not given enough meat to chew on. Stevenson is a fine actor, as solid as Jane, but he didn’t get the chance to exhibit his skills here. I wanted to get to know this Frank Castle way more than
I did! And if I look beyond the slaughter, I can’t say the story did much for me. It was simpleton at best and I really felt it during the middle section of the flick. The latter unraveled (clumsily at that); I watched
it and I honestly didn’t care much about it one way or another. I just kept craving yet another action scene.
Lets face it, the Angela Donatelli subplot was rarely more than just a “point A to B” device (too bad there was something poignant there) and the other subplots were so thin they shouldn’t have been in the film (Micro and Soap were wasted). And what was up with the “on cocaine” tone here? I’m all for dark humor (I actually embrace it), but WAR ZONE often went beyond that, taking the infantile route instead. Every time Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim would share the screen for example, “diaper
yuk-yuks” would kick in. Was this THE PUNISHER or a NAKED GUN version of it? I sometimes
Finally, some of the acting by the side players stank to high heaven (Can you spell ridiculous Italian stereotypes? This movie can!), the dialogue was
often laughable, the editing randomly choppy and the overly stylized look of the picture had me on the fence. I appreciated that they tried to make it look like the MAX comic; I just didn’t feel it translated well on screen. I had flashbacks of Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN
instead, when all I wanted was a realistic approach to the world of THE PUNISHER. All in all WAR ZONE has me fighting with myself and I’m pretty sure I’ll win the bout. So much to love, yet so much to hate.
It's not really a good film on paper but an entertaining one for the right and
wrong reasons? YOU BET! I gotta say it, why they haven’t locked GARTH ENNIS to write a PUNISHER movie already - blows my mind. Ennis would succeed in translating Ennis to the big screen. Get him for the next one!
My prediction? Much like all of the PUNISHER films, WAR ZONE will have Castle fans divided.
We get enough red grub to feed a small zombie army. The Punisher here stabs, slits throats, knife’s a head, blows up another one and basically mows down ALL KINDS of baddies in uber graphic ways. You like it extreme? DIG IN!
Ray Stevenson (Frank Castle) made for a solid Punisher. His imposing stature, wounded eyes and deep voice served the role well. Closer to Lundgren than Jane. Hopefully the next film will give him more to do. Dominic West’s (Billy Russoti / Jigsaw) uber OVER THE TOP caricature of a performance didn’t do it for me at first, once he became Jigsaw though, it worked! Doug Hutchison (Loony Bin Jim) obviously had a blast playing the odd ball and sadistic Jim, and I had a hoot watching him do it. Julie Benz (Angela Donatelli) gave heart to a flatly written role and had the more bang-on New Yorker accent of the lot.
T & A
None… and I still can’t wrap my brain around it. No hookers in this New York city?
Alexander showed off some fly shots and came through when it came to staging and executing her visceral action sequences.
Michael Wandmacher's menacing score did the trick, echoing the DARK KNIGHT soundtrack vibe now and again.
PUNISHER WAR ZONE had the right actor in the title role, the proper M.O. in terms of its violence, a no BS 80s action feel and an army of tight action bits. It was closer in attitude (and low budget) to the Lundgren version than the 2004 Jane one. Sadly the screenplay was lazy and clunky at best, the humor too out of control at times and if I see one more neon light, I’ll start dancing… like a white boy… till the break of dawn. Following in the other PUNISHER films’ footsteps, it kicked ass with some elements and was “way off” with others. I laughed with it and at it. It's that kind of movie. It should be said though: any flick that has some dude getting his face caved into his skull by a mammoth Castle fist is all good in my books. So I guess I’m up for another one! Are you?
My “perfect” Punisher film would consist of: keep the grounded feel that the Jane version displayed now and again, add Ray Stevenson, keep the gore of War Zone, get Garth Ennis to write the script and lock Walter Hill to direct it.
Thomas Jane left the sequel because he didn’t like the script (I don’t blame him). He said this to AICN: "Punisher fans are already fighting an uphill battle as it is. And I've always felt a responsibility to fight that fight for them and with them so that Frank Castle gets the treatment he deserves. What I won't do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don't believe in."
Director Lexi Alexander is an ex Karate and Kickboxing Champion.
THE OFFICIAL PUNISHER WAR ZONE SITE HERE