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MOVIE REVIEW: Punisher War Zone

war_zone

Someone finally did it.  Someone finally gave us a Punisher movie worth watching.  In a year that has already given us more than

a few quality comic-book movies, Punisher:

War Zone is an unexpected treat.

After the horrible  Dolph Lundergren version and the PG-13 Thomas Jane vehicle, Punisher: War Zone feels like a shot of

adrenaline mixed with a whiff of laughing gas. 

While the 2004 film borrowed certain sequences and characters from The Garth Ennis run (particularly Welcome Back, Frank), Punisher: War Zone manages to capture

the spirit of the Garth Ennis

version of Frank Castle: ultra violent, dark humor and self-parody.

           

This latest outing stars Ray Stevenson as The Punisher and he looks eerily similar to

the “real thing.”  His role contains few

lines and a few “emotional” moments that probably should have been cut, but aside

from that, Stevenson pretty much embodies

the role in every sense of the word.  He

is the Punisher that we’ve read for over 30 years: a grim reaper with an

ever-growing arsenal and ever inventive ways of killing criminals. 

 

           

The film wisely provides no back

story for its title character, aside from a few flashback shots.  As the movie opens, we are thrown right into

the thick of the action.  The Punisher is

in the midst of carrying out his one man war against organized crime in New

York City.  The opening sequence has him

hacking and shooting his way through a mafia family with a cold and efficient

abandon.  The violence is intentionally

over the top and cartoonish with more of a slasher movie feel than an action

film.  Think Evil Dead II crossed with Death

Wish and you get the idea.  Those who

prefer their comic heroes to be deadly serious should stay at home.

           

           

The villains of the piece are

the usual wiseguy stereotypes, as it should be. 

Punisher comics aren’t about layered characterization and depth.  Frank Castle kills criminals, period.   Anyone from a mugger on the streets the most

powerful of crime bosses. 

           

On the acting front, Dominic West steals the show as Jigsaw, a pretty boy mobster whose face

is horribly disfigured after The

Punisher drops him into a glass grinder. 

What makes the performance such a blast is that Dominic seems to be making it up as he goes along.  The character himself is a study in

irony:   He is hideously disfigured, and

yet he carries himself with the confidence and swagger of a flamboyant

pimp.  It’s like the accident unleashes

some sort of weird  self-caricature hidden

away in his subconscious.  In its own

way, the performance is just as much fun as what Heath Ledger did with The

Joker in The Dark Knight (though

nowhere near as brilliant or layered).Almost as much fun is Doug Hutchison as Jigsaws cannibal,

karate-fighting minion Looney Bin Jim. 

           

Does any of this add up to a

cinematic masterpiece the likes of The

Dark Knight?  Nope.  Does it even add up to a legitimately good

movie?  Probably not, and that’s

fine.  Writer/Director Lexi Alexander likely realized as much

when she took on this project.  A Punisher

movie doesn’t need to be great, it just needs to deliver in the same sense that

the best Punisher comics have over the years. 

The idea of a soldier becoming a ruthless vigilante had already been

done before The Punisher ever

existed.  The only thing that ever

distinguished Frank Castle from being

a garden variety vigilante was the skull on his chest.  Garth Ennis tweaked the character a bit by

adding a bit of humor to his grim world, and Lexi Alexander found a way to translate that sense of humor and

mayhem to the screen.  We should all be

thankful for that.  Welcome back Frank, indeed.

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