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 weve 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 arent 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. Its 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 thats
fine. Writer/Director Lexi Alexander likely realized as much
when she took on this project. A Punisher
movie doesnt 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.