Punisher: War Zone (Two-Disc Special Edition) – DVD Review
By Lane Law Mar 26, 2009, 12:41 GMT
Waging his one-man war on the world of organized crime, ruthless vigilante-hero Frank Castle sets his sights on overeager mob boss, Billy Russoti. After Russoti is left horribly disfigured by Castle, he sets out for vengeance under his new alias: Jigsaw. With the "Punisher Task Force" hot on his trail and the FBI unable to take Jigsaw in, Frank must stand up to the formidable army that Jigsaw has recruited ...more
Let me start with: I am madly in love with Lexi Alexander. Not only is she friggin hot but she has a lot of quality genre sensibilities. She's not perfect.
In fact, I think Emily Hagins will, in a short time, leave Ms. Alexander in the dust as the leading hot female genre filmmaker. But she's doing a pretty good job and I hope she keeps getting better.
I will forever have a special place in my heart for the 1989 version of The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett Jr. I know it's cheesy but it's a tough B action movie that knows exactly what it is. The Thomas Jane attempt in 2004, on the other hand, is an embarrassment to action movie lovers.
It's like a joyful romp through Candyland compared to what The Punisher should be. Why it got an R rating I'll never understand. What was that crap with pretending a Popsicle was a blowtorch!? And the "goofy neighbors" were such a waste of time. It was like Mike Brady in a skull T-shirt.
That's why I totally dig, for the most part, what Alexander did with her version – Punisher: War Zone. The two things I liked least about the film were the use of the color scheme and the characterizations by the two main villains – Jigsaw and Looney Bin Jim.
I know she was referencing the interior artwork of the Punisher comic from recent years with all the colors, but the film’s colors looks like utter crap in most scenes. I want my Punisher to live in the real world. I do believe Alexander more than makes up for it with content but the movie still could have lived without all the color tones.
Then there's Dominic West playing Jigsaw, the principal villain, and Doug Hutchison as his brother, Loony Bin Jim. I'm not West's biggest fan. All I've seen of "The Wire" is the first season and I felt he was the weakest link. I liked him even less after this movie.
Hutchison I've really only seen in this and The Salton Sea, a movie I love, and he overacted in both.
Both actors do something I'm really tired of in using "comic book" as an excuse to act like Looney Toon villains. A hardcore Punisher shouldn't have to fight against Sylvester The Cat and that feisty little Chicken Hawk that Foghorn Leghorn was always trying to teach life lessons.
The commentary outs Lexi Alexander as the shot-caller for this silliness which makes me sad in my heart. She has a lot of top-notch genre instincts - this isn't one of them. The bat-crap craziness of these two characters does grow on you somewhat towards the end of the flick but the story would have definitely been better-served had they scaled back and tried to be a little more natural. Wait, no, a LOT more natural.
That said, the relationship between the characters is what it should be and so many action movies miss out on. Overblown though it may be, they really feel like they care for one another. And they give you a sense that they came up through the thug ranks on the streets.
The worst line in the movie, as written, is unarguably when West declares that his men "call me Jigsaw" - but I think West did the best he could. This was one moment where the over-the-top silliness helped the point across. And the prosthetic make-up is absolutely amazing! One of the best-looking pieces I've seen in a while.
The action segments in Alexander's first feature, "Green Street Hooligans," were total crap. So I was leery of what the stunt photography was going to be like in this one but I was extremely impressed. All the military-style fighting was spot-on. There's a shot where homeboy's hanging upside down from a chandelier firing two MP5s at a roomful of tangos.
It seems silly but it's a fun moment, which is apparently totally backed up by their Ex-Marine technical adviser - not as something a trained Marine would readily subscribe to but as something an Ex-Marine like Frank Castle might do.
What I want out of a Punisher movie is for it to be a horror movie for criminals. This gave me that. It is established very early on that this Frank Castle doesn't pull any punches. It doesn't matter if you're crippled, elderly, female, whatever - if you're bad you're dead. Period.
We are also quickly informed as to how severely dangerous of an individual he is. The brutality with which he dispatches bad guys is alarming to anyone who doesn't watch Friday the 13th movies all day every day. There are so many awesome cheer moments in this movie I went slightly hoarse by the end!
I'm not the biggest fan of comic relief for the sake of comic relief and there's no denying that some of the supporting characters were there for that purpose. However with this film, the portrayal was so great or the approach was so original that they all seemed to add a lot to the package.
Dash Mihok is Detective Soap, a bumbling goof who is the only man on the force with a real Punisher-centric agenda and is the sole members of the "Punisher Task Force." Mihok's ability to be a sort of budget Columbo makes for a very different second-tier character than we normally get in these type movies.
Wayne Knight plays 'Microchip' Lieberman, the Q to Castle's James Bond. As written, Micro isn't that different of a character from many sidekicks, but Knight brings such powerfully real moments out that you can’t help but watch him. While Frank Castle is doing his best to not be affected by what he does or doesn't do Micro makes him remember he's a man with purpose.
Colin Salmon plays the man out to get Castle, F.B.I. Special Agent Paul Budiansky - whose Under Cover partner is accidentally killed by the Punisher early on. I've liked Salmon since his days as M's man in James Bond movies. He has a special brand of cool only certain people are born with.
He plays a good tough cop with a personal mission who is still beholden to Standard Operating Procedure, but finds himself mired in the dark world of Frank Castle, forced to question things he thought he knew to be fact. Yes it's cliché. Maybe it's cliché for a reason. Or maybe I'm making excuses because I have a man-crush on Colin Salmon. I'm cool with either.
There is a fight scene in the middle of the flick between Salmon and the Punisher that is the most exciting chunk of action-porn I've seen in a long time. Everything that is wrong with the fights in the last two Bournes and the last two Bonds - the jicky Tony Scott cutting style which is so very popular these days - is nowhere to be found. How novel it is to actually WATCH what is happening instead of guess! The mechanics of the fight are natural and fast and to the point. I loved every second.
Which brings us to Mr. Ray Stevenson, the tall dark English superman who plays Frank Castle: The Punisher. I was gushing over this casting choice from the moment I heard it. He was beyond awesome in King Arthur. And then the first image of him in costume came out! I was floored at how they made him look just like a Tim Bradstreet cover in the Marvel comics.
Bradstreet has been changing my world with the artwork he's contributed to Punisher comics for years. Stevenson and Lexi Alexander took that and ran with it and it turned out beautifully. When Ray Stevenson moves, he IS the Punisher.
He is step-by-step the tactically sound killer Marine we need him to be. He's smooth and efficient and delivers top-shelf violence with passion and ferocity. The special features show him training with the Ex-Marine adviser and he's even a badass amongst the professionals. This Frank Castle is a detective with his own methods - he kills his way to the truth.
He and Alexander and the writers have done an excellent job of building the Myth of The Punisher - an awareness among the criminals that hangs around them like a phantom presence. It's too cool how the main character doesn't utter a single word for the first twenty minutes and yet we know exactly what we need to know about his personality, his intentions and his methods.
His mission changes mid-stream when he accidentally kills Budiansky's undercover partner and finds himself having to protect the fallen agent's family from Jigsaw. There's a moment after an early fight/kill sequence where Castle has to fix his own broken nose - and he sets it with a pencil! Apparently Alexander saw this method used by a kick boxer - it is too cool. I may or may not have shrieked like a small girl at this point.
Julie Benz plays the agent's widow. I hated Benz in Rambo, but she plays her part okay here. She gets the point across and earns scale. Her character and that of her daughter give Stevenson some of his most powerful moments as he endures the guilt of having killed a good man and left a woman and child defenseless.
The scene where he tries to get Benz's character to punish him for his mistake tugs at your heart in just the right way.
There's a short epilogue to the movie which is, according to the commentary, completely Alexander's conception and also what got her the job. I jumped out of my seat cheering at this perfect button to the story I'd just watched.
The DVD has a good amount of special features. The commentary, as I've illustrated, has loads of great information and fun anecdotal material from the director and her Director of Photography, Steve Gainer. There are 5 featurettes which, though short, have great bits about the process these people went through while making this. The trailers are skipable -which I'm a fan of since most of them are for horror movies I have no need to see.
The second disc has the Digital Copy which is so popular now.
All in all, Punisher: War Zone is a great package of entertainment. That is all.