The Unseen Movie Review: Punisher: War Zone
By Robert Dixter Dec 2, 2008, 17:00 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
Remember the 1989 movie The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren? Neither does Dolph. He’s too busy trying to convince Stallone that Ivan Drago should pop up in another Rocky movie and then marry Brigitte Nielsen.
That first version of The Punisher had nothing to do with the 2004 version starring Thomas Jane, and now it seems that the 2004 version has nothing to do with Punisher: War Zone opening this week. It seems in the “comics on film” world that it is ok to ignore previous story lines and disregard what came before (sort of like what people are hoping to do to the Bush administration once they leave office). It worked for The Hulk this summer and now Lionsgate is hoping it works for The Punisher (not really a) sequel.
The 2004 film was a joke so unfunny I’ve had better times at a dry wake. The script was sloppy and Johnny Travolta’s acting as the bad guy was so hammy that squealing pigs gave him a standing ovation in the balcony. It was a pretty sad movie because at the time (and even more so now) Marvel was riding a wave of success with X-men and Spider-Man films, when along came this clunker with arguably one of the most popular (not necessarily oldest) comics characters and their streak took a dive like Greg Louganis hitting his head on the board.
I remember growing up and loving The Punisher comics because Frank Castle would do what the good guys were not allowed to and kill his enemies. (And really at a time when girls have cooties what could be more interesting to a twelve year old boy?) But the Punisher on film had none of the charisma and excitement as The Punisher on the pages. It didn’t help that the budget for the film was about equal to the amount spent on straightening Kirsten Dunst’s teeth in the Spider-man movies (I know they’re still not straight, that’s how little Punisher cost).
The lessons learned from the first Punisher were these: 1) don’t hire Travolta to ever be in a comic book movie. He approaches ever role as though he were still Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter. Even though the source is comic books, the audience needs to believe in what they’re seeing so go hire Ed Norton or Tobey Maguire. 2) Frank Castle’s world does not involve supernatural powers and super villains that fly, but he still exists in a comics world and the films require a budget to show that.
So did Lionsgate learn their lesson for Punisher: War Zone? Well, the budget is still a miniscule $35 million so don’t expect much in the way of comics effects. It seems like a pretty dumb move on both Lionsgate and Marvel’s part. They proved that if you give the audience what they crave with the Hulk, they will come back and dismiss a previous film shot by an Academy Award winner. Marvel is also riding high right now having announced an awesome upcoming slate for 2009 and 2010, and locking in a great choice in Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor. So why skimp on The Punisher?
From what I’ve seen the film just looks cheap, and considering they had a chance at redemption for their first Travolta fiasco you would have thought they would get it right this time.