Welcome Back Frank
If you flicked between the colourful pages of a comic book as a kid, you had direct access to a universe of fantasy. Your innocent mind would run wild as each panel revealed a fable about a superhuman entity battling a depraved super-villain. How would it feel to climb walls, generate knifes from your hands, live in a cave with bats, turn green when you got angry and defend Metropolis from an evil bald guy? When you became older, there would be the inevitable question; do you prefer DC or Marvel?
For this reviewer, Stan Lee's Marvel Comics are better because they were ace and stuff. Can you believe it was 11 years ago when Wesley Snipes killed oodles of blood-sucking vampires in Blade? The worldwide success of this movie set in motion a frenzy with the bigwigs at Marvel Comics, 'Hey lets adapt more of these suckers into big-budget movies'. Following the success of the more mainstream comic adaptations like X-Men in 2000, Spiderman in 2002 and Fantastic Four in 2005, we are now experiencing a megalithic new wave of comic book adaptations in 2009. We are getting more of the dark and brooding adult themed characters coming to life under the new Marvel Knights label, characters that exhibit violent schizophrenic tendencies like the revengeful outsider Frank Castle.
The film is produced by Gale Anne Hurd who's work on some of the greatest sci-fi action movies of all time has turned her into a female juggernaut (The Terminator , Aliens , The Abyss , Hulk ). It's strange to think that Hurd has rebooted two of her Marvel films, starting with Ang Lee's excellent Hulk movie, which was pointlessly rehashed with Ed Norton as The Incredible Hulk in 2008. Her original version of The Punisher with Travolta and Jane didn't make much of an impact with fans or critics and a wisely decision was made to rework it.
Four years on, the sequel/re-imagining/remake type deal with a female director at the helm is the best adaptation yet. Unlike Hurd's decision to remake Ang Lee's Hulk, this decision isn't at all inane. Unfortunately, War Zone achieved a disastrous $10 million worldwide box-office reception (it cost $35 million). It will without doubt turn The Punisher: War Zone into a quintessential cult archetype in years to come (much like the original Hulk). Taking into account that the 1986 Marvel Comic film Howard the Duck had a better opening weekend in America than War Zone, it's already transformed into a strange and endearing classic for fans. Its reception in United Kingdom was dire. It's not very often you can say a Hollywood movie made more money in Kuwait ($259,932) than in the UK ($244,389). Box office figures aside, War Zone is what every action movie should be, a visceral attack on the senses. If you like a dark kinetic visual flair to your movies, you'll love the carnage of the opening sequence…
A mafia boss is having a meal with is crime family. The radiance of the room is plunged into darkness. Standing on the table is a tall shadowy man with a skull embalm on his shirt. He lights a red flare. Everyone is blinded. Walking across the table in his big boots, he slashes the Mafia bosses throat. Kills his wife by breaking her neck (Snap! Crack!). Kicks broken glass into a mobsters face (Aghhhhh!). Plunges a knife into someone's head (Whoosh!) Breaks someone's arm (Snap!). Throws a kitchen implement at someone's forehead (Ding!). Slashes someone's throat (Gargle!). To top it off, he hangs upside down from a chandelier, spins around with two machineguns and kills about 30 of the gangster goons. Not forgetting he then kicks a chair-leg into someone's eye. The Punisher is a self-possessed angel of brutality. He's your friendly neighbourhood vigilante. This wild laugh-out-loud landscape sets the tone of the entire wacky movie. Snap! Bang! Pow!
The crazy off-the-wall humour and over-the-top violence is indicative of comic books. It's a shame that filmmakers rarely transfer this into their movies. You can tell the crew have a fondness for comics. The screenwriters have perfectly captured the characters and environment of The Punisher and the director has managed to include her own personality and thematic sensibilities as well. The editor embraces hostile montage techniques and the cinematographer brings an electrifying look to the film. Filling the scenes with a primary colour palette (red, yellow and blue) and interesting camera angles the filmmakers have done a brilliant job giving this film energy.
There are strong performances from all the cast. Ray Stevenson (Outpost ) who plays the punisher is a badass. With his unshaven face, hollow eyes, gravel voice and gelled back hair, he is the archetypical Frank Castle. Much better than Lundgren and Jane, he injects a wild sense of guilt and anguish as the tortured memories plague his every waking thought. The simple flashback scenes are sincere, elusive and heartfelt as we experience Franks anguish. Dominic West (The Wire [2002-2008]) is unnerving as the over-the-top narcissistic villain Jigsaw that is mangled in a glasscutter. It has an excellent supporting cast. Including Colin Salmon (Alien vs. Predator ), Dash Mihok (I Am Legend ), Doug Hutchison (The Green Mile ), Julie Benz (Rambo ) and Wayne Knight (Seinfeld [1992-1998]).
The city is filled with pollution, urban decay, suggestive neon lights, decomposed buildings, big screen televisions and homeless people. A perfect comic book punk future that drags the dark-side of American culture to the forefront of our cinematic minds, like Alan Moore's Watchmen, the Punisher comic book had many interesting things to say. Pay particular attention to the scene in the church, its one of the most visually stunning scenes in the movie. War Zone is a throwback to the visually violent urban-based revenge films of the 1980s. With its harsh graphic violence and blood splattered gore, it kicks the crap out of every American action movie in the last decade. Its passionate 'gang filled' finale has its pulse firmly on John Woo's Hard Boiled (1992) and Bruce Lee's Game of Death (1978).
It's a solid simple story that is not overburdened with pretentious and pointless back-story like the 2004 Hernsleigh version. It's unrealistic but its fun. Who says a comic book movie needs to be tied down with the conventions of reality? Its fantasy man.
Who punishes the punisher?
Commentary with Director Lexi Alexander and Cinematographer Steve Gainer
Insightful titbits of information about locations, weather, behind the scenes information, second unit production, actors, deleted scenes, crew getting I'll, back-story information and how it compares to the comic.
The Making of Punisher: War Zone (9min)
Its disappointing to get a bog standard featurette like this. They could have spent more time and fleshed it out into a 60min documentary about Marvel Comics and Jack Castle. Lexi Alexander discusses the honour of directing this movie, we hear Gale Ann Hurd in the shortest interview possible. Interviews with Ray Stevenson (Nick Castle), Dash Mihok (Marlin Soap), Wayne Knight (Micro), Doug Hutchison (Loony Bin Jim), Dominic West (Jigsaw), Julie Benz (Angela), and Colin Salmon (Paul Budiansky) who in my books should be the new Candyman if there is ever a remake.
Training for The Punisher (5min)
A military style introduction to pre-production with Ray Stevenson and Director Lexi Alexander. Reminds me of playing army when you're a kid, running around pretending to shoot your mates.
Weapons of The Punisher (5min)
One-hundred and twenty-five guns were used in this movie! Welcome to redneck heaven. Interviews military advisor Jon Barton.
Meet Jigsaw (3min)
If you're a fan of Dominic West from The Wire TV series you'll love this short featurette.
Creating the Look of The Punisher (2min)
A whirlwind of interviews from the Director, Cinematographer, Production Designer, Costume Designer. Examines the colour palette used in the film. Interesting for wanna-be filmmakers or film studies students. Shame they don't make these kind of things longer. Be nice to see a fleshed out documentary on the look of a film, how they designed it etc.
Overall Verdict: For a disk like this its rather disappointing that there are not more features. The short featurette's are produced in an MTV style frenzy, the commentary is the only thing with any real substance and insight, but that's not saying much for a disk like this. Sub-standard features 2/5.