Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

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A man of few words and many bullets.
A man of few words and many bullets.

Twitter Plot Summary: The Punisher takes on the criminal underworld, led by jagged-faced villain Jigsaw.

Five Point Summary:

1. Glass in the face!
2. Finally – it speaks!
3. Bit of a scuffle with Colin Salmon.
4. Epic violence.
5. A choice.

The Punisher has always remained an intriguing prospect for a movie character. Previous attempts at bringing the character to the big screen were hardly recognised for making the most of the character. Dolph Lundgren’s take on the character took place in that horrible era when comic book movies were campy, low budget nonsense. The 2004 effort starring Thomas Jane is worth seeing for insisting on using practical effects rather than resorting to CGI. 2008’s Punisher: War Zone reboots Frank Castle again, this time morphing into the body of Ray Stevenson and making a concerted effort to make a film more in line with the grim and violent tone of the comic book source material.

Gone is the origin story and in its place is an immediate jump into the action as Castle is instrumental in the creatiom of his nemesis, Jigsaw. Sadly this isn’t the same guy from the Saw franchise, but instead a gangster criminal whose face has been mashed up after a close encounter with a pit of broken glass bottles. If anybody had any doubts about how “comic book” this film was going to be, one look at his jigsaw-faced make-up is all you need. Throw in an obligatory mad brother who has a penchant for biting chunks out of his enemies and the matter is settled.

You can tell he's really just a big teddy bear.
You can tell he’s really just a big teddy bear.

Stevenson’s take on Frank Castle is perhaps the best yet, albeit only if you take into account much of the work that Thomas Jane did in the previous film – although as this is another total reboot it should really stand on its own merits. It’s more than thirty minutes into the film before Frank Castle has a line of dialogue, but Stevenson manages to portray steely determination and threat of extreme violence with a mere glance before he opens his mouth. His back story doesn’t get more than a few moments of screen time, but his reasons and motivations are made quite clear. As are his relationships with Micro (an underused Wayne Knight) and a couple of officers on the force, most notably the initially skeptical Colin Salmon.

In terms of the direction, it’s a great effort from Lexi Alexander who makes the most of the cast and has some fun with the established tropes of the action genre. Despite the violence it’s also definitively a comic book movie, each frame looking like it could have been taken from a comic book panel. The use of three or four colours in each scene substantiates this, and the excessive blood and explosions are clearly aimed at satiating the demands of a teen audience. Why just shoot a guy in the head when you can blow it clean off his shoulders?

It’s a shame that War Zone didn’t get the attention it deserved back in the day. With the help of celebs such as Patton Oswalt it’s gone on to become something of a cult classic, although its overt comic book tone damages the efforts made in the Thomas Jane movie to create a more gritty, realistic tone. Still, as a comic book brought to life it hits the right spots and finds the right balance between camp and extreme violence.

Score: 3/5

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