2008 was a very good year for Marvel Enterprises. Their fledgling movie production arm scored big with the summer opener Iron Man and kept going with The Incredible Hulk; how odd, then, to open the darkly violent Punisher: War Zone in December with so little fanfare, there to be lost in the publicity shuffle for movies like Valkyrie, Benjamin Button and The Spirit.
Too bad, as this movie does the comic character as proud as Marvel’s other two, higher-budgeted celluloid reincarnations.
Inspired in no small part by Don Pendleton’s highly successful Executioner series of pulpy paperbacks, The Punisher is Frank Castle, a decorated soldier who survives the slaughter of his wife and children when their afternoon picnic provides accidental witness to a gangland execution. Castle then puts all his military training and experience to work returning the favor, one bloody mob massacre at a time.
Ray Stevenson (HBO’s Rome) is the Punisher this time around, a marvelous casting choice, with his sure action hero moves and world-weary, lined countenance. Trouble begins when the Punisher accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent while raiding the warehouse of Mafia warlord Billy the Face (The Wire’s Domenic West), prompting a crisis of conscience in the vigilante. He also feeds Billy through a glass recycling machine, creating one of his greatest comic book enemies, the scarred Jigsaw.
The unfortunate agent had socked away all of Jigsaw’s racketeering money, and the bad guy decides to lean on the dead man’s widow and daughter to recover it, which (needless to say) doesn’t sit well with Castle. Adding to the brutal fun is Jigsaw’s certifiable and homicidal brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson, and Lost fans are going to have to look extra hard to identify Horace Goodspeed).
Director Lexi Alexander, herself a former stuntwoman and martial arts champion, turns in a gory, fat-free action movie that leaves similar fare like the tepid Hitman in the dust; the only problem being, perhaps, that over-the-top gunplay movies have become the norm, rather than the extreme exception. In that light, Punisher: War Zone might deserve its relative obscurity. But as a Punisher movie, it is damn near perfect, lacking only a moralizing Spider-Man or Daredevil to agonize over its hero’s gunpowder-scorched excesses.
The disc gives you your choice of aspect ratios via the rather retro Side A/ Side B scheme. The menu is lean and mean, with very quick video clips that don't contain any real spoilers.
The bare-bones single disc version opens with trailers for the even more over-the-top Crank 2: High Voltage (which is non-anamorphic), The Haunting in Connecticut, the original My Bloody Valentine (both of which are), Transporter 3 and Saw 5 (which, again, aren't), The Burrowers (yep, back to anamorphic) The Spirit (non-anamorphic? What th-?) and the DTV Hulk Versus, which is anamorphic. It's like Lionsgate is trying to give your monitor seizures.
The deluxe two-disc edition was unfortunately unavailable for review, but the extras include your usual suspects: The Making of Punisher: WarZone, Meet Jigsaw, The Weapons of The Punisher, Training to Become The Punisher, Creating the Look of the Film, the theatrical trailer, and an audio commentary track by director Alexander and Director of Photography Steve Gainer - which I really want to hear.
Dr. Freex, 5/25/2009