Punisher: War Zone (2008) — Just in case you thought Punisher went soft

“That Castle’s a slippery one.”

Kaleb’s rating: True fact: The human body cannot be exploded into more than eleven pieces.

Kaleb’s review: As one of the five people on the planet who thought that 2004’s Punisher was actually kind of okay, I felt sort of duty-bound to check out the frankly*-worse-looking Punisher: War Zone, and see if it could ascend to, or even surpass the lofty marginally-worth-watching-once heights of its predecessor.

So did it make the cut? Eh… kind of. (Yeah, like there was any chance I was going to give a straight answer this early on. Or… ever.)

Getting down to the nitty and/or gritty: The best way I can describe Warzone concisely is to say that it’s basically Punisher ‘04 with its boo-boos made all better. This sounds like a good thing right now, and it is, but it’s a highly-specialized good thing, which I will get back to later.

One of the most oft-recurring complaints I heard regarding Punisher ‘04 – in fact, second only to “It sucks because it sucks!” followed by a punch to the throat – was that it spent way too much time on backstory and character establishment, and way too little time on mobsters undergoing bullet-saturation therapy.

Solved. The opening scene is a mafia party-crash, contingent of more mayhem than the previous film’s finale, and itself a pee-wee when standing next to this film’s final blast-fest, which features Frank vs. pretty much every banger and biker thug and Yakuza** in New York. (The normal mafia is largely non-participatory, on account of most of them being dead already, and the Russian mob runs interference for the good guys, oddly enough.)

Verily, there be many a splootching head and kneecap in between as well, all the talking and feelings and sissy crap like that is kept to a minimum, and the pivotal Central Park massacre that killed Frank Castle and gave the Punisher birth is condensed to a thirty-second (if that) flashback. It’s as though the movie’s saying, “Okay, do you get why he is the way he is? We good? Excellent; we now return you to your regularly scheduled violence.”

If I may contribute a personal beef with Punisher ‘04, I always thought Thomas Jane was just a touch too pretty and small for the role. “Hey, where’s the raw-boned rugged scariness and the scowling and the perpetual five o’clock shadow?” asked I. The answer? Ray Stevenson had been hoarding them all in his cupboard for a rainy day.

I don’t want to say anything that will make any of you – or, well, me – uncomfortable, but this dude can be my Punisher anytime. He just seems to fit the role really well. I don’t think he’s quite as cut as Jane, but he does seem to be a bit taller and wider-framed, which helps a ton, and also directly addresses my other qualm. See, my first significant exposure to the Punisher franchise came in the form of the PS2 game, and as such, I spent the entirety of the ‘04 movie thinking to myself, “Y’know, I’m not entirely convinced that he’s beefy enough to heft a grown man up off the ground and impale him on the tusk of a mounted elephant head.” It’s a fairly minor quibble, but it’s nice to have it addressed.

I’ve been pretty positive up to this point, so, time for a break.

Aside from the fact that it just isn’t really that great of a movie overall (once again, further qualification is required, and shall be given later), my only major stewpot lies with the at-times atrocious special effects. With all of the mighty powers that I don’t actually possess, I hereby place a stricture on using CG blood effects, henceforth into perpetuity. Give me squiberty, or give me death!

I’m reminded in particular of a scene where Jigsaw stabs a Russian mobster in the throat, and this ridiculous cartoon blood comes shooting out, and I think to myself, “Well, I guess it’s a good thing that guy died, since he obviously didn’t belong in this dimension anyway. Although it’s erroneous to say that he ‘died’ in the traditional sense, and he should in fact be coming to, safe and sound in the Magical Fairy Gumdrop Kingdom, even as we speak.”

Also, although I previously mentioned that the action has been beefed up substantially, it seems like more still could’ve been done. As it sits, its as though the movie is streaking across the football field, but wearing a hat so as not to be thought immodest. C’mon, War Zone! You’re already outlandishly violent! Why not go for nightmarishly?

I figured it up, and I think if you lay all of the action segments end-to-end, you wind up with about forty-five minutes of exit-woundy good times. This sounds like a lot, until you consider that it leaves another forty-five minutes wherein no one is getting knifed in the skull. Pretty cheap, Conehead.

Hate to sound like I’m hunched over with a scrap of flesh hanging out of my mouth, growling “more,” but I guess that is kind of what’s happening. Tra la la!! I’m a bloodthirsty creep!

And as long as I’m waving my cane… come over here, War Zone. Have a sit-down. It’s time you and I had the naughty word talk. Now now, don’t get ahead of me. It’s not that I’m one of those people for whom profanity rather strangely and comically and altogether inexplicably causes literal physical pain (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!), or that I’m even at all averse to a strategically-placed F-whistler hither and thither to liven things up, but what you’re doing is more like carpet-bombing. Look, you can’t marinate your dialogue in extraneous filth in the hopes of endearing yourself to the mouth-breathers, because… well, because that’s exactly what will happen, but just don’t, okay?

Oh, and yeah, I totally realize that my glee over violence and subsequent getting-all-uptight over profanity serves as a sobering example of our society’s hideously-skewed SHUT UP, HIPPIE! You have deftly brought to light my deplorable hypocrisy, okay? Good job. Have yourself a well-deserved cookie.

In conclusion, your mileage will vary vastly depending on your expectations. If you’re looking for a well-crafted action/crime drama flick that can stand on its own merits as a member of those genres, and go toe-to-toe quality-wise with any of its contemporaries… yeah, you’d best just keep on a-ridin’. Moreso if you aren’t keen on the idea of a movie that has one foot in Horror as well. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a comic book in motion; something to munch popcorn to until your appetite gives out from all the gore… eh, sadly, you could probably still do better.

If, however, you are a Punisher fan, by all means give it a go. And if you disliked the previous film for any of the reasons I mentioned, than this one is more or less custom-tailored for you.***

Alternatively, if you just want to be inundated with lots and lots and lots of hamburgery, sprayful carnage, that works too.

*Pun?

**Or possibly Triads; I’m sorry, I honestly can’t tell the difference.

***In particular, the fact that the original origin story is adhered to should silence your engraged fanboy keening.****

****No it won’t.

Justin’s rating: He’s got a license to brutalize

Justin’s review: You have to feel a little sorry for the Punisher (aka Frank Castle), no matter whether you approve of his heavy-handed homicidal method of justice or not. The guy’s never been at the top tier of Marvel, sometimes existing to provide more uppity superheroes reason to sniff their noses in disdain for his brutal tactics. He’s also had a horrendous streak in the movie theaters as well: 1989’s Dolph Lundgren did no favors to the franchise (and even nixed the P’s famous shirt), 2004’s Thomas Jane installed no awe as he fought (polite cough) John Travolta, and 2008’s Ray Stevenson got saddled with a gory underdog of a film that grossed barely $10 million. There may be a place in the Marvel universe for The Punisher, but he’s yet to rest his weary head on the pillow of success for movie-goers.

It’s sad that the apex of his career might’ve been a team up with – of all people – Archie. Yes, that Archie.

Other than being less-than-lackluster in theaters, all three Punisher flicks have something else in common: None of them are related in any way to the others. Three films, three “reboots” of a sort. Punisher: War Zone is probably the most faithful to the source out of them all – using the comic’s origin story (told in flashbacks), along with the classic villain Jigsaw – but its bottom-of-the-barrel acting and splatterpunk nature make it hard to care. Yeah, that guy just punched through that other guy’s head, but where’s the characterization?

About as far from superheroes as one can get, the Punisher stalks the streets of NYC and takes down organized crime faster than Spider-Man can brush his teeth in the morning. Cops consistently turn a blind eye to his activities because, hey, vigilantes rock! Am I right, or what? I mean, who needs all that pesky paperwork and Miranda Rights when you can just unleash a mentally unstable special forces vet on the scum of the town?

During a particularly gruesome bust, Punisher accidentally kills a FBI mole (cue angry coffeemug throw of regret in his lair three scenes later) and creates an arch-nemesis by throwing a baddie into a glass grinder. That does NOT do any favors for one’s face, I might add. The remainder of the movie is born of these actions: Punisher tries to make up to the widow for his little boo-boo, and Jigsaw (glass grinder guy) enlists all of the gangs of the city in an attempt to squash Frank Castle and good. Lots of shootouts, bang bang, the end.

Probably the most bizarre aspect of PWZ (which I pronounce “pweeze?”) is that the daughter of the slain FBI agent all but adopts her father’s killer as a replacement. Every scene she’s in required the screenwriters to ignore all they knew about human emotions and relationships, for the kid never really cries, nor reacts to her mom pulling a gun on Castle, doesn’t scream, and starts making puppy eyes on the big guy with the guns like she’s putting herself up for adoption. It’s about six miles past Creepy and almost to the town of Whattheheck? The wife/mom isn’t much better – she gets one scene of acting all indignant, but then fails to kill Frank when she has the chance, and becomes a mindless potential kidnappee from then on out.

If you are in the mood for action and don’t mind a lot of Karyo syrup slucing everywhere, then Punisher: War Zone will fit the bill as long as you don’t ask anything more of it. It’s all technically well-done and the plot is easy enough to follow, but… sheesh. The lot of them need acting classes. Punisher comes just as stilted as Steven Seagal, just perhaps a bit more chunky. Jigsaw and the rest either maniacally overact or plod through the script as if it’s a particularly repugnant chore. I’d have rather seen Punisher square off against of some of Marvel’s so-called “good guys” than this Scarface reject.

Didja notice?

  • How Looney Bin Jim is strangely likeable
  • How disappointingly unceremonious Looney Bin Jim’s death is?
  • Budiansky’s reaction to Castle’s impromptu arrest-alternative is rather hilarious
  • Flashback notwithstanding, and also discounting the white Death’s Head on his vest (which you should, because it’s very, very dim), Castle is never seen wearing anything not-black.
  • Is adorning an insane asylum with gargoyles supposed to help calm the patients?
  • Hooray for glass crushers with no safety guards, bars or covers
  • All asylums should look straight out of a Halloween set, even if they’re in the middle of suburbia
  • Her mom’s about to shoot a guy and the daughter just sits there coloring? Wow, that’s a little oblivious.
  • The little kid’s a klepto, too
  • Kids are easily impressed by snowglobes
  • Has that kid even shed one tear for her dad’s death before she latches on to her dad’s killer as a replacement?

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