I was inspired by La Spermatozoa's excellent Taken post awhile ago, and knew I had to find my own vengeance-themed movie and review it. Enter Punisher: War Zone. I just finished watching this and decided to do some cursory review scans, only to find incredulously that I am in the minority here in that I LOVED this adaptation of one of Marvel's baddest bad-asses. I felt that I needed to come to the defense of this film, much the same way that I did (in person) of last year's equally brutal and seemingly universally reviled (except to some Burmese rebels), Rambo. Punisher: War Zone, while not the definitive take on the comics anti-hero, is the best adaptation yet. And no, that's NOT just like saying that Faces of Death VI is "the best one yet", or my recent flareup of syphillis is the "best one yet"; there is quite a bit to like in this newest flick...
The Punisher was always one of favourite comic characters as a kid, because he actually scared me, and it seemed like he could kick anyone's ass, even though he had no super-powers. That made him more real to me. He's very simply a vengenace-driven killing machine, a sort of good serial killer. Like a shark. The various comic offshoots and mini-series and one-offs that the Punisher character has been involoved in over the years are many, and I won't go over them here, as they aren't incredibly important to the enjoyment of the film. Here, though, they've thankfully done away with the white boots and gloves and outfitted our Punisher-du-jour with quasi-realistic uber-S.W.A.T. gear and a vast armory. Reprising their roles from the comics are Punisher's weapons supplier/verbal conscience Micro (played with an understated fatalism by Seinfeld's Wayne Knight. . . .? NEWMAN!) and arguably Punisher's greatest foe (along with Kingpin), Billy Rusotti, or Jigsaw (The Wire's Dominic West), who ranges from cartoonishly bombastic to terrifyingly unhinged. A cast of side characters fill in the plot holes, but that's not what we're here for...is it? The Punisher himself is played by icy-exteriored Ray Stevenson, who does the most credible job yet of he, campy Dolph Lundgren and surly fuck Thomas Jane.
I'm not one of those fan-boys that's all "wahhh, they did away with Punisher's white boots and gloves" (this ain't Quadrophenia kiddies) - in fact, I don't even give a fuck that this is a Punisher film at all. They could have just called it "Vigilante" or "Taken", except those are already used...hell, just call it "Guy in Black Fux Shyt Up" or even "Untitled, with Gun". I don't care, what matters is that this is the most rip-snorting, coolly nihilistic, and brutally violent (sometimes shockingly so, in the best way) action films I have seen since Rambo. I need about one of these a year, and just when my adrenaline levels were starting to sink back to normal, this comes along. Perfect. However, this film is between a cock and a hard place in that it can't win with the fans, and it's really not the type of film to get critically lauded in any circles. 'Cept here.
An esteemed colleague got me thinking recently when he mentioned that Dancer in the Dark was a "gut-punch to American society". Well, when Frank Castle literally puts his fist through a mob henchman's face (seriously), and starts laconically tossing out lines like "It's eye for an eye" (when justifying his actions to a cop) and - the best - "Let me put you out of my misery" (right before he tosses a skewered Jigsaw into a fire), I though to myself, "man, this is the sort of film Lars Von Trier wishes he could make". Also, I would love to see a Punisher/Gomorra mash-up. I would do one if I had the technological know-how. If someone decides to do another take on Punisher, I hope it's the Born story, which deals with Frank Castle's Vietnam-era metamorphosis into Punisher. Dark stuff for dark times.
Not that it matters to most out there, but in any case, if you dig brutally violent action films, broodingly vengeful antiheros and/or paintball, I say Punisher: War Zone - WIN.