Mania Grade: B-
39 Comments | Add
Rate & Share:
- DVD: Punisher: War Zone (2-Disc Special Edition)
- Rating: R
- Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz
- Written By: Nick Santora, Art Marcum
- Directed By: Lexi Alexander
- Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
- Original Year of Release: 2008 (Theatrical), 2009 (DVD)
- Extras: See Below
- Series: Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone (2-Disc SE)
War Zone is the most faithful depiction of the Punisher yet
By Tim Janson
March 24, 2009
Ray Stevenson in Lionsgate's Punisher: War Zone(2008).
© Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Robert Trate
A funny thing happened on the way to my hating Punisher War Zone, it actually turned out to be not that bad. It’s certainly a film that divides many mainstream critics from comic book fans. Relentlessly and shamelessly violent and gory, Director Lexi Alexander sought to capture the look of the grittier Punisher of the Marvel Knights and MAX imprints, particularly the stories written by Garth Ennis and the art of Tim Bradstreet. This film distances itself from the previous film almost completely, only acknowledging the timeline of the murder of Frank Castle’s family. That episode is completely changed from the family reunion on the small island, to just Castle and his wife and children having a picnic in the park. In this regard it is certainly closer to the comic book version of Castle’s story. In fact, Ray Stevenson looks very much like the 70s version of the character as drawn by artist Ross Andru. He’s a more mature character, battle-hardened and with an already receding hairline.
The plot is simple and straight-ahead. The Punisher’s existence and activities are well-known to law enforcement and even though he is suspected of hundreds of murders, the police are in no hurry to capture him as his victims are all members of the criminal underworld. In fact, the “Punisher Task Force” is kind of an inside joke within the force, relegated to one cop working out of the basement who aids the Punisher as much as he can.
Castle storms the mansion of a powerful mob boss, killing virtually everything that moves. Only Billy Russoti (Dominic West) and a couple of his henchmen escape. The Punisher eventually catches up to Russoti and cause him to fall into a machine that crushes glass, leaving Russoti’s face a horrifying, stitched up mess. Russoti takes the name “Jigsaw” and vows to do anything he can to kill the Punisher.
The previous Punisher film did the obligatory origin story, a melodramatic and overlong bit of drivel that took an hour to establish the Punisher character. Here, the sappy sentimentality is done away with and the basis for his vendetta against the mob is covered in a flashback that lasts only seconds. It deviates from the intense action only for a subplot involving the widow (Julie Benz) of an FBI agent and her daughter who is caught in the middle of the war between Castle and Jigsaw. And what action there is! I don’t think I’ve seen as many heads and faces blown off as I have in Punisher War Zone. The “Saw” horror series has nothing on this film in terms of blood and gore.
Ray Stevenson is the best Punisher yet although that’s not saying much. He has more personality than thick Dolph Lundgren and the angst-ridden Thomas Jane. Dominic West was a scream as Jigsaw. The influence is obviously the first Batman film. There, Batman causes Jack Nicholson to fall into a vat of chemicals, scarring him into the hideous visage of the Joker. Here, Russoti falls into the glass crushing machine. Even the scene with the plastic surgeon is reprised. West brings the same sort of insane glee to his role that Nicholson did.
As mentioned, the work of Garth Ennis and Tim Bradstreet are frequently mentioned by the crew as the influences for the film, even down to the limited color palettes, as they kept to a minimum of three colors of varying shades for most scenes.
Is it visceral and overly bloody? Probably but it is also exciting and much more fun than expected. I can see the Punisher being a reasonably successful niche series, much like the Blade films were as long as they continue to keep things simple.
The making of Punisher War Zone (9:00) This featurette covers the production of the film with comments by cast and crew members including Stevenson, Julie Benz, and Colin Salmon. Again it is emphasized just how much the filmmakers wanted to capture the look and essence of the Garth Ennis issues.
Meet Jigsaw (3:35) Dominic West discusses bringing Jigsaw to life, how he approached the role, and the lengthy make-up sessions.
The Weapons of the Punisher (4:35) The Weapons coordinator on the film discusses the over 125 replicas and live guns used during the filming including a look at several weapons such as the M4 rifle, Beretta 9MM, Smith & Wesson 500, and the AK-47.
Training to become the Punisher (5:41) Details Stevenson’s intense physical, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat training for the role. Stevenson has to look authentic switching from weapon to weapon, as well as aiming and firing.
Creating the Look of the Film (2:45) Director of photography Steve Gainer talks about the lighting, use of shadows, and color schemes, all designed to reflect the look of the comics.
Audio Commentary with director Lexi Alexander andDirector of photography Steve Gainer