Reviewed by: George 'El Guapo' Roush - 12.01.08
Holy *beep* He just shot that dude in the face!!!
****DISCLAIMER**** This review is for entertainment purposes only. As long as I'm being punished in a good way, then you can continue. If not, then please untie me, because these ropes hurt.
I'm not sure why The Punisher has been such a hard character for studios to bring to life. While I've already admitted to having a soft spot for the Dolph version of the character, it's still a pretty weak movie. The Thomas Jane Punisher, though not his fault at all, was just a bad script and really not what The Punisher is supposed to be. It looks like the third time is finally the charm with Ray Stevenson taking on the role of the vigilante to end all vigilantes.
Straying from the clichéd formula of making audiences suffer through 30 minutes of origin *beep* War Zone starts with The Punisher character already established as a New York crime family killer the cops have been trying to catch for years. Frank is now after another crime family led by Billy Russoti, who later becomes Jigsaw. But how? It's actually a scene reminiscent of Jack Nicolson's transformation into The Joker. During a one man raid in a warehouse, (really, where else would a bunch of bad guys be?) Frank shoves Billy inside of giant bottle breaking machine that looks like an enormous meat grinder. Instead of just shooting him like he did everyone else, he turns the machine on with Billy inside of it screaming in pain. The machine leaves Billy close to death and transforms him from a clean cut gangster into the psychopath known as Jigsaw. Frank now has to deal with Jigsaw and his crazy brother Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson). He also must deal with is own guilt, when he realizes he shot and killed an undercover agent during the raid.
What this Punisher movie does right that the others did wrong is this is a brutal Punisher. This is not a nice person and not someone who bargains with criminals or makes deals with them to further his agenda. If they're in his way, he will kill them. That's it. This Punisher is so hardcore, that I lost count of the people he killed by the third act. Heads getting blown off, bodies exploding, (one scene with a bad guy jumping from a roof and meeting an unexpected demise is awesome) and faces getting punched in so hard they explode, this is the most grotesque Punisher I have ever seen. And you know what? It's about *beep* time. If you have doubts, there is one scene where Frank and two police officers rush into the house of the now widowed (Frank's accidental shooting of her husband) Angela Donatelli (Julie Benz) and her daughter. Jigsaw and his men went there to kill her, but Frank and the others managed to stop them. One of Jigsaw's main guys is handcuffed to a chair in the kitchen when one of the cops tells him he's under arrest. I guess Frank wasn't waiting around for the courts, because he delivers his own brand of justice while holding the daughter in his arms. It's one of the best scenes I think I've ever seen in superhero cinema.
I know there have been a lot of rumors swirling around the net about director Lexi Alexander's supposed firing from the project, (something she herself has denied over and over again.) but I think this has more to do with Lexi wanting to preserve her violent cut of the film. If this movie had been toned down at all, it wouldn't have worked. This is an extremely violent movie. So much so, that I can see why a studio would get a bit scared. But it's this level of violence that works in the movie's favor. You end up wondering just how far this guy will go to punish the corrupt, and he doesn't disappoint. The 3rd act alone is reason enough to see the movie. It's a body count Rambo would be proud of. And the fight scene between Jigsaw and Punisher? Let's just say even the the toughest good guy would try and show some form of mercy. This Punisher isn't that guy.
Another thing that stood out was the lighting. Each scene seemed to have its own color scheme to it, and it kept the movie from having a dull look. I don't mind when a director does something different and since this is based off of a comic book, I actually enjoyed that she took a different approach in regards to the movie's overall appearance. She's also not a stranger to directing action, having done the fantastic Green Street Hooligans. The fight scenes were well put together and easy to follow. Shootouts were fast paced but I could see the action. Something today's film school graduate virgin action directors fail to do. And you know what else I liked? When his guns were empty, he kept them instead of throwing them away. Finally, a guy who uses guns and realizes he may need them again in the future.
There are some things I had problems with. I didn't like the relationship Frank had with the cops. I thought most of the police stuff should have been cut out. I didn't want a side story about the cops wanting to take him in, only to realize they actually need someone like him to get the job done. For me, it wasn't necessary. I also thought the relationship between Frank and the widow and her daughter could have been fleshed out a bit more. I also didn't like some of Jigsaw's scenes that came across as too campy, especially when he's giving a recruiting speech for more soldiers in front of the American flag. Stuff like that takes away from the serious tone of the movie, and I need my villain to be as hardcore and as tough as my protagonist. This isn't to say Jigsaw was done wrong. He wasn't. He's actually a pretty violent guy who also kills in the blink of an eye. I just wanted to see a more serious tone between him and his maniacal brother in most of their scenes together. We also see more Italians portrayed as poor man Soprano knockoffs, but Hollywood hasn't been able to portray us *beep* right anyway, so who cares. We're all a bunch of pasta eatin' goofy asses to begin with, so why not make us look like goofy asses on screen? Doesn't bother me.
Look, this isn't the best movie ever made, but it is the best Punisher movie ever made. And that's what's important here. The violence may turn off some people, but they shouldn't be seeing this if they're afraid of a little blood and guts. Comic book fans worried about another Punisher fiasco can rest easy. This Punisher does what he should be doing. And that's shooting first and asking questions later. Much, much later.