Massawyrm says PUNISHER WAR ZONE is the STARSHIP TROOPERS of comicbook movies!!
Published at: Dec. 4, 2008, 5:24 p.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
First things first, Punisher War Zone is not GOOD. Oh, fuck no. It is a stiflingly stupid mess of a film that flings itself repeatedly headlong into a brick wall of absurdity. If you’re one of those guys crawling out of their mother’s basement, wearing a Punisher t-shirt and carrying two prop sub machine guns drooling over how awesome a movie this could really be, this movie might upset you a little. If you lay awake at night dreaming of how Hollywood could make a truly incredible Punisher film if only they listened to you and pulled the movie right out of your head, you might come to curse the name Lexi Alexander. Hell, if you’ve so much as photo shopped your head onto the Punisher’s body and used it as an avatar over on Superherohype, then you are gonna shit yourself with disappointment when you finally see this. Because let me tell you something, Hollywood may never make a serious, real, honest to god Punisher movie.
Lexi Alexander sure didn’t. And you know what? I’m glad she didn’t.
The Punisher is a relic of a bygone era. A product of his time, he began his comic career as a Spiderman villain. An unstable Vietnam vet with an unending grudge against criminals, Frank Castle emerged with his own comic during the rise of the anti-hero in the early to mid 80’s alongside such luminaries as Wolverine and Batman’s reinvention as The Dark Knight. But unlike Bruce Wayne or Logan, Frank Castle wasn’t multilayered or in any way deep. He was a psychopath - a deranged, fucked up killer who lost his family in an act of random violence and in turn became the boogeyman for criminals in New York City. And like the popular boogiemen of the time - Freddy, Jason and Michael Meyers – the best part of watching Frank’s adventures wasn’t to see why he went after certain guys or what their backstory was. It was to see how he was going to kill the next guy and what clever, inventive, devilishly brutal way he was going to go about doing it.
So yeah, as a kid, I fucking loved him.
But a few years ago they put out a Punisher video game that kind of changed the way I looked at him. The cover proudly proclaimed there was something like 100 different ways to punish the guilty – and then challenged you to find them all. The picture was of Frank holding a guy under a drill press, and for a second I though “Awesome! This is gonna kick ass,” only to begin to wonder “Why isn’t there a Nightmare on Elm Street game in which you run around slaughtering teenagers with 100 different ways to punish the kids of Elm Street?” Because that’s all this is. I know, I know. “These guys are guilty! They’re bad guys! It’s okay to delight in watching their slaughter.” It sure is. I love a good slasher movie, myself. But it’s impossible to pretend nowadays that this is anything but that.
It’s not the 80’s anymore. Batman has substance and is conflicted. Wolverine has substance and is conflicted. The Punisher? He’s a cartoon.
And that’s exactly how Lexi Alexander sees him. She doesn’t take this movie seriously for a second. Her approach is identical to that of Paul Verhoeven on Robocop and especially Starship Troopers. This isn’t a movie glorifying The Punisher. This is a film with its tongue placed firmly in cheek, subtly making fun of him every chance it gets. AND I LOVE IT FOR THAT. Not because I think the Punisher is deserving of mockery, but because Alexander gets it. She sees Frank for what he is and set out to make a glorious, deliciously fun romp through his grime covered universe. And in doing so she actually managed to make the most faithful, spot on adaptation of the comic we are likely ever to see.
There are exactly three things she gets right in this that no one will dispute. The first is that, for the first time in history, someone has made a movie in which the Punisher actually shows up. Not that pussy Thomas Jane version. Not Dolph Lundgren and his silly traipsing through the sewers on a motorcycle. THE PUNISHER. When Ray Stevenson first appears in the dark holding a burning flare – you see him. You know it’s him. When he speaks, you hear Frank Castle. Not some lame facsimile. This is one cold, brutal son of a bitch who is going to kill every mother fucker in the room. And then he does.
The second thing she gets right is the origin. Not only does Frank Castle look and sound like he should – his origin is intact. This is not a sequel to the last film. Lexi took a fantastic approach to the last film and said fuck that piece of shit. She went back to the well. There isn’t a single shred of the last movie’s storyline in this. Franks family died in random gang violence. In New York City. And he lives underground where he is helped by a bevy of characters from straight out of the comic book. Comic book fans will love the attention to detail.
And lastly, she made this bloody as fuck. This movie doesn’t play around. The second the shit goes down, The Punisher starts punishing. Guys get decapitated, grenades blow off limbs, bullets rip bloody chunks out of people. And heads…explode…kind of a lot. This thing is soaked in blood from the very first moments of the film until the very end. At times it has this whole Robocop meets Story of Ricky thing going on. He punches through a guy’s head for fucks sake. It’s just silly.
And really, that’s the core of this film. It is camp. Deliberate camp that doesn’t feel overly self-aware. I mean, when a guy gets hit square in the chest with a grenade and just plum vanishes in a puff of smoke on what is OBVIOUSLY a soundstage, you know that Alexander isn’t being serious. The dialog is unspeakable, but often howl-inducing. Just about every actor in the film chews up scenery like they were told it was craft services. And almost every set is a gaudy soundstage drenched in neon. There are just scenes of such absurdity – up to and including Frank walking across the street, in plain view of pedestrians, with guns holstered all over his body – that you can’t for a moment take this seriously. It is gloriously over the top, a hilarious film that perfectly gets The Punisher right while never for a moment taking him seriously. Hell, from the moment Seinfeld’s Newman walks in to sell Frank guns (You can almost hear him say “Hey jerry, guess what I got”) to the Dockers commercial flashbacks of his family life, this movie will make you piss yourself with laughter.
And I love the shit out of it. Like I said, it’s not good. But it’s fun, it’s gory and often times it is quite inventive. It never gets boring and it’s never so bad it hurts. It is always so bad it’s good. This is a midnight movie for folks who love MIDNIGHT MOVIES. Vern is gonna lose his mind over this. The beer-and-buddies crowd is gonna have a field day. And make sure when and if you do go to take a friend to lean over and crack wise with. But don’t take this seriously. For a second. The hardcore Punisher fans? They’re gonna hate the hell out of this. They’re gonna piss vinegar and spit blood screaming about how Hollywood needs to finally take the Punisher seriously. They might even be deluded enough to say that the previous effort was the only good Punisher film. And they would be wrong.
They’re gonna hate this. Unless they’re in on the joke. Like you.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.