Punisher: War Zone (UK - BD)
Marcus brings his neon lights and his skull t-shirt to the 3rd Punisher outing
In the third reboot of the Punisher in as many movies, we catch up with Frank Castle (now played by Ray Stevenson) continuing his never-ending war on crime. The Punisher takes down Gaitano Cesare’s mob family and is in the process of putting their highest earner Billy Russoti (Dominic West) into a glass recycling crusher when he winds up killing an undercover cop. This weighs heavily on Frank and he’s ready to walk away from his life as the Punisher. That is, until Russoti returns, now under the guise of the horrifically disfigured ‘Jigsaw’, and threatens the lives of the dead cop's widow (Julie Benz) and her child.
Historically I couldn’t really care less about the Punisher as a character. I read a handful of the comics, enjoyed a few of his cameos in other titles and generally saw the character as a bit of a one trick pony with very little scope for expansion. The first Lundgren movie adaptation was never a big highlight in my action film watching, and even though I really enjoyed the Tom Jane outing a few years back, it was never a movie that I rushed back to watch. This new outing follows that pattern, though I have to say there is an awful lot to enjoy about it.
The opening mob take down is more than enough to pull any action lover into the fun. The brutality of the shootings as well as the knife play and even the cool use of a chair leg ramps up the Marvel movie violence to a whole new level. In fact the action throughout the entire movie treads wonderfully along that line of entertaining brutal violence, always causing a grin or a “that was awesome!” response, as opposed to feeling the brutality of the acts. Seriously, I don’t know how a point blank shotgun blast to the face can be fun, but somehow within the realms of Punisher: War Zone, you just go with it.
As for the cast, there’s plenty to like here and not always for the reasons you’d expect. Dominic West as Jigsaw is borderline ludicrous, but somehow it works. For starters, I don’t think even West knows what his accent is (I think he’s going for New Yorker, but I can’t be sure) and it proves to be entertainment in itself, but somehow through all of the over-the-topness of his character, there’s a real sense of fun, especially when he gets in that messed-up Jigsaw make-up. To add even more to the ludicrous nature of the bad guys here, Jigsaw is joined by his brother Loony Bin Jim played by Doug Hutchison, who has always played a convincing nut job and excels here, going for the wildly over the top mental case. With the combination of these two, goofing around with a cocky swagger, I couldn’t really help but enjoy, even though every fibre of my superhero movie DNA is telling me to hate it.
As for the big guy, Ray Stevenson’s take on the Punisher is the best yet. I really liked his depiction of a broken man doing what he thinks is right and his struggle of after accidentally killing a cop was real enough to hook you into this character's plight. He also looks pretty damn convincing taking the bad guys down Punisher style—which is fifty percent of what it takes to get this character right. Hell, using an impaled guy's head to break his fall from a high drop was just infinitely cool. There’s that entertaining violence again.
As for the movie itself, I didn’t care for the style they were going for, even if it was replicating the look of the comics. They have the darkness down and even make it feel quite gritty in places but the over use of neon lighting almost becomes a study unto itself. Everything is neon lit, and I mean everything. Railings down to a subway station, train tunnels, sides of buildings, insides of a sealed toy chest, abandoned buildings. Everything is bright green, blue or gold and generally I felt it cheapened the overall effect, even though it was done with the best intentions.
As a final note, if you aren’t considering watching this one, there’s one thing that could and should lure you in: the free runners. Now, if like me the mere sight of a free runner in a movie boils your blood because of how much of a cliché it’s become (with the funky costumes and the ‘cool’ music that comes with it) then you need to watch this movie. I won’t spoil it, but director Lexi Alexander uses these free runners wonderfully almost as a punch line to a joke. They turn up, you’ll hate their stereotypical presence, and then the Punisher crosses their paths. I don’t want to ruin the surprise but it’s almost worth the price of admission alone.
As I mentioned before, the use of bright colours within the frame make for a quite a neon experience, especially when placed against some solid deep blacks (though not quite Batman and Robin neon thankfully). All of this stands up incredibly well throughout the entire movie and makes for a very pleasing HD experience.
Skin textures are all filled with detail, every scar, pore and fleck of stubble is captured incredibly well and while these details are only really shown off in the close ups, many of the locations still have a sharp appearance, that is when they’re not bathed in darkness.
As for grain, it’s really only there to stylise the image, think the Saw sequels and you’ll get an idea. Bright lights, deep blacks and that atmospheric layer of grain, it makes for a gritty feel to the proceedings and it’s works wonders for The Punisher: War Zone.
I totally agree with Gabe in his recent review, on this one: some of the sound effects here are crazy. Gun blasts, blood sprays and crashes are all comic book over the top (the strongest and silliest one being when they take the bandages off of Jigsaw’s face). You’d think they were stripping wallpaper with the goo-ey shredding filling the speakers, but bizarrely the removed bandages are totally clean.
Generally the track is strong, with a nice bit of bass, plenty going on in all of the speakers and really what you’d expect from this sort of outing. My only negative point is I thought the score was woefully out of place. It’s a solid superhero theme, but had no place in this movie and was another awkward choice in the overall style of the movie.
The commentary from director Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer is fun, informative and technical on both film making and on the comics that influenced the movie. Lexi has lots of great, funny stories and enjoys discussing the subject of the humorous violence in the movie.
‘The Making Of Punisher: War Zone' (09:02 HD) is a little too short to be considered more than an EPK, but all involved sell their passion for making this as authentic to the comic books as possible and it’s good to hear Ray Stevenson’s take on his understanding of the character.
‘Training for The Punisher’ (05:47 HD) shows the weapons training, military procedures and role play that Ray Stevenson went through to get into the role and ‘Weapons of the Punisher' (04:39 HD) shows the multitude of different weapons used in the movie.
‘Meet Jigsaw’ (03:34 HD) focuses on the make-up effects for the character and the ideas behind it, while ‘Creating the Look of The Punisher’ (02:46 HD) gives the briefest of looks at the colours chosen for the scenes and what they reflect.
Finally, trailers included are Blu-ray is High Definition, Terminator Salvation, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The International, and Quarantine.
This new Punisher movie looks and sounds great in HD, but the extras are a little fluffy, although the commentary is a good one. I’m not exactly sure what makes this that bit better that the likes of Max Payne or Hitman, but this new Punisher outing is a hell of a lot of fun and even though it runs out of steam way before its closing scenes, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 22nd June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 Spanish, English ADS 5.1, Dolby True HD 5.1 Russian
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Swedish, Hindi, Lituanian, Norwegian, Ukranian, Commentary Subtitles
Extras: Director/Cinematographer Commentary, 'Training to Become the Punisher', 'The Making of Punisher: War Zone', 'Creating the Look of Puniser War Zone', 'Meet Jigsaw', 'Weapons of the Punisher', Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lexi Alexander
Cast: Julie Benz, Doug Hutchison, Wayne Knight, Colin Salmon, Ray Stevenson
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama and Thriller
Length: 102 minutes