I moved it from the other thread, since this is the more appropiate placing.
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE
The Rampage Review
An 8 out of 10 and A+ comic book movie.
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is a fast paced and unrelentingly violent introduction to the world of the Punisher and one of the top three, must see comic book movies of 2008.
Back in May 2007, when Thomas Jane, lead actor of the previous Punisher film, walked away from the unofficially titled PUNISHER 2 project citing a bad script and amidst rumors of a salary dispute, Marvel Entertainment and Lionsgate Films decided a full blown rebooting of the Punisher movie brand was in order.
(I’m reluctant to call it a franchise since no consistent series of Punisher sequels has ever come to pass, yet.)
It wasn’t long before LGF executives tapped the up-and-coming Lexi Alexander, whose background in the ring as a karate and kickboxing world champion and whose emotional, hard edged direction of successful violent films in the past (Oscar nominated short, JOHNNY FLYNTON and thefeature length GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) made her a natural fit to bring the Marvel vigilante’s mythology to the big screen. At the behest Marvel President Kevin Feige, Alexander reportedly watched one episode of the acclaimed HBO drama ROME, after which she said of actor Ray Stevenson, “that’s my Punisher.”
Lexi then collaborated with writer Nick Santora (LAW & ORDER, PRISON BREAK) on a page one re-write of the script that was even further improved upon by Marvel’s IRON MAN writers, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.
The official announcement of Ray Stevenson’s casting as Frank Castle/The Punisher on July 21, 2007 was the beginning of the history that came to be known as PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. A new era for the Punisher on film that pledged to remain as faithful as possible to the wildly popular and arguably definitive Punisher MAX comic book series written by Garth Ennis.
With that introduction out of the way, time to get into the actual movie.
The movie begins with a very badass intro that consists of a series of quickly cut shots of Frank Castle assembling weapons and tactical gear while a news report of an alleged mob boss, Gaitano Cesare, getting acquitted through a mistrial, on account of a conviently murdered Jury member plays on the television in the background. It's a stylish, yet grounded opening credit sequence that features a powerful, Zimmer-esque score that builds anticipation and pumps up the audience for the mayhem that is to come.
Afterwards, at Cesare's 'beat the rap' party, an ideological clashing point occurs between the old-school, Gaitano led mafia guard and the overly ambitious new blood of don wannabes embodied by the charismatic Billy Russoti. Russoti envisions a scheme to move 'the family' into new lows of moral depravity for profit while Gaitano just seeks to continue business as usual.
Then, the Punisher crashes the party...and he brings hell with him. Within the first seconds of the opening action sequence, it becomes glaringly apparent to all in the audience that this is Frank Castle unleashed like we've never seen him before. It's the most violent, brutal, and 'soldier-like' Punisher ever commited to film. Castle dispenses murder swiftly in the blink of an eye and only Russoti and his crew survive the carnage, making it back to their warehouse seaport to hide out for the night.
And oh yeah, the Punisher crashes that too! Russoti gets his face mutilated courtesy of a glass crusher during the assault and Castle unwittingly kills what turns out to be an undercover FBI agent. Federal agents swarm the scene from all directions with Frank Castle narrowly evading capture.
Guilt ridden, Castle heads back to his private underground lair and decides to pack up his "tent." He has now become the very evil he swore to eradicate. He deserves to be punished and there is only thing left to do.
A permanently disfigured Russoti recovers from a torturous brush with death with his new handle "Jigsaw" and a plan to take over the city by declaring open war on the Punisher under a newfound psychotic aggression. From here on out, PWZ is a bold, blood soaked story of pain, loss, gleeful unrepentent immoraltiy and zero hope of redemption for our lonely anti-hero.
Surprising, that PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is without a doubt, the most FUN I've had at the movie theater all year long! Any knowledgeable fan of Frank Castle will instantly recognize and appreciate the depth of Alexander’s familiarity with the source material.
For instance, there is an excellent scene that takes place in a Catholic Church involving a conversation between the Punisher and a priest named Father Mike. Not only does it include a tip of the proverbial hat to Frank Castle's orgin as a failed seminary student whose inability to endorse the concept of giving salvation to evil deeds forced him to turn his back on dreams of priesthood, but is nicely complimented by a paraphrasing of a quote from Garth Ennis' Punisher MAX WIDOWMAKER story.
Story has it, the quote wasn't even written into the script, but improvised on the spot by classicly trained actor Ray Stevenson. Although, the scene may not be quite as cool as the set up in the comic, the usage of the line is every bit as strong.
All that is brilliant and right about the Catholic Church scene is also the epitome of why the rest of the film works as a whole. The simple, yet effective writing with well crafted plotting and to-the-point dialogue, revealing nuanced moral dilemma and, at times, evoking morbid social commentary on the human condition is EXACTLY how Punisher comics have been written for years. Particularly with the entry of the MAX series. PWZ succeeds on all accounts. Let’s get to the cast…
RAY STEVENSON: Physically, this man is a monster. His giant frame and agility totally sells the action and is essential to his larger than life portrayal which he gives with complete conviction and convincibility.
What's not communicated through plentiful dialogue is channeled through Ray's eyes alone. Methodical, disciplined, and determined, Stevenson's dead on evolution into the title character summons the descriptions found within William Blake's THE TYGER more uncannily than any previous Punisher actor was ever capable of.
COLIN SALMON: Salmon plays morally righteous FBI agent, Paul Budiansky, seeking to redeem himself for past indiscretions by finally arresting Frank Castle, thus offering some semblence of solace to his ex-partner's surviving wife and child.
Salmon's emotionally charged onscreen interaction with Stevenson and Dash Mihok (Detective Soap) is crucial to the pay off of several important scenes and provides for a pretty interesting subplot in and of itself.
His fight scene with Ray is one of the best choreographed and most brutal hand-to-hand combat scenes I've watched in any action movie. While Budiansky's storyline is an original one, it's entirely faithful to his general character development from the Garth Ennis MAX comics.
DASH MIHOK: Mr. Mihok's Detective Soap might be the most genuinely comical and entertaining supporting character in the whole film. The seemingly incopetent lead (and only) investigator on the NYPD's "Punisher Task Force" may be even more intregal to the story in PWZ than he was in the Marvel Knight's WELCOME BACK FRANK mini-series from which the character originated.
His performance is certain to leave a lasting and positive impression on movie goers.
JULIE BENZ: For all of the 'internet b***hing' about Benz being the 'weak link' of the cast, I thought she did a fine job as the newly widowed mother Angela Donatelli and held her own just as well as her male costars.
WAYNE KNIGHT: Knight is perfect as Mirco, armorer and confidant to the Punisher. If I told you more about his role I'd be giving too much away.
DOMINIC WEST: West's first rate, over-the-top, old-school London theater acting elevates a former z-list comic baddie into one of the most entertaining and memorable sociopathic Marvel screen villains since Willem Dafoe's turn as the Green Goblin.
Doug Hutchinson is also a revelation as LBJ (Looney Bin Jim) and perfectly compliments Jigsaw.
The action, story, and subplots come full circle in the 3rd act along with an electric emotional undercurrent when Castle is forced to make an enormously tough decision by the film's scenery chewing antagonist, Jigsaw.
Now, there are at least two ways to rate a comic book movie. One of them is rating it’s ability to stand on it’s own as a film in general. Another is by how it succeeds or fails in representing the essence of the source material as well as how it fares in comparison to other movies of the same genre.
My first numbered rating reflects how I view PWZ objectively as a stand alone film. But as a comic book movie, the first released in theaters since the box office juggernaut and first class cinematic achievement that was THE DARK KNIGHT, in a year when ALL comic book films have been top quality thus far?
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE earns it's rightful spot in a pantheon of excellence, well in the company of great orgin story and franchise spawning movies such as IRON MAN, SPIDER-MAN, BATMAN BEGINS, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, X-MEN, and HELLBOY. Each of these movies and characters satisfy audiences for different reasons and to varying degrees, but all completely triumph in giving the best imaginable cinematic introductions to these characters in a manner that is true to the spirit of the comic books. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is without a doubt an A+ comic book movie in that regard.
Alexander has forever reserved a soft spot in the hearts of Punisher fans all across the globe for breathing life into the first (and only) truly definitive Punisher film in existence.
"Danke Schön," Lexi Alexander!