Sunday, May 3, 2009

Punisher: War Zone

Directed by Lexi Alexander

Ray Stevenson (the Punisher/Frank Castle)
Dominic West (Jigsaw)
Doug Hutchinson (Loony Bin Jim)
Wayne Knight (Micro)

Punisher: War Zone is half a good Punisher movie. It's fantastically violent, with a body count that would make Stallone and Schwarzenegger proud. It also has the grimy look and casual sadism of an 80's action flick. Whenever the characters shut up and start shooting each other, it's pretty damn entertaining.

But, alas, the screenwriters (at least three) feel the need to make Frank Castle doubt his mission after killing an undercover FBI agent. And they feel the need to remind the viewer, repeatedly, why the Punisher is killing gangsters. And they feel the need to throw in practically every supporting character from the Punisher's comic book history: older characters like Micro and Jigsaw, and then there's Detective Soap from Garth Ennis's Marvel Knights run, and even some obscure characters from Ennis's run on Punisher MAX. Perhaps most ridiculously, they feel the need to make the Punisher topical by throwing in a subplot involving bio-weapons and Muslim terrorists. There's a lot going on, but almost none of it is interesting. And the supporting cast is simply not given enough to do to get the viewer to care about them.

Most tiresome of all are the numerous scenes where the Punisher questions whether he should continue to punish. Presumably, the writers were worried that the Punisher might not be entirely sympathetic, so they wanted to assure the audience that Castle really is a good man who's doing the right thing. But that completely misses the point of the character. The Punisher is fucking nuts and he likes killing bad guys. It's the total disregard for the squeaky-clean rules of a superhero story that makes the Punisher so entertaining to begin with.

The cast is a mixed batch. Stevenson is decent as Castle/the Punisher, but the role doesn't demand much of him other than scowling on cue. West as Jigsaw comes across as nothing more than a half-baked knock-off of the Joker, while Wayne Knight plays Micro like he plays every other role: annoying, fat guy.

So far, the 2004 Punisher with Thomas Jane remains the closest thing to a good Punisher movie. But, at the very least, fans of mindless violence will find plenty to enjoy here.

No comments: