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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Punisher: War Zone - The Review (Text)

First Published Feb 10 2009 (to Facebook)

It's not often I watch a film that completely and utterly blows my mind. The last time this occurred had to be when I watched True Romance for the first time at the age of 16, and witnessed the awe of Tarantino's best ever script being brought to life by Tony Scott and an incredible ensemble cast. I blame that movie for both my inability to hold on to a girlfriend for any reasonable period of time (cos let's face it - there aren't many real-life Alabamas out there, right?), and also my obsession with working stoners into every script I attempt to write (most notably 'Jesus' from "Teenage Wasteland" and that one which was pretty well a rip-off of the Sopranos episode "Pine Barres"). Whilst Punisher: War Zone did not have quite the same impact on me as True Romance did, it was the closest thing to that level of brilliance I have seen since then, and probably ranks #2 on my list of favourite movies.
Punisher: War Zone, for those who don't know (and since I suspect only Ed and Josh are going to read this - you definitely do know), is based on the Marvel comic book character: The Punisher (surprisingly enough). More specifically, it focuses on the Punisher as portrayed in the Marvel "Max" series of comics, which are probably the only comics in existence to use the word "cunt" on a regular basis, and come with an "Explicit Content" warning on the cover. Definitely not kids' stuff.
I was, at first, worried that a woman would be directing the movie. However, having seen the ‘R-Rated’ trailer on youtube(, I decided that even if the trailer had shown every single gore-shot from the movie, that would still be more than enough. It hadn’t! I also later discovered that the director had also previously helmed a project know as “Hooligans”, or as we call it in the UK: “Green Street”. That’s right – the director of fucking Green Street directing a Punisher movie. Two words: FUCK YEAH!
The film opens (I assume – we got to the cinema late so if there was a pre-credits sequence, I missed it) with the Punisher staging a full-scale assault on the Cesare mob family’s mansion , and wiping out almost every member of the family within a matter of minutes, sustaining very little damage himself. Upon leaving the mansion, Castle is confronted by a Police officer who, instead of arresting him, informs Frank that mobster Billy “The Beaut” Rossotti is involved in a deal for “biological material” down at the docks. Frank heads straight over, and messes the mobs’ shit up, knocking Rossotti into a glass bottle recycling machine in the process and horribly maiming him. Unfortunately, during his raid, Frank accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent who was infiltrating Rossotti’s gang, and the rest of the film focuses around Frank trying to protect the dead agent’s widow and daughter from the horribly-mutilated-but-still-very-much-alive Rossotti, who changes his name to ‘Jigsaw’ soon after the accident, presumably to reflect the fact that his face had to be put back together like it was a Jigsaw puzzle...
The storyline is by far the coolest, and also the most believable, of ANY comic book movie I have ever seen, and the action is almost non-stop. Even though it has been altered slightly from the comic books, making Frank younger and shortening his length of “active time” as The Punisher, it still neatly fits in with the keeping of the MAX series. There are copious amounts of blood and gore, which border on gratuitous at some points (for example: the fat dude getting his head blown off in the elevator), and the make-up effects far surpass those seen in blockbusters with ten times the budget (looking at you, Dark Knight).
One of my main problems with The Dark Knight was that the CGI on Two Face looked absolutely shit, and was painful to look at. Jigsaw’s mutilated face, on the other hand, looks utterly convincing, and this keeps you in the movie, rather than throwing you out as The Dark Knight did by distracting you by the absolute shitiness of it. War Zone’s plot is also far superior to that of The Dark Knight (which had possibly the most ridiculous and pointless plot of any movie other than Smokin’ Aces – though Smokin’ Aces pulled it off with a FUCKLOAD more style. For conformation on this, look it up: See what I mean? That movie made less sense than, well, any other movie the whole of could think of! Fuck the Dark Knight!) , and the acting was a whole league above it (I hate to say this, seeing as how I love Christian Bale and everything – but seriously, dude – what the fuck happened to you in that movie???? I’m not saying I could do any better, but having seen The Machinist and American Psycho, I know you sure as hell can!). In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing The Dark Knight really had going for it was Heath Ledger’s Joker who, I’m not going to lie to you, was fucking incredible. However, even Heath’s deranged performance as the Joker was surpassed, in my opinion, by Doug Hutchinson’s turn as Billy Rossotti’s psychotic brother ‘Loony Bin Jim’. If you’ve seen The Green Mile, you’ll know Hutchinson can pull off playing a psycho with ease, but you have no idea just how incredible he is until you’ve seen LBJ – the most psychotic character I’ve ever seen depicted on film. Seriously, this guy makes Tommy DeVito look like Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci references FTW! Oh yeah! ... and by FTW I mean “for the win”, not “fuck the world”). Ray Steveson’s turn as The Punisher isn’t bad, either – with him adopting the classic “don’t fuck with me” expression the Punisher is known for throughout most of the movie (see the cover of “In The Beginning” for the comic book interpretation of this look). His American accent isn’t bad, either. Though he’s no Hugh Laurie (in House, M.D.; not Jeeves and Wooster).
So basically what I’m saying is: Fuck The Dark Knight! Give Warzone all its Oscar nominations, and build a gold statue of Doug Hutchinson on Hollywood Boulevard. At least I would say that if I didn’t fucking hate the Oscars since discovering they awarded one to Roman Polanski – a know paedophile who faces arrest if he ever sets foot in the US. Seriously, guys – I don’t mind you nominating Mickey Rourke – the odd fight or domestic abuse incident here and there is just about acceptable. But a fucking paedophile? Fuck the Academy! If I were famous I’d boycott the Oscars (unless, you know, I was pretty well guaranteed to win one... apparently being an Oscar winner can triple your salary in the movie business). But back to War Zone... Whilst LBJ is by far the biggest attraction of the film, many of the smaller support characters are also highly entertaining – and the movie has probably the coolest list of support characters ever (with the exception of True Romance – Walken and Pitt totally stole that movie)!
Not only do we get the characters of both Micro (played by “Dennis” from Jurassic Park), and Soap – but we also get a shitload of classic bad guys from the comics, too! Billy Rossotti has been given Nicky Cavella’s bodyguards ‘Pittsy’ and ‘Ink’ from the comics, and although Ink doesn’t have his trademark glasses, and his psychotic tendencies are played down (presumably because LBJ was more than crazy enough for both of them), the two of them are still a welcome sight. The use of “The Slavers” Cristu and Tiberiu Bulat as Russian smugglers is also pretty cool – though you can’t help feeling they should probably have been held back in case the producers want to make a sequel... Introducing Black Irish gangster Maginty as a Parkour master was also a pretty awesome idea, and the two scenes he appears in are both amazing.
So much of this film was influenced by the comics it’s unbelievable: The shootout in the mansion, the dialogue, the characters, everything! Even Maginty’s death scene was taken from the comics (though it was in fact Pittsy who died that way in issue 6 of the MAX series...). This is possibly the only comic book movie which the fans will agree does the source justice – and that is something this movie definitely does. By taking some of the classic elements the fans were expecting to see, and adding in new, better elements – such as the introduction of Loony Bin Jim, this movie managed to surpass my VERY high expectations of it – and I believe deserves to be crowned as the best comic book movie ever.
The ending is also absolutely amazing. Taking the standard set up of “bad guy has 2 sets of hostages and forces good guy to make an impossible choice”, but puts an insane twist on it. While Batman Forever (I know I keep referencing Batman Films, but they’re the perfect comparison...) does this with Two Face setting up an insane, half-baked plan which gives Batman more than enough time to save both hostages and defeat him, the showdown at the end of Punisher: Warzone plays out EXACTLY as you would expect it to in real life! No other movie has ever had the balls to do this, and for this, I have decided I love Lexi (Alexander – the director).
The last thing I want to mention in relation to the movie is the fantastic scene where Loony Bin Jim and Jigsaw set out to recruit soldiers from low-income neighbourhoods, which parodies US military adverts so closely that it actually becomes hilarious to watch. The “be all you can be” speech, combined with the American Flag waving behind the two of them is just a fantastic touch, and the best military advertising parody ever!
I’m also pleased to be able to say that, although the director did not want to at first, she eventually agreed to let the Punisher keep his trademark skull for the movie, which the Dolph Lundgren version did not. A lot of people will say the skull is “stupid” or “comic bookie”. But, in fact, it’s very practical. It’s painted on The Punisher’s body armour, and is designed to attract the aim of the Punisher’s opponents away from his face, and towards his heavily protected chest. SO SUCK IT!
In all, I have to say that this movie deserves a 10/10, and I have in fact rated it as such on imdb, which I believe everyone with a shred sanity should do right now. This movie is almost too awesome to exist and I will definitely be buying the DVD (though since I already have the other 2 Punisher movies, I probably would have anyway). I may even see it in the cinema again. IT’S THAT GOOD!
To summarise: See this movie! Fuck The Dark Knight!



5/5 - by far my favourite comic-book movie, it's a solid 5/5 if you like comic book or revenge films. Even if you don't - check it out, because I highly recommend it.

EDIT: Since writing this review, I have gone on to watch the entire series of "The Wire", and would like to just point out how awesome Dominic West is - I didn't even realize he was British until I watched The Wire, so his accent in this must have been pretty damn good.

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