Sunday, April 8, 2012

Punisher: War Zone (2008) DVD

Rating: 5 out 5 elderly mobsters decapitated at their party

Plot Synopsis:  Frank’s war on the mob results in 2 bad things: the death of an undercover cop and the creation of Jigsaw, a psycho with a vendetta.  Jigsaw takes the war to The Punisher while The Punisher questions his role in all this and contemplates retiring.  When Jigsaw tries to make it personal Frank is forced into a confrontation with not only Jigsaw and crazy ass brother but also all the gang bangers Jigsaw has recruited.

The Good:

-The Punishers origin is handled beautifully.  A scene of him melting down at their grave with a few flashback images of a bloody Frank surrounded by his dead family and some brief exposition by Soap about Frank’s history, the movie establishes a timeline easily with the introduction of a FBI agent getting teamed with Soap and bam, in a couple of minutes we know everything we need to know about Frank Castle: Punisher.  That’s all an origin story needs to be.

-“The alleged Punisher murders, which drawer?” “All of them.” as the camera pans around the basement office revealing the hundreds of case files created by Frank Castles 4 year war on crime.

-The whole opening is great, from opening credits to when Frank creates Jigsaw.  The visuals, the TV news footage setting up his motivation, him preparing for the hit, still images of him at his family’s grave as well as images of things to come in comic book panel style.  When the lights go out and Frank lights a flare to reveal himself to the family he stands ominous and intimidating before owning everybody in the room.

-The colors and the visuals.

-“You Crispy Cream mother fuckers.”

-The cast is very strong, pretty much everyone puts in a good, spirited performance.

-Ray Stevenson is awesome as The Punisher, he’s got the look, the attitude, the physicality and he does an awesome job.

-They picked the perfect Microchip in Wayne Knight.  He understands the war and in some ways is more ruthless than Frank.  When Frank feels guilty, probably the most guilty he’s ever felt since his family was murdered, Microchip is there to remind him that there are acceptable casualties in a war and that he has to keep going.

-Dash Mihawk as Soap, he nails the incompetent, bumbling, down on his luck detective.

-Franks flying elbow onto a mob goon.

-Once again Frank takes a gun pointed at him and puts it to his vitals and tells them to pull the trigger.  Dude’s a badass.

-Jigsaw is pretty fucking crazy.  Crazy awesome.

-Looney Bin Jim has some good moments as well.

-Frank takes out one of Maginty’s men with a RPG while they’re in mid leap.

-“I swear to God!” “How bout you sweet cheeks?  Would you also like to swear on an imaginary friend?”

-Frank puts his fist through Ink’s face.

-“God dammit Castle!” yelled by Budiansky after Punisher shoots Pittsy point blank in the face with a shotgun.

-They establish Jigsaw’s hatred of mirrors and Looney Bin Jim’s desire to break every mirror so Jigsaw doesn't have to look at himself.  After they get arrested they cut to the interrogation room with a broken 2 way mirror and LBJ sporting fresh hand wounds.  I love continuity.

-Frank lives like a soldier, they went the underground route again but instead of it looking like a dwarves blacksmithing hovel it looks like a bare bones military outpost.

-Jigsaw’s patriotic crime speech.

-The whole Punisher party, from start to finish is an awesome shoot out followed by a pretty good climax.

-The last shot, both literally and figuratively.

The Bad:

-They tried to fit too many characters from the comics in and in the process they destroy them.  Maginty goes from a black Irish (literally) hardcore bad ass to a free running jack ass.  Ink and Pittsy go from psychopathic and scary muscle to a fat dude and some kid with a coke habit who instead of going out like bad asses go out like total bitches.  Ink got his name because he killed his first victim with a pen.  He throws up seeing Jigsaws face.  Pittsy lost an eye, was beaten, stabbed, impaled on a fence post in multiple spots, was jumped on by Frank from a high platform and was finally killed with a shotgun blast to the face.  Even after all that he keeps walking towards Frank.  He’s a side character who’s played as “the reasonable” one of Jigsaws gang.  Cristu and Tiberiu Bulat go from vicious Russian slavers to just two assholes who go out like punks.  Tiberiu bit a man to death before shooting a group of unarmed gangbangers.  They wiped out entire villages.  They killed a god damn baby.  Frank had to eviscerate one of them alive to get information and then burn the other one to death.  They both get 5 minute cameos.  I know I shouldn’t place these movies in the context of the comic book but why do they use comic book established characters?  It’s a work of fiction, make some shit up, create new characters.

-“Hey, yo, we need more money!” “Ahhh, you know, we’re doin’ mob stuff with it.  You know like laundering and moving.  At places with names like Pussycat Lounge.  You know, fake mob shit.”

-Looney Bin Jims sudden cannibalism.

-Not enough Microchip, he goes out like a punk and doesn’t get enough screen time.

-The movie descends into cliché and hyperbole a lot.  How Frank interacts on occasions, the church scene, Budiansky is pretty much a stereotype hard ass cop, the whole immunity thing.  The rest of the movie shows that it’s better than this so when it lowers itself it gets frustrating.

-“I’m here to see The Jigsaw.  I’m here for the Punisher party.”

The Ugly:

-I’ve seen this movie close to 6 times and I still can’t figure out where Frank breaks his nose in the opening fight scene.  Maybe it’s with the flying head butt but it’s not really clear.  He just leaves the room sniffing and then sets it in the police car he commandeers.

-You can hardly see the cut when they go from fake Frank nose to real Frank nose (when he set’s his broken nose) but it’s there.  A normal person probably wouldn’t even see it, or be bothered by it, I however am not normal.

-Frank stripper poling the chandelier and then spinning around shooting.  It’s way to impractical for Frank, it leaves him immobile and vulnerable to attack as well as wide open.  Plus it would leave you disorientated from the spinning and all the blood rushing to your head.  Looks cool as hell though.

-Frank wouldn’t kill an undercover agent.  He’s too good, too methodical, he takes his time.  He would know who was undercover where; he would have figured it out.  He wouldn’t put himself in a situation where he would accidently kill an undercover cop.

-Everyone’s pretty sure something biological is going to the rag heads in Queens, what that is and who’s doing it is pretty vague.

-I know him so well I can perform a cliché count to 3 and he’ll come back so pull a couple of Berettas.

-Carlos’ accent sounds pretty stupid.

-Maginty is stupid, his accent is stupid, he looks stupid and his stupid face is stupid.

-Julie Benz has a terrible New York accent which mars an otherwise decent performance on her part.

-They dub in “Fuck!” when Jigsaw clearly says “Shit!” was shit not hardcore enough?  Were you one fuck away from the R rating that you wanted?  Why?

-That is some bullet proof vest.  It takes many high caliber rounds and let’s Frank keep moving like nothing hit him.

Final Thoughts:  I hated War Zone the first time I watched it.  I hated, hated, hated this movie.  Watching it the first time I had to take several breaks, I watched it alone but I yelled comments at the TV, I hated it so much I texted a friend to share my pain.  Then I heard it talked about on the Greatest Movie Ever podcast and decided to give it another shot.  That second viewing sealed the deal for me and after that I loved it.  I don’t know why that was but it took multiple viewing for it to take hold and I’ve watched it a number of times since.  I’ve still seen Punisher (2004) more times, way more times, but this ranks as a favorite.

            The movie is ultra violent with a lot of swearing and maybe that first time I saw it I wasn’t prepared for it or in the mood for it.  Because of that it is definitely a movie I have to be in a certain mood for otherwise when it descends into absurdity or ultra violence I get bored or turned off and have to stop.  But it’s a good movie, it has its charm and the comic influence is undeniable in the visuals.  Also the special features are worth checking out.  The commentary is your standard fare with the director telling you about the movie, at this point I don’t even remember if she was with anyone and if she was who it could be.  But the behind the scenes stuff is pretty interesting in particular the gun training Ray Stevenson went through.  They filmed a room clearing with him and it’s fun to watch especially when the director and the trainers decide to have some fun and change the set up while he’s out of the room and out of earshot.  I won’t spoil it for you.  The movie is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of The Punisher or just a fan of action movies in general.

Punisher: War Zone IMDB

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