Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone 2008
I’d like to take a quick moment before starting this review to talk about video rental stores. Many people say they’re a dying breed, and many big chains have shut their doors for good, but at least here in the midwest, there’s still one chain that seems to be doing just fine. It’s the same one I’ve been going to since I was a kid and I’ve seen it grow and it still appears to be doing well when other stores are closing their gates. I’m not sure what it is they do right, but Family Video is a great place to go. It’s a lot harder for me to browse around on the internet unless I’ve got some inclination of a movie that I want to see, but my favorite section to browse around Family Video is their large 2 for $1 section that features tons of straight to video classics and B movies. That’s where I found this gem of a movie, sadly they didn’t have the Dolph Lundgren version of the Punisher or I would have rented that one there as well. But anyway I watched Punisher: War Zone yesterday evening and I chased it down with a much better movie called The Expendables. They felt surprisingly similar in certain ways, but where War Zone faltered, Expendables flourished.
Anyway, for those who don’t know, the Punisher is a guy named Frank Castle whose family was gunned down and he was left for dead, he was also military trained special forces and he became a force to be reckoned with by punishing the mob families that made themselves above the law. This movie is the third Punisher movie, yet none of the storylines mesh up in any way. The plot is basically an excuse for The Punisher to kill a large number of bad guys in the most extreme way possible. I’m not really squeamish when it comes to blood in movies and I’m not personally a big fan of horror movies, but my wife is so I’ve seen my fair share of them. I’m also not a huge fan of action movies, I’ve only recently seen Die Hard and Lethal Weapon for the first time in the last couple years. The Punisher seems like it’s a good fit for an action movie, and yet the gore and violence in this movie are shown on screen with the amount of blood and detail much more fitting to a horror movie than an action movie. There are spurts of CGI blood everywhere, people disintegrating in to a spray of fine red mist, and large gaping holes in bodies left and right. It felt too much like it glorified the extreme amount of violence rather than having it become a means to an end.
The villain in this movie is another mob guy named Billy, who’s a little crazy and a little vain. He nearly gets dispached by The Punisher in a way fitting any horror movie villain, by dropping him into a glass recycling machine, leaving his body cut by glass to within an inch of his life. He manages to survive however, but his face then becomes a stitchwork of whatever was available to give him a new face and a new identity as Jigsaw, thus making a reference to another popular horror movie that glorifies extreme gore. He and his even crazier brother Loony Bin Jim are after his money who they think is being held by the FBI snitch’s wife and her daughter. Loony Bin Jim is by far the more interesting of the pair, even though his only real claim to fame is that he is total batsh*t crazy. He goes around throwing himself into mirrors to help ease his brother’s insecurities about his new appearance and his one real fight scene with the Punisher has him acting like a martial artist, only crazy.
The Punisher himself comes off as extremely cold, even during the scenes which are supposed to make the audience care about him, he just comes off as being too emotionless to really be cared about. There is a young girl who is supposed to be the analogue for his own daughter that died in his backstory and of course she immediately takes to him even though he seems to have been stalking her and her mother like a pedophile, even though he just wanted to make amends for killing her father who was an undercover FBI agent working with the mob. He doesn’t even have any good dialogue when talking to his enemies, most of the action scenes are just wordless scenes of violence. And his bulletproof vest with the giant turtleneck, whose bright idea was that? It looks ridiculous and it doesn’t even make that much sense that it’s for protection.
There are a lot of good ideas in this movie, but somehow they never come out quite right. I like the idea that The Punisher made a mistake and killed an undercover FBI agent and now feels guilty about it, I like that the agent’s wife says the great line “who punishes The Punisher”, but in this movie, that feels like that’s all the idea boils down to, that one single line. I also liked how he’s been working with the cops who feel like he’s doing what they wish they were able to do, but it’s all unofficial. I don’t like the fact that the entire idea of that revolves around a behavioral psychologist pretty much posing as a cop and the “Punisher task force” who is a total pushover and one of the major sources of comic relief in this movie. I like the idea that he’s helping this family that reminds him of his family that was killed, but I don’t like that it’s pretty much hammered into your head when the girl opens his memory chest and plays with his daughter’s old musical snow globe.
As I said in the beginning, I watched The Expendables the next day and it had a lot of these same concepts in it. It’s about a group of mercenaries hired to take out a rebel leader in another country, and they end up taking the job in order to save a girl. They are all similar in ideals to The Punisher, and yet the concepts that seemingly failed in this movie, felt like they succeeded in that movie, and I don’t think it’s due to a bigger budget or bigger stars. It’s just better writing and better direction. I will say that there were a couple scenes that I really enjoyed. I was surprised by how well I liked Microchip as a character, played by Wayne Knight better known as Newman from Seinfeld. I also liked the part where he was working with the FBI agent who wants to arrest him for the first time, the FBI agent is trying to arrest one of the mob lackeys, Frank blows his head off, and the FBI agent yells in frustration “Oh come on!” It has a few fun moments, and if you’re looking for what is almost an action/horror hybrid just without any scares in it, this might be for you. Anyone else should stay far away from it. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.