A Review of Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone: Nice Try, but Still Retarded

This film is only a winner if you consider it an entry in what my colleague Jonah Spangenthal-Lee has named the Superhero Movie Special Olympics. It is better than Daredevil, sure, and Batman Forever and Ghost Rider and those wretched Fantastic Four movies, and yes, it is much better than both previous Punisher films. It would be the gold-medal winner when compared to all those stinkers. But it's still retarded.

There are flashes of greatness here: As the Punisher, Ray Stevenson is like the comic-book character come to life. He's not the hyperbuff man-child we've seen in most Marvel Comics movies: He's a single-minded psychopath who will fight dirty and shoot the fuck out of anyone who gets in his way. And Dominic West, as a vain mob boss who swims in a whirlpool of broken glass and becomes a disfigured supercriminal, does his best to chew through lines like "Billy is dead. From now on... you call me Jigsaw!" And he almost makes it too.

But besides Stevenson's herculean efforts to bring credulity to a character who's thinner than the pulpy paper he's printed on, all the other actors—especially Doug Hutchison as a maniac who does eeee-vil things like shoot a little girl's dolls for the fun of it (because he's eeee-vil!)—fall prey to the awful script. At times, the dialogue is so bad it's funny ("Don't die on me!" the Punisher barks at a guy with an axe in his chest, and when the guy coughs up some blood to protest, Punisher snaps at him, "Shut up, kid, you're gonna be fine!"), but more often it's just pathetic (Hutchison tries to make "Yummy yummy yummy in my tummy tummy tummy" sound menacing. He fails.)

At least the action is gory and malicious. The Punisher saws the heads off of mob bosses and blows up gangsters 20 at a time. The special effects are often laughably bad, but it's all part of the cheesy fun. And Alexander tries to spin things into places they should not go, imbuing the proceedings with a weird, off-kilter vibe. This movie at once glorifies violence and comments, in a bizarre, performance-arty montage, about the dishonorable recruitment tactics of the U.S. Army recruiters. Characters shoot hostages in the head and complain about health-care woes. These scenes are the kind of thing that makes the movie worthwhile, if only because they momentarily pause the pathetic excuse for a plot.

But Alexander takes quite a few wrong turns: Why is the color palette for the first half of the film a bright neon green and yellow, and why is the second half soaked in the glow of pastel blues and pinks? Why is every single person in this movie, even the child who is supposed to represent innocence and hope, completely creepy? No answers are forthcoming here.

But in the filmmaker's defense, she didn't have a lot to work with. Here is the origin of the Punisher comic book character: Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway went to see Death Wish, and then he ripped off the main character and turned him into a superhero. And though the Punisher's comic book has been weirdly blessed by great writers and artists over the decades, he's not an interesting or good character at all: He's an armed maniac who kills criminals. That's it. Lots of gun perverts really like him, along with the sorts of people who think that litterers should get the death penalty, especially if those litterers happen to be browner than themselves. When they come to see Punisher: War Zone, those people will love all the gore and be confused by the liberal messages woven into the film, and then they will go home and masturbate to Jane's Gun Recognition Guide. The end. recommended

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Comments (15) RSS

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I am very insulted by the way your review ends.

I grew up with the punisher and I am not a gun freak or a racist. The punisher provides the fantasy that good guys don't have to be weak and passive. They can fight fire with fire. The punisher takes the idea of an anti-hero to the extreme. He is a cold psychopathic killer. Think of it as old testament God justice vs love forgivness and rehabilitation of people who do terrible things. With The Dark Knight we are given the premise that to destroy evil one must become evil; Batman refuses to go there. The Punisher does.
Posted by Caballero on December 5, 2008 at 9:15 PM · Report this
"But in the filmmaker's defense, he didn't have a lot to work with"
I hate to be one of those people who corrects in the comments but the director is a she not a he. Lexi is a chick.
And while im at it the movie delivered what it promised. No disapointment here.
Posted by on December 6, 2008 at 3:53 AM · Report this
Backing away from Caballero slooooowly...

Based on your review, I might actually see this - it now sounds agreeably mental where other reviews have made it sound disagreeably dull.
Posted by Al Ewing on December 6, 2008 at 11:04 AM · Report this
Oh gawd, that sounds delectably awful! I'll have to go see it!
Posted by stevedave on December 6, 2008 at 11:31 AM · Report this
@2: Sorry, my fault! I'll fix it. Thanks .
Posted by Lindy West on December 6, 2008 at 12:00 PM · Report this
good review, i'll see what my take on the pallet it.
As far as the Punisher? Well, yeah, he and pretty much all comics share a lot of wish fulfillment and self assurement to their readers. It's a sort of osmotic badassness transfer. To those that don't know, the original Punisher origins made him a Vietnam Marines vet. When he got back home he went to work for the NYC police force. His wife and very young son were senselessly killed during a gunfight between warring mobs in Central Park. Frank lost it and reverted back to this elemental killer. He started to take the Mafia apart one hood at a time.
Comics also deal in archetypes, tropes that we see in stories that crop up all over a culture. Frank Castle has parallels to Roland and to the Green Knight poem. As far as recreation goes..meh. It's mostly harmless, I would think.
Well, as far as Jane's, you got me. But Renault Defense Trucks has some pretty sexy gear too. :)
Posted by sasha on December 9, 2008 at 8:24 AM · Report this
People won't be confused by liberal messages in this movie, they will be annoyed. This article and movie both share the growing problem of the writer pushing agenda, not doing what they were paid to do. For that matter, do you get paid writing in a free news paper, or is it something done in-between shifts at Denny's?

Your assignment was to review a trashy action movie, and you opted to push agenda by demonizing gun people. I know you think its clever or socially responsible...but it's not. It's just mediocre writing. But I guess I get what I pay for.
Posted by Torontogosh on December 10, 2008 at 9:35 AM · Report this
People won't be confused by liberal messages in this movie, they will be annoyed. This article and movie both share the growing problem of the writer pushing agenda, not doing what they were paid to do. For that matter, do you get paid writing in a free newspaper, or is it something done in-between shifts at Denny's?

Your assignment was to review a trashy action movie, and you opted to push agenda by demonizing gun people. I know you think its clever or socially responsible...but it's not. It's just mediocre writing. But I guess I get what I pay for.
Posted by torontogosh on December 10, 2008 at 9:46 AM · Report this
Fun review, but I'm the word usage police. "Credulity" is not the word you meant to use. I think you meant to use "credibility," which is not the same thing. Here they are in a sentence: "Given the film's lack of credibility, it's likely to be enjoyed only by filmgoers who have credulity to spare."

Carry on.
Posted by nolo on December 10, 2008 at 10:02 AM · Report this
I just want to say that I'm really pissed that not one person commented on my comment.

I used all the proper vocabulary like "liberal" and "agenda" and I thought this would get my fellow Republicans stirred up. I even posted it TWICE!

What is this place? Don't people want to hear what we have to say anymore?

The whole world's a Goddamn liberal conspiracy!

Anyway, I'm gonna go stick my tiny dick in a shotgun and jerk off.

Screw you city assholes!
Posted by torontogosh on December 11, 2008 at 12:01 PM · Report this
Heh, looks like a Nanny-Stater needs a nap. Well, sorry for the crassness folks, seems the libtard MO of smear and insults raised its ugly head. It's a shame that the party of compassion and tolerance is so quick to be so ugly. I'm well aware that this behavior is not the majority, but only a small sect of internet tough guys.

FWIW, as much as I enjoy the Stranger, it's not exactly where I would expect hordes of "fellow Republicans" to get stirred up. As far as the double post, the posting time was a bit slower than expected.

Finally, upon thought, I owe the author an apology. While I do not like his style, taking nasty pot shots like I did was uncalled for. This is a very popular periodical, and I'm sure that it takes a great deal of hard work to get a regular spot writing for it. If he thinks talking about healthcare improves a vigilante action movie based of a comic, so be it.
Posted by torontogosh on December 11, 2008 at 1:44 PM · Report this
I'm something special folks!

If you read my last post, I accuse "libtards" of smear and insults, while doing it myself in every post. It takes a special kind of pig-fucker to keep posting this nonsense, and, well, look no further. I love me some pig.

I really am loosing my marbles. It seems I wake up and don't know who I want to be.

Should I insult the author or apologize? I just don't know.

I'm gonna go have "dinner" with sis' now. Who wants fotografs?
Posted by torontogosh on December 11, 2008 at 7:59 PM · Report this
Hey, look, I've been fucking with some dude venting all my anger about prop 8, the economy, and the fact that I'm fighting with my husband (in our hearts). However, as usual, he has brought it to light that playing into stereotypes about southerners or Republicunts (can't resist) is the same line of thinking that drove prop 8 in the first place. While I think Torontogosh is paranoid and too selfish to think about the impact his guns have on the rest of society, the shit I said makes me no better than those that spew hate against us. My Bad.
Posted by torontogosh on December 11, 2008 at 11:09 PM · Report this
It occurs to me that the first Torontogosh was commenting on the article, while the second torontogosh was reacting to the original Torontogosh.

To the first Torontogosh: Thank you for saying what so many of us are thinking, that the media is growing more and more bold in their pursuit to push a liberal and/or socialist agenda. While I don't expect much less from The Stranger, its easy to get frustrated reading an article ostensibly about a movie that turns into an attack on... well, on anyone who is non-liberal. It makes me wonder about the assertion that the Democratic party is the "party of tolerance".

To the second torontogosh: It was good of you to confess to being an impostor, and I understand your frustration over the recent vote over Prop 8 and all that goes along with it, but please know that attacking people hurts your cause irrevocably because it makes people [who don't understand homosexual's desire to be treated equally] want to squash you down even further. It might be a long uphill climb, but you need to do it with grace and purpose. Do not defile your cause with mischief and crudeness.

As for me, I'm a proud gun owner who recognizes that guns really don't kill people... and you all know the rest.

Please consider other countries that have more guns per capita than we do, and yet don't have the violence we do. Then ask yourself why don't they? Its easy to think the solution to gun violence is to take away the guns, but you'd be taking them away from honest citizens who want to protect themselves - you'll NEVER get them away from the people who commit heinous crimes with them. Never. So all you'll do is weaken this already tender society to the point where marshall law will be the only solution. Do you really want that?

And finally to the author: Either stick with flicks that come out of europe that have messages with which you will certainly easily identify, or pick another profession. As a movie goer, I just want to know if a movie is going to be good before I pay the outrageous ticket price, NOT if the movie fits a certain political agenda.
Posted by An Irish Gal on December 14, 2008 at 7:48 AM · Report this
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