The Punisher (2008)
The Punisher is a bad-ass. Bad-assery, however, is difficult to transfer from comic to screen, but 2008 looks like it may just be the right year for the man of a million bullets.
Lexi Alexander does something that I’d thought to be impossible for a modern action film: she completely minimalizes the use of slow motion (there are maybe two or three slow motion shots in the entire film), and outright refuses to use shaky-cam. This makes the film not only an anomaly, but also worth the price of admission simply because you will be able to see what it is that’s going on.
The cuts during the action scenes can be fast, but are usually just about a fraction of a second longer than you’d usually see. Here, the shots cut away directly after a scene of violence instead of right afterward. This gives a slightly more visceral impact on an already hard-hitting film.
Unfortunately, the heavy use of metal music detracts from a lot of the moments, but is far from the awful soundtrack that accompanied Marvels disaster comic book movie Daredevil.
Easily the strongest suit for the film, the action completely takes over the movie. So much so, in fact, that whenever there is not an action scene playing on the screen, the film almost halts. Luckily, there are enough action sequences to fill that void.
The action in this film is also the biggest leap ahead from its 2004 predecessor, The Punisher. Instead of relying on any sort of stealth means or booby traps, this Punisher attacks head-on like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. And like Arnie in Commando, the Punisher acheives an impressive bodycount. Nothing really new is tried in terms of stuntwork or novelty kills, but shootout purists will likely enjoy a film where this many bullets are fired that actually hit something.
Perhaps this film largest influence was 2007’s Planet Terror. The effects look so similar, and the action done in such a straightforward way, you’d be forgiven if you thought that Robert Rodriguez had come in and done effects and choreography for the film.
The plot of Punisher: War Zone seems like it was written by tearing out random pages of Mark Ennis’s Punisher MAX series, thrown in with a little bit of Batman ’89. Fans of the series will be pleased to recognize imagery and characters from the series, but purists might be upset as to how some of the characters’ stories play out. All in all, it’s pretty much just about the Punisher killing a lot of people and not much else. Colin Salmon’s character has a vague arc, as does Wayne Knight’s, but everyone is pretty superficial. Here, violence in the main character and driving force.
Stevenson’s Frank Castle is so hollow that he makes Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher seem pretty light and likable. There is nothing soft about the man, even when he lets loose a sly grin at a pleading victim or gives a pocket flashlight to a young girl who’s father he’s slain. Stevenson plays the role as a shell of what was, and a killing machine that cuts through adversaries like he was knocking over card houses.
If Tom Jane’s Punisher was angry at the world, Ray Stevenson’s simply doesn’t put too much stake in the subject. He seems to kill because that’s what’s left of what he was. There are moments, however, where Stevenson awkwardly attempts to interact with the people around him. Director Lexi Alexander does a fine job of making these scenes almost painful to watch, as Castle comes off as almost otherworldly bizarre and unable to truly relate, only coming close with the gangbanger who tells him that he’ll meet him in Hell.
” ‘I see you anywhere NEAR Hell and I’m gonna kick your ass!” Frank replies, using toughness as comforting humor to the dying man.
I’d like to say that this film is perfect, but it is not. The villains can never hope to be all that menacing or even memorable when the protagonist of the film can snap necks with the twitch of his feet, and characters often arrive and then disappear as if just to say hello to the audience, and the make-up effects teeter-totter in between great and utterly unconvincing.
However, if PWZ is one thing, it is good action fun. It is neither heavy on style nor is it attempting to ever be more clever of a movie than it truly is. For that, and for the lack of shaky-cam (a downright MIRACLE in this day and age), I give this film a hesitant full ten points.
10 outta 10