Punisher: War Zone - 2008
Director(s): Lexi Alexander
Writer(s): Nick Santora, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway
Cinematography by: Steve Gainer
Editor(s): William Yeh
Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Colin Salmon, Wayne Knight and Julie Benz
Releasing films and consistently having commercial success can almost be considered as mysterious and elusive as the ancient practice of alchemy. Marvel, with their track record, can be regarded as the ones that hold the forgotten knowledge of the way of success. One element that everyone knows is imperative to a movie's reception is timing. And this element, sadly, was missing when Lexi Alexander and Lionsgate decided to drop the most hyper-violent Marvel-adjacent film to date, on the same year as the first Iron-Man and The Dark Knight, it is safe to say that audiences were not ready for the exploding heads. Since its release the film has slowly built up a nice cult following, giving comic book fans a nice break from the sanitized MCU. Let's talk about it.
The story follows The Punisher aka Frank Castle (Stevenson) as he continues his war on organized crime. After taking out most of the crime bosses, he leaves one for dead, only to be found brutally mangled and alive by the police. When Billy (West) sees his new face, he decides that the only way to take over the city is to kill The Punisher under his new alias, Jigsaw. Santora and Marcum understood what made the character fun and took inspiration from many of the panels and story arcs that made him a fan favorite. Punisher is not a character that needs a complex plot; he needs a lot of guns, an endless supply of faceless bad-guys (literally at times) and a few well-timed one-liners. Picking and choosing from the comics-specific scenes, gave Jigsaw an over the top feel that made the world he inhabited surreal, lessening the gore since the film was letting you know it was not taking itself seriously.
Quick note: self-promo, listen to my podcast where we talk about this film as well (War Zone talk starts at the 1hr mark): https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/flyover-state-of-film/id1446795405?mt=2&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
Lexi Alexander, given the violence and gore of the script, could've shot this film in darkness or the term that I've come to loathe made it "gritty." But she decided to drench each scene with neon colors reminiscing of the very same comic panels that inspired the script. The stage is set from the opening scene as the room is bright red from the flare Castle ignited before cutting off the head of the mob, literally. There are countless scenes that Lexi sets up flawlessly with her use of camera angles, blocking and lighting, setting this film apart not only in tone but visually.
Quick note: Jigsaw’s make-up is fantastic - embracing their comic book counterpart and bringing him to life.
Now I get that people weren't expecting this type of film when it came out. And I understand that this type of violence is not for everyone. What I don't get is why it hasn't found a more significant following since its release, outside of the niche cult status it currently holds. But given how there is an 80s obsession now in the zeitgeist, were one-liners and violence are all the craze (see Brawl in Cell Block 99, Mandy, Bone Tomahawk, Green Room), War Zone set out to do precisely that, and in my eyes, succeeded. It feels like a throwback film a la RoboCop, and it pays homage to that genre exceptionally well.
Quick note: Add that to the fact that Hollywood wants to make R rated comic book movies as well, Lexi already did it and knocked it out of the park.
Punisher: War Zone is a straight forward story of a man out to kill as many "bad guys" as humanly possible. And he accomplishes that within his hyper-violent-neon colored world, filled with perfect one-liners and an endless amount of ammo. Lexi crafted a B-movie homage that comes so close to the target that it is hard to distinguish it from the predecessors that inspired its conception. While not for everyone, it is an excellent break from the end of the world stakes of big PG-13 rated comic book movies that come out each year. Lexi Alexander is why I love movies.
Punisher: War Zone is Glass Half Full.
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