Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review: Punisher War Zone

Punisher War Zone is the goriest movie ever made based on a Marvel character, and boy is it a lot of fun.

This third attempt to launch a Punisher movie franchise is by fast the best effort to date. Both of the previous Punisher movies had their moments, but this is the one where a lot of things really came together.

The filmmakers were wise in what they took from various eras. From the Punisher's early years (1970s) we get Jigsaw. Part of his origin here swipes a scene from Batman (1989) but that's forgivable because the rest of the origin is so visceral. From the 1990s we get Microchip. Perhaps not the best effective use of that character, but the movie juggles a lot of characters, mainly cannon fodder, er, bad guys. From the 2000s, we get Garth Ennis' Lt. Soap character, the comic relief, but wisely not quite as silly as in Garth Ennis' comics. And Bradstreet Hotel is undoubtedly a nod to the cover artist during the early 2000s, Tim Bradstreet.

The Punisher himself is well portrayed by Ray Stevenson, a paradox of deadened yet angry at the same time. When he accidentally kills an innocent early on in the movie he is quite shakened without but Stevenson wisely understates the Punisher's emotions rather than going for melodrama.

The movie is not without its flaws: some bits with Jigsaw move a little too close to Jack Nicholson territory, and there's at least one key scene where the Punisher casually wanders into a spot where people should be waiting for him. But the film is so entertaining with its over thee top violence that it's a lot of fun.

Which brings me to my most important point. As previously noted, the film is quite gory. People familiar with the writer-artist team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon on Preacher and Punisher should be able to visualize what they're in for in this movie. The violence is delightfully nasty and over the top, well earning its 18A rating (the equivalent of a US R, which it undoubtedly also received). There is no sex and not that much swearing that I can recall (though there is some), but for the violence alone, please leave your children at home. For that matter, if there's any risk of you vomiting during a movie, leave yourself at home; this is not the action movie for you. The movie is very gratuitous in its kills, arguably cheerfully so. This works well in the Punisher's universe (it's chilling how nonchalant the Punisher is in his kills) but they make sense in his world, and the audience is definitely meant to have fun with the kills. In fact the most tasteful kills are the ones you aren't meant to enjoy. But again, if you're not twisted enough to enjoy some creatively nasty kills, this movie isn't for you.

I on the other hand do enjoy a well-orchestrated bad guy kill so between that and and Roy Stevenson's performance, I give this film a solid recommendation. But don't say I didn't warn you about the violence.


Pamela said...

Thank you Andy - your entertaining and descriptive review has only served to strengthen my resolve not to see this movie. While I might have otherwise been swayed, the fact that there's so MUCH gratuitous gore settles it. That seems to be the deal-breaker for me in movies these days.

Andy E. Nystrom said...

No problem. I agree with one thing that Roger Ebert said: if a review sways a person in either direction to see it, even if it's the opposite of the reviewer's stance, then the review has done its done. While I loved it, it definitely wouldn't be for you.