Overlooked & Underseen: Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Let’s just get it right out there, Punisher: War Zone is my favorite comic book movie. Intentional or not, it’s the movie I keep going back to when judging all other comic book movies. Is it hyper-violent? Of course it is; it should be. I hate to use the word “underrated” here but PWZ is definitely overlooked and I really don’t get why.
Once I tweeted how much I loved the film and I got a new follower. I didn’t know who the person was so I looked them up; it was Lexi Alexander. I looked at her bio and realized, for the first time, that the director of Punisher: War Zone was a woman. I had just assumed it was directed by a man. I remember tweeting that I hadn’t realized it was directed by a woman and Alexander said that was a compliment. I’m glad she didn’t take offense, but I had to go have a think about why I just automatically thought the film was made by a man.
Punisher: War Zone is the story of Frank Castle AKA The Punisher (played by Ray Stevenson). His family was murdered in front of him and since that time, he’s been dispensing with New York City bad guys. We first meet Castle when he invades a dinner thrown by a mob boss. In one of my favorite set pieces, he dispenses with everyone at the table in the most magnificent fashion. One person he wanted to get but didn’t was Billy "The Beaut" Russotti (Dominic West). He's essentially a worker for a mob boss Castle has just killed, so Russotti decides he’s going to take over. Later, the two men tangle and Russotti ends up in a glass crusher where his face gets mangled. When he eventually sees what a mess his face is, he names himself “Jigsaw”. When Punisher and Jigsaw finally meet again, the body count is high.
Punisher: War Zone is everything a comic book movie should be; violent, colorful, and over the top. Deadpool made tons of money for being exactly that. (Perversely, I feel asleep about 20 minutes into Deadpool and finished it a couple of weeks later. Maybe it was because Deadpool tempered its violence with sophomoric humor, cause this is serious as fuck.) Punisher: War Zone includes some spectacular kills, including the all-time #1 kill for me: the parkour criminal getting hit with a rocket launcher. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t love that scene? If you haven’t seen it, have a look for yourself:
Punisher: War Zone is extremely violent, but why was anyone expecting anything less? I mean, Punisher punches someone through the face. Not in the face, but through the face. If this movie had come out sometime in the last couple of years, the violence complaint wouldn’t even be an issue. The complaint about the characters being over the top and silly? Again, what are they expecting? It is a comic book movie. Comic. Book. What kind of realism are they looking for here? I think Lexi Alexander made the kind of film to which all other comic book movies should aspire: with well-choreographed fight scenes, good actors (including Stevenson, West, and Colin Salmon), and amazing set-pieces. Also, it looks like how I imagine a comic book movie to look. It’s colorful. None of this drab, almost sepia-toned stuff coming out lately (*cough* DC *cough*). It’s bright, it’s bold, and it’s fun. We’re allowed to enjoy ourselves when we see a comic book movie. It doesn’t all have to be dark, dank, and boring.
Please, do yourselves a favor. Ignore all the critics who knocked this, and give it a watch. Go on, put it on and revel in it. Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Not all comic book adaptations have to be doom and gloom.