Aim for the head, but touch my heart.

So with zombies, so with anyone, head shots mean they're dead. If you're curious whether a character is dead in a film,  a head shot is pretty much definitive. Imagine all the hand wringing we could have avoided if (spoiler alert) Batman had just shot Harvey Dent in the head. That said, Punisher War Zone adhered closely to this head shot ideology, along with bullets, stabs and punches in all the other "right" places too.


Making a good Punisher movie has always seemed like a no-brainer to me. Extreme violence, monosyllabic leading man, and dark hilarity, used sparingly of course. Garth Ennis has given filmmakers over 100 issues of fantastic source material, much of it cinematic in its own right. 2004's The Punisher borrowed sparingly from Ennis, with nods toward characters from the "Welcome Back, Frank" arc, but not presenting them in any appealing or recognizable way beyond physical characteristics and name recognition. The film also made the giant, egregious error of choosing Florida as its setting, because nothing says darkly dressed vigilante like Miami. Rachel and I caught The Punisher recently on the late night movie, and it was just as bad as I remember with a couple of touches that irked me even more. First, the Punisher's family is massacred in what should be an especially gruesome bit of overkill but instead is largely bloodless and strangely inefficient. Also, while the death of his wife and child is given a good amount of weeping and reflection, the Punisher seems to be less distraught at the loss of the rest of his family. His mom is killed and his first reaction is to do an awesome gun toss to his dad.

"Mom's been shot…lock and load!"

Thomas Jane's Punisher is too pouty and also an alcoholic. Drinking wild turkey with abandon, I'm surprised he was sober long enough to plan any revenge at all. One of the things that Punisher War Zone gets right(as did the Dolph Lundgren film in the 80's) is that the Punisher origin is important but not IMPORTANT. We don't need to see it beyond a couple quick flashbacks and some brief exposition between characters who aren't the Punisher. Case in point, mentioned by Kevin Smith in a podcast I heard this summer, The Dark Knight has zero references to Batman's parents. Kudos and congratulations all around on getting along with telling an actual story about your character.
I find it boring whenever a well established character spends a ton of time dwelling on their origins. With great power comes great responsibility, but let's see Spider-Man fight Doctor Octopus. But I'm getting off track.

From a Punisher movie, what I want is violence, sweet, insane, Holy Shit! violence. Punisher War Zone delivers on this in the first five minutes with a brutal and hilarious massacre of a Mafia dinner. For the sake of the film, the Punisher is a touch more dramatic than he would be in the comic book, cutting the electricity and illuminating the room with a red flair before decaptating the elder Don and twisting his wife's head all the way around. That was the film letting me know that my concerns had been heard and addressed, and that if I waited just a moment, the Punisher was going to slam a chair leg into a dude's eye. And so it came to be.

McCarty read a review that described the film as "85% brutal greatness and 15% forgivable". This is fairly accurate. The subplot involving the Punisher accidently killing an undercover FBI agent was pretty blah, an attempt to humanize the unstoppable killing machine that is the Punisher. The Punisher killing innocents storyline has been mined rather recently in the comics. In the comic book Punisher War Journal, undercover and suffering from psychic brainwashing, the Punisher was forced to strangle a colleagues girlfriend. He's sad about it, doesn't tell the guy, but never considers Not Being The Punisher. Honestly, what else could he do? Go to jail, that's about it. So Punisher War Zone gives us  a few scenes where the Punisher has to exclaim to his gunsupplier that this is it, The Last Job, and he's done. Boo hoo Punisher, go kill some more old mafia people.

This kind of strained moralizing is easy to forgive, since Punisher War Zone makes good on the violence with fantastic scenes like the histerical parkour scene and the sequence in the dead FBI agent's house where the Punisher caves a guys head in with one punch. ONE PUNCH! Cynically, I could see the filmmakers shrugging off the weak aspects of the script saying "They won't mind the scenes with the kid if the Punisher throws this guy off a roof and then jumps on his neck." Filmmakers, you are correct.

Dominic West's performance as Jigsaw is amusingly hammy. Jigsaw isn't anywhere in the vicinity of great villains like Heath Ledger's Joker. West's Jigsaw pales in comparison, just a deformed narcissist with delusions of grandeur. His early scenes present him as an overconfident Mafia dickhole, and post mutiliation he's pretty much the same guy, just ugly. There's maybe two scenes regarding his mutilation, but other than that, he could be any guy who wants to kill the Punisher. His face helps him stick out in the crowd though. West does what he can with the part, and the exaggerated goomba accent helps plenty.

Ray Stevenson looks just like the Punisher. Perfect casting. He has the presence and authority I want and expect from the Punisher. Of course, this means his performance was a little one note. That note is fucking people up, and I approve.

Of course, this will probably be the last Punisher movie in awhile as it made only 4 million opening weekend, ending up in 8th place. Yowch. Who knew putting out such a violent film during the holiday season would yield such small results? Doesn't matter. Punisher War Zone is the Punisher movie I've been waiting for.

This red band trailer has some of the best pull quotes ever.

 

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