Thursday, March 26, 2009

Punisher: Warzone

Lexi Alexander | 2008 | 103 min | US

The latest incarnation of the Punisher franchise is absolutely shocking in the frequency and severity of its headsploding violence. From the opening scene on we are treated to blood spraying fountain-like from necks, stumps, et cetera. This is either the best or worst feature of this movie depending on how awesome you are.

And by "best or worst feature" I really mean the only feature. The story is kept paper thin due to it already having been hashed out in two prior films and countless comics. Even for those who missed all of those, things are easy enough to understand: Frank "Punisher" Castle's family was killed by bad men, so now he kills bad men. Punisher: Warzone is thankfully thin on exposition. The only background we are handed in Warzone comes by way of a little clumsy dialogue and a couple brief scenes were the Punisher gets all reflective and misty. In lieu of voice-overs about missing his family, we get right into watching the Punisher kick a chair leg into a dude's eye within the first five minutes of screen time (and about twenty kills in).

The heavy concentration on action scenes was a wise decision, but there is a strange pacing about them. The choreography often goes from frenetic to glacial within the same scene and several battles involve the villians waiting patiently and silently for the Punisher to go about his business rather than, you know, freaking out or shooting his face off. Obviously its silly to expect realism in a film like this, though it is still strange to see the director hop back and forth between gritty, violent drama and comic hero zaniness. Punisher has long been the most grounded of pop comics, so it is odd to see this film approach a Dick Tracy-level of stylization, complete with the same primary colour scheme.

Still, in embracing its trashy essence and doing away with the previous films' origin-heavy veneer of heroism, Punisher: Warzone is easily the best of the three Punisher films. Ray Stevenson deserves a lot of the credit for keeping his teeth clenched and growl-method acting the shit out of this one. No one would accuse Warzone of being a great film, but it is fun as hell and, considering the title's history, is probably better than anyone could have hoped for, let alone expected. But again, be warned: the gore in this movie is has more in common with extreme horror than any action movie outside of Rambo. If that's not for you, stay away.

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