So on this week’s Podcast (check the video out below) we discussed movies that we didn’t like when we originally saw them but since then so many people have told us that it’s good. Geoff, Nelson, and myself all named one movie that we felt we might have been wrong about.
Geoff said LA Confidential (he’s horrifically wrong about this film), Nelson said Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (he’s probably right), and my movie was Punisher: War Zone.
When War Zone first came out I saw and I wasn’t impressed. I felt it was campy and dumb and basically a more violent version of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Jig Saw and his brother Loony Bin Jim are over the top villains who’s tone greatly contrast against the super serious Frank Castle, and I’m not talking about say the tonal switch between The Joker and Batman, I’m talking about how it seems the Punisher and his villains are from two different movies just edited together like an old Power Rangers show.
This contrast was jarring to me and on my first watch completely took me out of the movie when I was about half way to three-quarters of the way through, for instance when Jig Saw and LBJ are recruiting gang members for the final battle they’re doing it in front of an American Flag George C. Scott General Patton style. It’s corny and pretty lame.
If I were to give Punisher: War Zone a score on my first watching it would have gotten a 2 out of 10.
Eight years later and I’ve finally given the movie a second chance and honestly, it’s not that bad. I think in my first watching of the film I was going in expecting a super serious Punisher movie along the lines of say Batman Begins. That’s not the movie I got, so obviously it didn’t meet my initial expectations.
In this viewing I knew what kind of tone I was in for and as hard as it can be, I went into this second viewing with an open mind, it didn’t hurt that I hadn’t seen the movie in 8 years and forgot a lot about it (not the recruiting scene, that stuck with me), but I took reviews of Patton Oswalt and Marc Bernardin to heart.
This movie, especially the violence is over the fucking top and I found myself cracking up with some of the gore in the movie, like when an FBI agent is trying to arrest an associate of Jig Saw and as the agent is reading the guy his rights, the Punisher just blows the bad guy’s head off with a shotgun. I cackled and carried on with laughter for a minute or two afterwards. That’s what this movie is. I wanted it to be a super serious Punisher Movie when it came out, but that’s not what this movie is and isn’t what it’s trying to be. One could say that this is a true comic book film. It knows when to take itself seriously but also knows it’s about a guy who is in a one man war against the mob and that in real life he’d be dead by now so it knows when to tell us “hey, suspend that disbelief and enjoy this fucking movie, because it’s awesome”.
Overall, the story for this movie is kind of a paint by numbers and has some bloat to it that aren’t necessary, like the FBI Agent Budiansky teaming up with Frank Castle, he was just kind of there and didn’t do much at all for the movie. Frank feeling guilt over accidentally killing Budiansky’s partner at the start of the film was fine, but Frank getting personally involved with the dead Agent’s family felt out of place for the character. Basically the story goes, Frank trying to bust up a Mafia deal kills an undercover FBI Agent (along with a lot of Mob guys) and throws fledgling mob boss Billy into a bottle crushing machine which leaves Billy horrifically scared and turns him into the over the top Jig Saw.
Jig Saw not only wants revenge on Castle but also the dead Agent’s family. So he kidnaps the family and kills a couple of Frank’s friends, not to mention recruiting a bunch of gangs for a final showdown with The Punisher. Of course Punisher rolls in there with a shit tone of guns and wreaks this. My only complaint about the finale of the film is that Loony Bin Jim holds his own with Frank in a fight. No fucking way is that scrawny little psycho going to go toe to toe with The Punisher. I won’t spoil the climax because I definitely feel this is a movie you should watch if you missed it the first time around and if you saw it 8 or so years ago and hated it I suggest you give it a second look.
Lastly I feel I owe director Lexi Alexander a huge apology for just not only writing this film off but also kind of looking at her as the next Joel Schumacher. Her direction of this film is what saves it from being a forgettable paint by numbers action film. Her over the top action scenes make this movie feel at home with 80’s classics Commando, Predator, Rambo III, and Big Trouble in Little China. The fact that her IMDB directing credits only has 9 credited productions to her name is a travesty. With movies like the Expendables, and the new Predator with Arnold on the way, I feel there is a renaissance in over the top 80’s style Action and I definitely think that Lexi deserves a call from a studio making these movies. Also, since DC TV has already tapped her for episodes of Arrow and Supergirl, I think Marvel and Netflix should give her a call for an episode of the upcoming Punisher show, I think it would be a nice full circle for the character and the Director who took a nothing script and turned it into something memorable.
Upon my second viewing of this movie it goes from a 2 out of 10 to a 7 out of 10. Like I said the story is meh, with a lot of Hollywood troupes that don’t fit the Punisher, but the execution by the director and cast make for a memorable and fun action film that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected too. So if you missed this movie the first time or saw it once and didn’t like it, I think you should definitely give it a first or second chance because I think if you go in with an open mind you’ll be pleasantly surprise.