THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008)
This week, it's the turn of my second-favourite comic book adaptation of 2008 (no prizes for guessing that the Dark Knight pips it to the post) and my second favourite action movie of that year too (sadly, Rambo is fucking unbeatable there). The Punisher: War Zone divides critics massively, but for my money it's the character's definitive movie appearance. Dolph Lundgren couldn't be fucked to even wear the t-shirt, and Thomas Jane was just a little too wet for my likings. War Zone puts Roman Legionary Ray Stevenson in the skull and stubble, to very literal explosive effect. Punisher: War Zone pits a team of freerunners against a rocket launcher. Welcome back, Frank.
Whereas 2004's adaptation was a non-too-gory origins tale rooted in lighthearted Marvel Knights territory, War Zone takes much of its inspiration from Garth Ennis' seminal MAX imprint work. And when I say 'inspiration', I actually mean 'hardcore violence and gore'. Despite it being arguably a reboot of the franchise, we're spared an origins story and cut straight to the violence and wholesale slaughter of bad guys. It's a wise move by director Lexi Alexander, and one which leaves plenty of room for the introduction of main villain Jigsaw (Dominic West).
During a fracas in an industrial factory, The Punisher/Frank Castle drops mobster Billy Russoti into a glass crusher and leaves him for dead. In a move inspired by Jack Nicholson's Joker, Russoti escapes from what should've been his demise a changed man. With his face torn to shreds, Jigsaw is born. Top of the agenda is claiming revenge on Castle. But there's more going on in War Zone than a simple hero/villain vendetta. Frank is being hunted by Detectives Soap (Dash Mihok) and Budianski (Colin Salmon) whilst also suffering under the weight of his own conscience; during an early shootout, he accidentally kills an undercover cop. Whilst trying to find a way to quit the vigilante game, poor put-upon Frank must also find a way to protect the cop's widow (Julie Benz) and child (some kid). All this and more cannon fodder than you could ever wish for from an action movie.
Where the movie falters is in its occasionally slow pace and awkward tone. Comical characters such as Detective Soap and Loony Bin Jim don't work too well with the ultraviolence and cruelty. It's a bit like having Ace Ventura investigate the latest Saw killings. There's also the horrible feeling that certain characters are being wasted. Wayne Knight's Micro is introduced - only to be dismissed before the movie's end.
Still, War Zone is my favourite Punisher movie so far, and a wonderful little action ditty in its own right. There probably won't be a sequel, but heck... we'll always have Ray Stevenson resetting his own broken nose with a pencil.