After listening to the How Did This Get Made podcast about this movie which, lovingly and with the help of its director, Lexi Alexander, tore Punisher: War Zone to shreds, I thought I’d give it a re-watch.
I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Marvel’s black clad vigilante avenger, but have to admit this is largely based on the concept more than the actual comics – though I have read and enjoyed a few – so I also have all three movie iterations of the character in my library (from Lundgren, through Thomas Jane, to Ray Stevenson who dons the body armour here).
Of all three versions each has its merits (ok, maybe not the Lundgren one) but Alexander’s take develops it to a new point based on the issues written by Garth Ennis which certainly up the extremity of the Marvel universe way beyond what anything in the current run of family friendly Avengers movies even hints at.
Having read Ennis’ Preacher series, and a handful of his Punishers, it is very clear that this movie is as close to realizing that kind of comic on film as anyone has ever got. Ennis’ work is known for it’s physically over the top characters, from the subtly named Arseface and Herr Starr to The Saint of Killers and Irish vampire Cassidy which is very much reflected in the villain brothers here, Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim, who personify that grotesque style of character.
The exceptionally visceral action is another element of this recreation of Ennis’ comic book style on-screen. In most modern actioners a certain level of blood and guts are par for the course, here though if a regular movie would have a throat slit we get a decapitation, and this is from the opening action set piece onwards as Frank Castle cuts his way through the majority of the New York underworld over dinner and sets all the gears in the motion.
The story is a fairly simple one, but then I don’t think anyone could ever describe the world of The Punisher as being that complex in terms of its overall scale, so we get a slightly tweaked revenge story which throws in a bit of emotional background for our anti-hero which works very well in this context.
The other comic book element that comes out is through the use of colour in the film. While The Punisher himself is his standard all black with a white skull (albeit more subtly here than in some versions), the background colours often are the total opposite with neon pinks, greens and yellows appearing giving the feel of the seedier side of the city while other scenes feature other colour palettes which reflect the simpler colour schemes of comics (at least up until the 1990s) which gives the film a very well worked sense of heightened reality which is the essence of the Marvel universe.
Ok, so you can probably tell if you’ve read this far I’m a fan of Punisher: War Zone, but I will admit it has its flaws. The main one, I think, is possibly in what I’ve been highlighting as a good point up until now – its recreation of Ennis’ style.
While this is an exciting thing to see for a fan of books like Preacher, for anyone else it might seem simply outlandish and, particularly for a Marvel film (even one tagged Marvel Knights), somewhat out of place.
Also, I’d be the first to admit, that what we are getting here really is nothing new, if it didn’t have The Punisher and Marvel tags it would be a very simple straight to DVD piece that could easily put in a few more moral speeches and have Steven Seagal in one of his fetching jackets replacing Frank Castle.
What sets this movie apart for me though is its sense of knowing style that allows it to revel in its source material and I have to admit that I would love this brand of Marvel (the Knights strand) to get some more movie time and become a sideline within the Avengers cinematic universe of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, et al.