Old School Action
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Punisher: Warzone (2008)
26th Aug 09
See previous Punisher movies. Add organ-eating and brutalized old ladies.
Not a sequel to the 2004 Punisher, this third cinematic incarnation of the ultra-violent Marvel series is merely, in effect, the third retelling of the same story. Both previous versions have their own virtues - and the Dolph Lundgren movie beats the Thomas Jane rendition just by having a lot of 80’s exploitation movie charm and chutzpah - but this balls-to-the-wall, dynamically paced, willfully perverse version is by far the most enjoyable. In terms of on-screen carnage, it goes gleefully over the line - way past the line, incidentally, that the MPAA would have allowed to cross for an R rating in the time of the original Lundgren Punisher . It’s the kind of movie where even a senile old woman is found with half her head missing. It’s the kind of movie that gives you new found hope that there are still sick bastards making action movies in Hollywood.
The startling opening set piece sets the tone of Lexi Alexander’s vigorous gore-fest: new screen Punisher Ray Stevenson hangs upside down from chandeliers after gate-crashing swanky bad guy HQ, slicing off heads, ramming chair legs into eyeballs and snapping arms without appearing to break a sweat. If this wasn’t enough to confirm to us just how hard he is, the movie pauses briefly to depict him fixing his own broken nose by shoving a pencil up one nostril. Cue squishy crunchy sounds. And rapturous applause from this sick-bastard-reviewer.
The Punisher, aka Frank Castle, is the kind of uber-efficient vigilante who can notch up a double figure bodycount before you’ve even downed your second Friday night shot of Absinthe. The Punisher movies make no bones about their enthusiastic support of his activities: the bad guys are all outrageously sadistic, OTT grotesques who deserve to be destroyed in the most unpleasant ways possible. As a rule, if someone is being shot in the face, they not only deserve it, but they also deserve to have their legs hacked off as well.
The decimation of Castle’s family, the event that set him off on his “Punisher” life-mission, is referenced in flashbacks and emotional graveyard scenes and, in the years since the tragedy, he has wiped out countless crime families while the cops have their own (not very useful) Punisher task-force. The new slim(mer)-line version of Wayne Knight is the Punisher’s version of Q or Alfred the Butler, albeit without the life expectancy of either. Colin Salmon pretends to be American again. Julie Benz is brunette here and has a role even more thankless than her turns in either Saw V or Rambo: she’s the wife of an agent Castle inadvertently killed. Her autobiography, My Career In Thankless Wifey Support Roles, is out next summer.
Stevenson is a functional, decent but generally uncharismatic Punisher: admittedly, the script doesn’t give him a whole lot to do, but both Jane and Lundgren had a more persuasive screen presence in the same role. It doesn’t matter much, because the villains steal the show anyway. Dominic West is a lot of fun as the heavily disfigured, Frankenstein monster-like “Jigsaw”, and Doug Hutchison - once a liver eating mutant in The X Files - cheerfully walks off with the movie in his first scene as a character aptly named “Loony Bin Jim”. This always-creepy actor is a riot as an axe-wielding, punning psycho, fleeing the asylum in which he dwelled after devouring some poor sap‘s kidney straight from his chest.
Unpretentious and laughing rudely in the face of political correctness, this is a much funnier, bloodier and wilder movie than the previous outings for Frank Castle. It has a pleasant, retro 80’s approach to violence, which means it has no qualms about delivering old-school brutality every few minutes or having characters wave guns routinely at kids’ heads. It’s never dull, has a hilarious punch line (involving Jesus!) and an awesome array of splatter, including exploding heads, a guy’s face destroyed by a single punch and a wine bottle stem through a guy’s throat. Stand-out one-liners are: “Oh, for fuck’s sake” and “Blood in the urine…early signs of kidney failure!”. Watch it at least twice and then show your support for my own particular vigilante quest involving toxic “light entertainment” stars by logging on to www.noeledmondsmustdiehorribly.com. Rejoice.