Monday, December 15, 2008

Punisher: War Zone -- A Guilty Pleasure

So everybody's favorite superhero, me, went out to catch the latest flick featuring everybody's favorite gun toting vigilante...

It was an interesting experience.

Some of you may have seen the Thomas Jane version of The Punisher a few years back featuring the entirely too awesome Kevin Nash. One of the major complaints about the Jane Punisher is that it was set in like Miami or Malibu or somewhere. Punisher is wholly a New York Nutcase and the new film places him squarely in post 9-11 Big Apple. And to be honest, I'm not sure which Punisher I liked better filmwise. The Jane film was decent in that it took the material semu-seriously for the first time, gave us gratuitious amounts of Rebecca Romjin, and focused on grimy anti-hero who numbed the pain with liqour.

The Ray Stevenson Punisher was fun to watch and also focused on a troubled anti-hero numbing his pain, but with religion. One of the big controversies was what the film would be rated. The Punisher is NOT a polished hero who looks good using fists. He is vioent. And where as Batman is a feared character by bringing enemies to justice by beating the living hell out of them, Punisher is judge/jury/executioner all in one. But would Lionsgate neuter Frank Castle (aka The Punisher)?

No. Brutally, graphically, painfully no.

This was the first movie I ever saw Rated R for "brutal violence". It makes the over top violence of Robocop look tame. And in a way, that's this film's major flaw. It is TOO brutal at times and the effects department wanted to create new ways to show a fist caving in a nasal cavity or splattering brains all over the wall. Jane's Punisher only had one "real" Punisher moment when he kills a guy with a combat knife in a nasty fashion. But Stevenson's Punisher reeks of those moments. Now for the die hard Punisher fan, it's great. For the curious minded comic book crowd, it may be too much. And for the pg-13 movie crowd, this fim is the Horrid Grail.

In all these help to expplain the dismal ticket sales. Less than $5 mill in week one. Less than $2 mill in week two. In fact the film only spent One Week in the top ten. Those numbers will probably spell the end of the Stevenson Punisher and will likely shelve the character for a long, long time. But I have always seen the Punisher as a tier 2 or 3 character in Marvel. One that will never get the following of Wolverine or Iron Man. That, to me, helps explain the abysmal numbers. Combine that with a feel good movie season and the fact that Christmas is not the time for obscenely violent films...and the rest is history.

For me, this may very well be, as one writer already said, the greatest B-Movie superhero flick of all time. It reminded me of "They Live" a little bit, but instead of poorly scripted laughs, we get poorly scripetd brutal vigilante killings that even made this hero cringe at times.

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