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Review

‘Punisher’ provides audience with unnecessary gore

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December 11, 2008

There is an old Yuletide saying, “Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like the Punisher!” Perhaps I am remembering that wrong, but it nonetheless encapsulates the absurd sentiment that Marvel Knights hopes audiences are feeling this holiday season. “Punisher: War Zone” lumbers into theaters, replacing good will towards men with a sadistic wish to hurt them. This new Punisher isn’t a comic movie; it fits more nicely into the slasher genre and it dumps enough blood to outgun the Saw franchise in the swinging dick contest that is torture-porn.

As this franchise reboot opens on a grimy landscape—one hopelessly conned from the visual style of a Frank Miller comic—I found myself immediately alienated to this re-imagining: gone is the tortured anti-hero, replaced by an amalgamation of the beefed up, stereotypical and boorishly numbing generic action guy.

There is a newly emerging obsession with hitting the reboot button in Hollywood. Whereas comic fresh starts such as “Batman Begins” and “Superman Returns” benefited from the much needed makeover, the Punisher series is here killed in its infancy, strangled by a stubborn refusal to let anything but gruesome spectacle lead the way down a path too-often traveled. Director Lexi Alexander proves nothing except that a woman can make just as bland and terrible an action flick as a man. 

Don’t get me wrong, if your cup of tea is filled with gore, than “War Zone” is the perfect little escape and it will thrill all four of your brain cells required to comprehend such mindless dribble. But for anyone who enjoys the ingredients usually required to define a film, then for the love of God stay away. Read: This film and your brain do not mix.

The basic concept of the Punisher comics is kept intact: after watching his family murdered by the mafia, Frank Castle (Ray Stevensen) vows revenge by hunting the criminal underworld. Typically setting his sights on those who the flawed legal system let slip through the cracks; Castle unleashes his brand of backhanded justice on Jigsaw (Dominic West), a demented, disfigured mob-boss intent on usurping organized crime. Those looking for anything more than this hand-me-down plot thread dangled disjointedly between laughably pitiful and worthless action scenes need not apply.

Perhaps as jarring as the undulating and perverse love affair with blood is the morose attempt at acting. West wants his villain to resonate with the demented power of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but as it stands he comes off as a pitiful MADtv mob-clown sketch, stretched over an unbearably painful 105 minutes. And Stevensen, apparently cast for his brooding physique and lack of shame, has more in common with an infant born from the Dahmer clan. He utters barely a page of dialogue through the entire script and appears to get his jollies off over committing some of the most brutal executions put on film in some time.

This movie’ lack of style even makes it hard to argue this movie as a form of pulpy art. The action is delirious and the acting laughable, the gore is exaggerated and the plot missing.  Whereas most movies of the season are epic, looking to the exclusive Oscar party, “Punisher: War Zone” seems comfortably content outside in the gutter, the cinematic equivalent of a prom-night dumpster baby. The film isn’t a Yuletide treat, it’s punishment!

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.