MarvelBlog Retro Review: Punisher: War Zone (2008)
In 2008, Punisher: War Zone was released. This movie is technically a sequel to the 2004 movie The Punisher, but don’t worry, Marvel Blog True Believers: so long as you know the basics of the Punisher’s backstory, you’ll be able to pick up and follow along with Punisher: War Zone just fine.
The movie is R-rated and is not family friendly. There are some very disturbing images (just like the Marvel Comics run Marvel Knights by John Figueroa, Alberto Ponticelli, Nathan Eyering, and Comicraft, this movie features lots of gun violence). The Marvel Knights: Punisher: Warzone is available to read on the Marvel Unlimited app right now! However, if you are looking for a mature action movie that will entertain you for every minute of its runtime, consider Punisher: War Zone.
Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone is especially notable for being the first Marvel movie to be directed by a woman, with Lexi Alexander being the director behind this incredibly well executed action bonanza! In fact, when the movie came out in 2008, the Marvel Comics writer Ethan Sacks said, “It may come as a kick to the head to fanboys, but the biggest badass involved in the year’s bloodiest, most testosterone-laden action flick . . . is a woman.”
True, Sacks, very true.
As a former world kickboxing and karate champion, Alexander imbues the movie with exceptional visceral action sequences, including some truly innovative gore. As Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson once told NPR:
You take it in and it’s very visceral and in your face.Real world violence is something she’s thought about a lot … and she’s participated in it and she knows what it feels like to hit and be hit.
Plus, the entire movie has dazzling lighting, from the scenes set in a neon- and candle-lit church to the gorgeous purple spectrum that is used to illuminate the streets of New York City.
Punisher: War Zone features an especially strong performance from one of Punisher’s allies, Micro (Wayne Knight). In fact, the characters of Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) and Micro both serve as examples of positive male role models in a movie that spends a lot of time showcasing toxic masculinity.
During the film, you regularly see Micro taking care of his mother and other loved ones. And while I don’t want to spoil the ending, it concludes with a touching (but bloody) moment involving the two men.
Another interesting aspect of Punisher: War Zone is how it transposes the film techniques that had been popularized in the war movies made during this period, and it utilizes them to show the audience the streets of NYC.
This strategy works for Castle on several levels, considering so many of his stories see him “bringing a war” to street-level criminals, but it also well-serves the character’s backstory as a former member of the United States military.
Plus, it seems hard not to argue that the Defenders shows on Netflix were heavily inspired by this movie, from the violence to the character interpretations to the lighting. Netflix’s Jessica Jones was just so purple – yeah, yeah, I know about Alias – and it tracks that the people who are behind the scenes now would be inspired by the movie from 2008 (and come on, Marvel Blog has already provided to examples of Marvel creatives inspired by Alexander)!
There is a big audience for high thrill action. In this movie, you will see a a guy’s kidney ripped out and eaten, an upside down Punisher kill an entire room of mobsters has he hangs from a revolving a chandelier, and many, many heads roll.
To start the movie, the villain is thrown into a bottle glass crusher that left my wife and friend, exclaiming, “This is a human meatball!” Marvel Blog True Believers, don’t worry that human meatball survives, and he turns into one of the stories main villains, Jigsaw (Dominic West).
Honestly, the makeup and prosthetics team did such a good with Jigsaw’s design that it’s easy to forgot that West is the man behind the mask!
Although critics at the time panned the movie for not being heavy on plot, there is a ton of meaningful exposition between Jigsaw and his brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison), with both characters acting in opposition to the positive displays of masculinity by our titular vigilante and his man in the chair.
While the dialogue can be a bit cheesy to between the two villains, I truly enjoyed when LB Jim asked, “Did I axed you a question?,” before offing one of the members of Castle’s team.
Punisher: War Zone also uses the film’s to villains to critique the U.S. military’s recruiting process, which often goes into poorer neighborhoods to recruit people who are the most vulnerable (you can read an argument against this process here to get more context for the film). This resonates against the war movie tropes referred to earlier.
The villains serve as a way for Castle to literally fight metaphorical demons from his past, and contrasting with other portrayals of the character that focus more on the criminal wrongdoings done to him after he returns home. This incarnation has a villain that combines both elements, villainy and metaphor.
Available to Stream on HBO Max
I don’t remember seeing this film in the theaters the first time it came out, although I think I did. But returning to movie, it struck me how much of an influence the film has had on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Multiverse, and Marvel Comics. Although, of course, the influence went both ways – just watch the movie and think of this panel, and you’ll see what I mean!
Currently, Punisher: War Zone is available for streaming on HBO Max.
Will you be checking out this 2008 action classic? Let us know in the comment section, Marvel Blog True Believers!