A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 457 – Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone – May 31st, 2011

After last night’s depressing and tiresome gore-fest I was a little leery of putting this in. I mean, we had to according to the project rules and all, but I wasn’t sure I could handle another movie like last night’s. Thankfully, this movie has very little in common with last night’s! Okay, it’s still got Frank Castle, vigilante who takes down mobs. And it’s all gritty and urban and Castle’s got a skull on his chest and a whole lot of guns. But it’s definitely embraced its over-the-top nature and gone storming in with said guns blazing.

The cheese factor here is high enough that it makes things a heck of a lot more fun. Also making things more fun? No brutal backstory lead-up to the action. We get it all in a couple of vague flashbacks from Castle and a bit of exposition from a secondary character. In this one he and his family apparently witnessed a mob hit while having a picnic in a park, so the mob gunned them down too and Castle’s made it his mission to take down as many mobsters as he can. Nice and quick and simple and not at all part of the movie’s plot so we don’t have to care about it aside from motivation! That does a lot to keep the tone of the movie from being so painfully dour as the other one was. This is just pure action cheese, no sympathy for the main character necessary. He’s just a badass with a bunch of weapons and some body armor.

In fact, the main character doesn’t talk for like, twenty minutes. I hadn’t twigged to it but Andy did and it is pretty impressive. He’s just not much of a character and the movie knows that and seems to be a-ok with it. His character development consists of the backstory, two or three moments where he seems conflicted about continuing his bloody mission and some interactions he has with the widow and child of an undercover agent he killed by accident. And as character development for a cheesy action movie goes, that’s pretty good. It’s not too complicated. It’s not too deep. It doesn’t take us anywhere unexpected or more unpleasant than the movie already was. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

Really, this is a pretty mindless movie. You don’t have to think too hard to follow it. Castle goes after a mobster and accidentally kills an undercover agent in the process. Mobster gets all cut up in a bin full of broken glass and renames himself Jigsaw when he gets out. Mobster goes after the family of the downed agent, seeking revenge for losing money, being set up, whatever. Castle, having a soft spot for families and all, tries to protect them even though the widow is justifiably pissed off that he killed her husband. It’s a simple plot really. There’s some stuff with the mobster’s brother, who’s been in an asylum locked in a pretty ridiculous version of four point restraints. He’s a cannibal, it seems, so as one might expect there’s some chewing, and not just of scenery. And then Jigsaw gives a big speech to like, every gang in New York (I seriously expected the Baseball Furies to show up) in front of a projected image of the American flag, inspiring them all to join him to take Castle down.

Yes, I am totally serious. I mean, that’s the sort of movie this is. It’s sort of serious? Except it’s really not. It’s crossed that fine line into cheese and it’s a lot more enjoyable to watch because of it. Ray Stevenson isn’t a bundle of personality as Castle, but he doesn’t need to be. He needs to glower and shoot people. Dominic West isn’t playing a truly tragic villain as Jigsaw and Doug Hutchinson isn’t playing Hannibal Lecter as Jigsaw’s brother, Loony Bin Jim. I mean, look at those names right there. This? This is a comic book movie. No mistake about it. It’s even got a sidekick for the hero. A couple, actually, if you count both his intel and gun provider, Microchip (played by Wayne Knight, who does not get eaten by a dinosaur here but still doesn’t make it out alive) and the cop who’s sort of the Punisher version of Fox Mulder, keeping files on him in the basement of the police station.

It’s all just so silly. There’s a whole lot that seems to have been tossed in just to look cool and give Castle someone to kill, like the three meth junkies who go vaulting off rooftops after making deals with Jigsaw. There’s the ex-banger who works for Microchip, buying back guns from gangs and passing them on to Castle. There’s the army of various gangs who are way too easily dispatched by Castle once the Russians show up and start gunning people down. Oh, they have a reason but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s all done big. There’s not nearly the same amount of chunks slamming each other into walls as last night’s movie had. The action is quick and varied and it moves the movie at a good clip. Which is the way it ought to be.

I can’t say that this is a cinematic masterpiece or anything so fancy. It was never going to win any awards. It’s got some decent eye candy and it’s not horribly acted, if one accepts that it’s meant to be cheesy. But it’s nothing brilliant. The thing is, it’s not trying to be brilliant. It’s taking some comic book characters and a comic book plot and tossing them onto the screen with plenty of guns and ammo and just enough backstory and plot to keep things going. And that’s all it needs to be. Sure, I could have done without some of the so-called comic relief, but it’s not as grating as it could be and given the overall tone of the movie it doesn’t feel completely out of place. It’s a movie that knows its niche and works well inside of it. It’s unrealistic and it knows it and it doesn’t care and that’s fine with me.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Punisher: War Zone

May 31, 2011

The Punisher: Warzone

I didn’t watch this movie before buying it (if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you probably know this is a weakness of mine.) As we put it in tonight I was hoping this would not be as painful as yesterday’s film, and do you know what? It’s not. It’s glorious.

I spent a lot of time in yesterday’s review talking about how unrelentingly violent it was. Well this movie is proof that unrelenting violence and gore can actually be pretty damned awesome. From the very beginning when a big lumbering Frank Castle beheads an elderly Mafia don with a bowie knife and proceeds to stab, slice, dismember and shoot every member of the dinner party you know exactly what kind of movie this is. He hangs from a chandelier and spins around shooting everything. He kills a guy with a chair leg to the face. This is a wonderful, ridiculous gorefest and I loved every stupid minute of it.

Ray Stevenson is our Punisher tonight and he’s a treat. That opening scene at the Mafia dinner party really well sets the stage. This Punisher is a great hulking mountain of doom who spreads cartoon carnage everywhere he goes. I was really impressed by the fact that for the first twenty five minutes of the film he doesn’t have a single line. He just kills bad guys. Lots of them. Gruesomely.

It’s while he’s on one of his deadly rampages that he inadvertently starts the primary plot of the movie going. While indiscriminately wiping out some mob guys he accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent. This causes him considerable anguish. He’s not supposed to kill the good guys. All of this is demonstrated nicely by a still mute Castle as he watches the agent’s funeral from afar and then visits his own grave. It’s a strange contradiction that this big dumb action romp is better put together and better written than yesterday’s movie with its big name actor villain and gritty realistic feel.

In the same fracas Castle drops the nasty traitor from the 300 into a bottle recycling hopper where his face gets mutilated. “Pretty Boy” Billy Russoti doesn’t die though – he survives and becomes The Jigsaw. Jigsaw has two objectives in his new life. Get the money that the undercover FBI agent was supposed to be laundering for him (he assumes that the agent’s widow has it hidden in her house for some reason) and kill the Punisher. He springs his psychopathic brother “Loony Bin” Jim from the asylum and together they set about achieving these goals.

Meanwhile there’s another FBI agent, the ex-partner of the one Castle killed, who is bent on bringing the Punisher to justice (something that the NYPD don’t seem too concerned about getting done.) It’s not hard to guess that Agent Budiansky’s character arc is going to involve him learning to stop worrying and love the Punisher. Still, it’s fun to watch it happen.

There’s nothing particularly surprising or Earth shattering about the plot of this movie. That’s part of its charm, really. It’s a comfortable sort of familiar action film. The Jigsaw ultimately kidnaps the widow and her daughter and holds them, as well as the Punisher’s sidekick Micro, hostage in an abandoned hotel. He goes out and in a hilarious montage that spoofs the opening of Patton he gives a rousing speech to many of the local gangs that the Punisher has terrorised over the years and invites them all to the hotel to trap and kill the man himself. Of course the Punisher slaughters them to a man – it’s just that kind of movie.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. The spewing blood and exploding skulls for example. (I actually cackled with delight at one point when the Punisher punched a bad guy in the face and crushed his skull like an egg – it’s not something you see coming and it’s hilarious.) Then there are the fantastic accents affected by Jigsaw, Loony Bin Jim and the parkour loving dreadlocked black Irish goon Maginty. (Hell, the very existence of Maginty in the first place makes me grin just thinking of it.) The accents are heavy, broad, liberally applied and hilarious.

This whole movie is a hilarious treat. It takes everything that made yesterday’s movie nasty and unbearable to watch and turns it on its head. Do I like this one better or the Dolph Lundgren one better? It’s so hard to say. One is a low budget eighties cheese fest, the other a gory over the top action movie romp. I will say that after watching this tonight I wanted more – I don’t know if anybody will care to get director Lexi Alexander (I want more of her movies now!) and Ray Stevenson back for a second go, but I’d be delighted if they did.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment