Let me paint you a little picture.
Early February 2009. Snow has brought massive parts of the United Kingdom to a standstill and closed almost everything worth going to. Schools are empty and city centres are deserted. It’s basically 28 Days Later without the pesky monsters.
With the office closed and a free day off work, this action movie fan decides the best way to spend his time is to find somewhere open to see the insanely limited theatrical release of Punisher: War Zone. It’s a tough job, but someone has to risk those roads and the three inches of snow that shut the country down. Taking multiple hours to travel the short few miles to the nearest open cinema showing the Marvel Knights feature, this film literally had an act of god to compete against.
Thankfully, it was all worth it.
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In development a mere months after the Thomas Jane-starring Johnathon Hensleigh-directed The Punisher, War Zone was originally penned in as a direct sequel to the 2004 revenge film. A couple of years’ worth of changes and development hell left fans – yes, despite the critical pounding all of these films take, there is a world of fans for the film series – wondering if a sequel would ever materialise. Fears came to their peak in may 2007 when Jane publicly walked away from the sequel.
“I am, sadly – no, make that heartbrokenly – fuck it – just rip out the heart and stomp it into the pavement a couple of times – pulling out. Punisher fans are already fighting an uphill battle as it is. And I’ve always felt a responsibility to fight that fight for them and with them so that Frank Castle gets the treatment he deserves.”
Devastated doesn’t begin to describe fans’ feelings on that day.
But all wasn’t lost. In fact, things were about to look very promising. In June of the same year, Green Street director Lexi Alexander came onboard the troubled production and brought a breath of fresh air with her. Casting Ray Stevenson (Outpost) as Frank Castle and promising a Punisher film that would be an ode to 80s action movies. And so, Punisher: War Zone was born.
Foregoing the origin story and trusting that we would be ok figuring out that Castle is angry and out for revenge for… something, we are thrown straight into the ultra-violent action with Frank taking out a room full of mobsters, while hanging from a ceiling light fixture and inserting chair legs into the eye sockets of bad guys. And it only gets, err, better(?) from there.
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Rolling in fan-favourite Punisher nemesis Jigsaw (Dominic West) – via a surprisingly nasty Joker-esque fall into a character (and looks)-changing glass recycling machine that takes lovely looking chunks out of his face – was where the film shined. A maniacal bad guy for our maniac anti-hero. It made this a film that could only be described as “Comic Book”. From the level of over-the-top violence to the neon encrusted backdrop, it’s an hour and forty minutes that fell straight from the pages of the Punisher War Journal books. West’s portrayal of Jigsaw is an exaggerated cartoon. Give him a gun and a crazy entourage, it’s a pleasure to watch him drag together a hotel full of bad guys for Frank to fill with holes. It’s a wonder to behold.
Plenty will tell you that Punisher: War Zone isn’t worth your time. But 10 years ago, the guy that braved the sprinkling of snow that seemed to scare the country into panic buying all the bread, milk and Aero Bubbles knew what he was going to watch and came out ready to fight everyone! It was a glorious film back then; and me and the massive following it has will tell you it’s just as glorious now.
Special shout out to Frank Castle’s ability to cave in someone’s face with one punch. Outstanding!