Doom and Doomer: Punisher War Zone

We’ve been talking about Punisher War Zone for a while here at Doomkopf, starting back in February when script problems surfaced and then again in June when the trailer was released.

Doom DeLuise and I caught a showing today and we were literally the only people in the theater! Shucks, how is Marvel going to get word of mouth praise if no one is there to see it? Maybe they thought “make a terrible movie!” was the answer to that koan.

JIM DOOM: DeLuise — you are one of the few fans of the previous Punisher movie. I didn’t see it. Overall, without getting into too many specifics yet, how would you compare this take against that one? Was there anything about this movie in a big-picture sense that struck you as Marvel’s rationale for rebooting the Punisher film franchise?

DOOM DELUISE: Yes. While the last one featured a brooding Tom Jane as the title character, the rest of the movie was, tonally, pretty brightly colored. It featured a cast of mostly comic relief supporting characters, and it seemed a lot more like they were making a movie based on a comic book. This one seemed to want to distance itself by taking the setting to NYC (instead of Miami) and making everything darker and grittier and more violent. It seemed to be an attempt to take the franchise more seriously.

Which, I know, sounds ridiculous, considering the amount of over-the-top gore and absurdity in the movie.

JD: On that criterion of taking the franchise more seriously, how do you think it did? I realize your second statement might take some of the suspense out of that answer.

DD: Well, there’s a reason I used phrases like “seemed to” and “attempted to” do all these things. I think it ended up turning into something different, entirely, that seems even less realistic and quite campier than the 2004 version. It’s hard to compare the two, objectively, because the 2004 version is also quite awful. I just like it because it’s my kind of awful.

JD: Ok, so I take it this wasn’t your kind of awful.

DD: Not in the least bit. We can get back to that, though. Seeings as how you haven’t seen the 2004 version, what did you expect from this movie, and what are your initial thoughts, having just seen it?

JD: Well I never saw the 2004 movie because I thought it looked terrible from the previews. Tom Jane is too pretty, for one. It struck me — solely from the previews — as trying to make a Punisher that the ladies would like. And so once I saw the previews for this version, I was actually really looking forward to it because I thought Ray Stevenson looked exponentially more like how I imagine Frank Castle. Just this tough, mean, war-torn soldier.

It looked like it was playing closer to the comic book. And I guess if the last one was set in Miami, then this definitely did in at least one respect. I haven’t read Punisher comics since I was a kid, but back in the early ’90s I loved it. I think I stopped reading it shortly after he turned black.

But anyway, I think I might have liked this movie a lot more than I did if not for the gore factor. It was as if the blood and guts special effects guy had some dirt on the director or financed the whole movie or something.

I don’t know if it was an effort to make it more realistic, but I think it ended up making it more ridiculous.

I remember some friends having a problem with Two-Face’s face in The Dark Knight, thinking it was too cartoonish and campy. I was shocked by that because I thought his face looked extremely realistic. But there is apparently some point of realism in which we think it looks fake. Maybe that’s because few of us have ever actually seen a head explode, and those of us who have probably don’t want to see it for entertainment.

I do think a lesson to be learned from this is that there are some things that are more effective to an audience when they remain off-camera, subject to the viewer’s imagination. This left absolutely nothing to the imagination.

DD: Which is a pretty damning criticism when you’re talking about something that’s supposed to be based on a comic book, which is easily one of the most imaginative mediums around.

I guess I don’t see the point in trying to be a realistic, gritty action movie, and then including cartoon violence like exploding heads and fists that can cave in faces.

JD: Beyond “what’s the point,” I think the movie would’ve just been better with normal punches and “normal” (by TV / film standards) gunshot wounds, even if blood really does spurt from the body like that.

DD: I read a few reviews of the movie that included mention of the gore being distracting, and that sort of thing always strikes me as a pretty weak argument against a movie, but, in this, it’s just so incredibly pervasive, there’s very good reason to make such a big deal about it.

JD: And you could tell from the opening scene that it was going to be ridiculous. It reminded me of a Nightmare on Elm Street movie — heads flopping, faces disappearing, stuff like that. And Freddy Krueger at least provided jokes to go along with it.

DD: You could argue that a lot of the dialogue in this was stupid enough to be considered a joke. Like, “I’m gonna get my applesauce back.”

JD: Yes, but I don’t know if you could argue that the movie gave any indication that you were supposed to laugh with it.

DD: I don’t think it did.

JD: So let’s talk about specific stuff — was Jigsaw more Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face?

DD: I suppose it was closer to Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face, but I think it was so much worse than that, it’s hard to say they’re comparable. Jigsaw sucks so bad in this movie, it’s absolutely impossible to be intimidated by him.

At least with, say, the Joker, while he’s laughing, you get the idea that he’s got a sick sense of humor and he really finds all this disgusting stuff funny.

With Jigsaw, he just giggles all the time while Loony Bin Jim breaks mirrors and those stupid street thugs do stunt walking and EXTREME backflips

JD: Did you notice the almost verbatim lift of “Jack..? Jack’s dead, my friend. You can call me … JOKER!” Only it was Jimmy or Tommy or Joey or whatever his name was, and Jigsaw.

Don’t forget Jigsaw’s new tiger-striped suits and neon lighting to accent his new face-themed personality.

It’s a good thing the Times square billboard wasn’t showing a crossword at that time.

DD: And his ultra cocky swagger!

JD: So onto a few stupid specifics … so let’s say I’m a criminal mastermind and I want to kill the Punisher. I happen to know where he lives, and I’m building an army of hundreds of well-armed thugs with axes to grind.

Do I 1) Go to the Punisher’s hideout and kill him, or 2) Go to his hideout, kidnap a lady and a kid, and then go hide in an old dilapidated hotel and wait for him to come get me?

DD: That depends. Does the old dilapidated hotel have a giant fire pit?

JD: If it has neon lights to accent Jigsaw’s new face-themed personality, I pick #2.

Secondly, if I am a law enforcement agency who placed an agent undercover inside a mob outfit, and then that agent’s status is discovered by said mobsters, and this undercover agent left behind a widow and a child, and I’m aware of the fact these mobsters might want revenge on the family SINCE THAT’S WHAT MOBSTERS DO, do I 1) use some of my law enforcement might to keep an eye out for this family, or 2) not do that?

DD: Again, that’s a toss-up. If you used your law enforcement might to keep an eye out for this family or put them into witness protection, would there still be a plot to drive the movie?

JD: Oh and here’s another one. Let’s say I’m the wife of an undercover agent, and like the Punisher says, the agent teaches his wife how to take care of herself and her family. So, you know, she knows how to handle a gun, where to shoot, all that kind of stuff. Did he ever tell me to not let my child play out on the front porch unattended while the mobsters might be looking for revenge?

Or lock the back door, for that matter.

Maybe those were lessons he never got to.

DD: Well, he can’t teach her everything, or she’d be able to become an undercover agent herself. He’s gotta worry about his job security.

JD: Good point. Woman needs to know her place.

DD: Ok, I’ve got one. Let’s say we’re members of a giant gang of bad guys ready to kill the Punisher, holed up in an old hotel.

JD: Yeah?

DD: When the Punisher comes to fight us, do we, 1) create traps to kill him or set up spots to ambush him, or 2) hide in the hotel rooms and wait for him to come kill us, or 3) ignore all the gun fire and explosions, hide in an old elevator and smoke a cigarette?

JD: Who invited the fat guy anyway?

DD: Maybe he won a Lionsgate sweepstakes.

JD: I’ve got one. Let’s say I’m a crazy old genocidal Russian mobster, and I want to get revenge on the guy who sent my son to the slammer and broke up a $12 million deal. I happen to know where this guy is — inside of an old abandoned hotel!

Do I 1) Blow the building up, or at least set it on fire, or 2) Walk inside casually and then have my guys calmly put together their guns before shooting at the guys who have been standing there the whole time with guns drawn on us, knowing very well that we will all most likely die?

But hey, let’s say that the FBI agent made a deal with the crazy old Russian, and let him know that there are hostages upstairs, so burning down the building or blowing it up is not an option if he wants the info on where the gang is hiding.

Do I think to myself 1) the hostages are safe, because that crazy old genocidal Russian who seeks revenge on Jigsaw, who is holding the woman and child hostage, won’t endanger the hostages in his quest for revenge because we struck a deal or 2) I just sent a crazy old genocidal Russian with a bunch of armed goons into the building where Jigsaw his holding two hostages that I’m trying to protect?

DD: What about this one: Let’s say I’m the son of a crazy old genocidal Russian, and I’m brokering a deal with a New York mobster to bring a top secret biological weapon into the United States, or something, with about 12 million dollars changing hands somewhere in that convuluted mess. Now, recently, it’s come to my attention that the mobster I’m dealing with has had his entire mob family killed and suffered severe, irreparable damage to his face because of all the heat coming down on him from the FBI and the Punisher.

Then I find out that this mobster’s also been recently arrested. Do I 1) Call the deal off, because it’s clearly become too dangerous, or 2) Go ahead with the deal before looking out a window to see if there are 500 squad cars and 15 police helicopters circling outside?

JD: Hmm, tough one!

I have one!

Let’s say I’m the FBI or Department of Homeland Security or whoever the big strong government was who met with Jigsaw at the police station. Jigsaw tells me that he’s got some biological weapons that he’s going to sell to the Russians, and the deal is going down whether they like it or not, so they can either give him immunity and let him keep the money from the deal, or they can let half of New York blow up and explain why they did nothing.

Do I 1) say to myself, “Well Jigsaw, we have you, so I don’t see how this deal is going to happen either way if you have to be there, and if you have the biological weapons, and if you’re not going to be there, I guess we have nothing to worry about, do we?” or 2) Grant Jigsaw immunity and let him keep the $12 million dollars PLUS give him Micro’s information so that Micro and his mother can be killed, and most likely the Punisher and the widow and the kid, because how else are they going to stop this weapon from destroying New York City?

DD: Well, #2 just seems like top notch police work.

Oh, I have another one!

Let’s say you and I are Jigsaw and Loony Toon Jim. The Punisher has just killed our entire army of thugs, and he’s cornered us to finally end our lives. We have three hostages. We threaten to kill one of them, and we give him the option to choose which one gets killed.

JD: Hmm!

DD: Do we 1) assume that after he chooses, we’ll kill the hostage of his choosing, only to have him start crying and give up, or 2) assume that after he chooses, he’ll probably try to kill us.

JD: Not to mention the fact that we’ve assured him that one of the hostages will indeed die, because there are two of us, and each of us has a gun pointed at a hostage. Do we assume 1) he will realize someone is as good as dead, so he’ll use his one shot to save the person he wants to save, or 2) that he will also shoot the hostage of his choice instead of saving someone in order to make sure that the hostage he chose is really really dead?

For the record, that might be the one instance in which the Punisher did a smart thing in the movie. But he was able to be smart because the bad guys were so so dumb.

DD: And then, do we assume that after he shoots the hostage of his choosing, we’ll 1) Laugh and twirl our mustaches diabolically or 2) kill the other hostage before he has a chance to kill either of us?

That whole set-up was just so dumb.

Oh, here’s another one. Let’s say we’re mobsters looking for hidden money in some lady’s house. Do we 1) threaten her kid until she cracks and tell us where the money is, 2) search through the entire house, looking for places that the money might be hidden, or 3) throw plates and knick-knacks all over the room?

JD: In fairness to Jigsaw, letting Cocoa Puff Jim throw plates around probably kept him out of the way of the actual money search. Otherwise he probably would’ve been trying to lick the safe open or something.

“I love you brother, but maybe now I realize I shouldn’t have indulged you so much.”

“Hey brother Jigsaw, did you know that the average human drinks 16,000 gallons of water in a lifetime?” “Hey Jimmy, I think I saw a mirror over there…”

So my final question: Which is worse, 1. Punisher War Zone or 2. Ghost Rider?

DD: Instead of trucks, I was thinking…helicopters.

JD: We never got a chance to see anyone’s CGI abs.

DD: At least Ray Stevenson didn’t have hair plugs.

Though it would’ve been funny had he said, “Punishment? I’m all out of punishme…oh, wait, no I’m not.”

I think it’d be pretty difficult to make a movie as bad as Ghost Rider, though Punisher War Zone does a great job trying.

JD: Out of Marvel’s two takes on exploding heads, I might actually prefer Ghost Rider. I think I laughed more at that.

What was that part of Punisher where we both laughed out loud at the same time? I remember cracking up a few times but can’t place what happened.

DD: I remember laughing when Frank said, “Sometimes, I’d like to get my hands on God”

JD: There was something earlier than that, I think. This is too bad because I will never ever see this movie again in order to remember.

DD: Oh, and when the monkey guys were flipping around and Frank intercepted one of them doing a backflip with a MISSILE

JD: Oh yeah!

And some of the framing in this was just weird. I realize that centering the foreground is what amateur photographers and children do, but this is a widescreen movie with faces in the foreground only halfway making it into the shot and a completely insignificant and uninteresting out-of-focus background taking up like 200 square feet on the wall in front of me.

DD: Now you’re just nit-picking.

JD: You didn’t notice that?

DD: Oh, yeah, I noticed it. I was kidding. The direction in this was absolutely awful.

JD: Do you have anything good to say about it?

DD: I could sit here and try to think of something, but you might say, “What are you waiting for, Christmas?”

JD: Heyooo!!

DD: I guess Ray Stevenson looks cool as the Punisher, kind of.

JD: Oh you know what, I wonder if early versions of the script didn’t have the kid making a face turn. There were indications early on that he maybe didn’t have the stomach for this line of work and was going to redeem himself. Then he just turned into another generic bloodthirsty goon.

Instead, the guy who gets to redeem himself in death was a guy who was good all along but only suspect because the Punisher doesn’t trust anyone.

And who knew New York City was such a small place? The Punisher Gang got to that house lickety split.

DD: Oh, by the way, did you recognize Fruit Loop Jim from anything else?

JD: He did seem kind of familiar. Where would I know him?

DD: Give him long hair, put him in a forest, have him walking and talking on a loop, chopping wood, claiming he’s been dead for 12 years.

JD: Was he the guy that brought Ben’s dad to the island?

DD: Goodman. Yep.

JD: Goodman’s not the right name. Goodspeed.

DD: Oh yeah. Either way, he used to be in the Dharma Initiative, and he brought Ben’s dad to the island.

JD: This movie has a 7.0 on imdb. imdb users are apparently brain damaged chimps.

DD: well, considering it only made 4.3 million dollars at the box office last weekend, I’m guessing that only the most brain-dead of chimps have seen it to begin with.

JD: and us.

We’re in a different category, I swear.

Ray Stevenson reminds me of Big on Sex and the City.

DD: That bastard!

JD: At least this means that Carrie Bradshaw was gunned down in a park.