In honor of Jon Bernthal being cast as the latest in a line of Frank Castles aka the Punisher for Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix, I thought I’d share with all my favorite scene from the only Punisher film worth the name. The film this scene is from was Punisher: War Zone by Lexi Alexander.
While the casting of Jon Bernthal looks to be a near perfect stunt-casting by Marvel for Daredevil‘s upcoming second season on Netflix, I thought Ray Stevenson’s portrayal as the psychotic antihero in Punisher: War Zone was the best one comic book fans have gotten. Dolph Lundgren was the first Punisher and the less said about him the better. Then Thomas Jane took a stab on portraying the character to some success though still not doling out enough punishing in my book.
With Ray Stevenson we got a Frank Castle who was well into his vigilante killing-spree of the criminal underworld. This was a man possessed to kill in as brutal and efficient manner every violent criminal he comes across. The film itself was so over-the-top that too many thought it was too campy in a violent sense when Lexi Alexander actually tapped into what made the Punisher tick and put it up on the screen. It also helped that Ray Stevenson owned the role he was given.
Jon Bernthal has some big shoes to fill, but with the success of Daredevil the series I do believe he has a chance to make the character his own.
Ghost Rider has always been a niche character for Marvel Comics. The character was born out of an earlier Marvel character named Night Rider. After Marvel writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog had rein-visioned the character into Ghost Rider during the early 70’s it has always remained on the extreme fringes of the Marvel Comics universe. This wouldn’t stop Sony (which owned the film rights to the character) to go ahead and adapt it for the big-screen. 2007’s Ghost Riderby Mark Johnson was the first and failed attempt to turn the character into a film franchise. It still made enough money despite a near-universal panning of the film by critics and audiences alike. This turn of profit is why Sony once again dipped into the Ghost Rider well and come up with 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
This “sort of” sequel ditches Mark Johnson and brings in the dynamic (and I’d say somewhat insane) directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor to helm the film. It brings back Nicolas Cage for the role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. Working from a script by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer one would think the film had nowhere else to go but up especially with the wacky and frenetic filming style by Neveldine/Taylor. To say that this sequel failed to do anything but finally give this film franchise a final nail in it coffin would be an understatement.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeanceditches pretty much most of what transpired with the first film and tries to retcon things for the sequel. I’d say this would’ve been a good idea seeing the first film was truly awful, but what the sequel ended up doing was confuse things even more. The film tries to turn the Ghost Rider persona from just a spirit of vengeance but an angelic being called the spirit of justice which had become corrupted. We get the Devil in the form of Roarke (played by Irish actor Ciaran Hinds) searching for the young boy Danny who is to be his perfect vessel. Johnny Blaze comes into the picture after being recruited by a drunk French warrior-monk by the name of Moreau (Idris Elba whose performance was one of the lone highlights of the film) who promises to exorcise the demon from Blaze in exchange for finding and saving Danny.
This would’ve been a good premise if it had several more drafts of it worked on. Though there’s still a chance the film would’ve still sucked in the end. Even the direction from Neveldine/Taylor (Crank, Crank: High Voltage, Gamer) failed to add any heat to the proceedings. They come up with some unique camera angles and action sequences, but gone was the hyper-realistic and frenetic style they’ve become known for. Their previous films were not stuff to write to one’s film critic circles about but they at least had a sense of fun built into them even if their stories defied any sort of logic.
Even the performances by the cast seemed to be something that barely reached the level of one-dimensional. Nicolas Cage tries to channel his inner crazy by way of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but it’s too little too late to save the film which never found any sort of footing on the side of competent. Really, the only good thing worth of note was my previous mention of Idris Elba as Moreau who chews the scenery every time he shows up on the screen like it was his last meal. This performance alone wasn’t enough to save the film or even make it somewhat entertaining.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeancewas not worth seeing in the theater (especially in 3D though that part of the film was actually quite well done despite being a post conversion) and I’d be willing to admit that it’s still not worth seeing on video unless it was for free. What could’ve been a restart to the series with the inclusion of Neveldine/Taylor instead gives this franchise it’s death-knell and most likely help Marvel get the rights back from Sony. Here’s to hoping that the flaming skull rider stays on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for decades to come.
Ok, the first Ghost Rider wasn’t what one would call something great or even good. I’d say that in the scheme of how we judge films that one was quite awful. Yet, it also had a certain charm which made watching it on cable. Maybe not paying to see it makes it more enjoyable in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way. The fact that 2007’s Ghost Rider actually made a profit is why we have this sequel now set to come out in a couple months.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was suppose to be a sequel, but people involved in the project say it’s a sort of retooling/reboot. Whatever they need to do to make themselves justify this second film is ok by me as long as it’s entertaining in the end. From looking at the trailer, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has less of the camp of the previous film and is all about action. Some of the action scenes look to be ludicrous, but cool looking and having directing-duo Neveldine/Taylor of Crank series and Gamer controlling the project means be prepared for even more over-the-top action.
If this film can be entertaining in a grindhouse way despite it’s flaws (like another early year film of Cage’s in 2011, Drive Angry) then I’d say making this second film would’ve been worth the price of admission (at least a matinee-ticket).
If there was ever a Marvel Comics character who was perfectly suited to star in a grindhouse film it would be Frank Castle aka The Punisher. He’s a character who takes the term anti-hero past its limits and who makes other film vigilantes seem like sissy, choir boys. In December 2008 Lionsgate released a sort of reboot of The Punisher by Jonathan Hensleigh and starring Thomas Jane in the titular role. This time around the role of Frank Castle goes to Ray Stevenson (The Other Guys, Thor, Kill the Irishman) with German-filmmaker Lexi Alexander taking on the director’s reins.
Punisher: War Zone takes much of the characters in the film from story-arcs found in the Marvel Knight’s Punisher MAX series which took the character and his stories into a darker realm of violence. This latest film definitely owes much of it’s darker and more violent tone from that comic book line while at the same time creating a look which brings to mind the garish and over-the-top grindhouse action films of the early 80’s. The film quickly establishes who the Punisher is and what motivates him to take on and kill (heavy emphasis on kill) the criminal underworld of the city. In an opening sequence that probably out-violences every other film released in 2008, the Punisher wipes out a gathering of mobsters in every bloody way as possible. Blood and gore flows and splatters a-plenty in the first 10-15 minutes of this film.
There’s a semblance of a story which involves Castle mistakenly killing an undercover FBI agent which causes him a momentary crisis of conscience, but it really doesn’t last too long as there are more criminals to kill, main and blow up. If there’s one thing the Punisher knows how to do best it’s those three things. Ray Stevenson in the title role doesn’t get to emote much, but does a great job in showing the characters ice-cold ruthlessness paired with a sort of dead-man walking persona which rings true to how the Punisher has been written up of late. His Frank Castle is dead inside and only when he’s the Punisher does he even show any sort of life (even if it’s the barest hint). His foil this time around brings one of the Punisher’s earliest arch-enemies in the disfigured mobster (caused by the Punisher) Jigsaw (played with over-the-top campy relish by Dominic West). Where Castle is deadly serious to the point of morbidity his opposite was all garish with a liberal dose of crazy.
Punisher: War Zone really dispenses with any complexities to it’s plot and just finds reasons and excuses for the Punisher to go on another killing spree against criminals that for some it might not be enough. As a lover of grindhouse and exploitation films what this film offers was enough and really goes a long way in entertaining in such an 80’s fashion. It’s a film that revels in its violent absurdities and campy storytelling. Even the acting by all in the film passes the line of campy and into a sort of Looney Tunes level which makes the extreme violence and gore of the killings more cartoonish than realistic. This was a film that celebrated it’s grindhouse roots from the actors, the filmmakers all the way down to it’s cinematographer and art directors. It’s disposable entertainment and it knows it so doesn’t bother to try and hide that fact and just tries to entertain in every manner possible and then some.