Holy cow, folks! We’re out of the woods!!
When I sat down yesterday morning to think about what I wanted to watch in theatres, I had options!! Multiple titles that all felt like they were worth my time and money!!! Would I go north, or go west? Would it be fiction or non-fiction? It didn’t matter! It all seemed so promising.
The joy of summer is the feeling of stepping out into the warmth of the world. To feel life surround you, and get into the fresh air to become one with it.
Summer might well have finally arrived.
#52FilmsByWomen continued this week with PUNISHER: WAR ZONE directed by Lexi Alexander.
As I speak, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is an outlier – an example that is pointed to by people in studios who make decisions while they say “See!”. To date, it remains the only comic book property directed by a woman. The movie made very little money, which became one more bullet in the weapon of “Women can’t…”.
Lexi Alexander is a terrific director, whose previous film GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS is an incredible look at the furious fandom that English football clubs are surrounded with. It starred Elijah Wood who was still basking in his ‘Frodo Afterglow’ at the time, and was very much a harbinger of things to come with its macho stance and antagonistic attitude.
If you are doing your own #52, I’d actually recommend HOOLIGANS over PUNISHER.
WAR ZONE though, needs a bit of table setting to understand its “bomb” status. The film arrived at Christmas of 2008, when the comic book movie era was really starting to figure out what it wanted to be. In the years leading up, properties were doing middling-to-decent business, but there was no talk of world-building, crossovers, or the like. Then that summer THE DARK KNIGHT showed just how much could be done in a single work, and IRON MAN combined with THE INCREDIBLE HULK to tease how films could begin to interconnect.
Then PUNISHER: WAR ZONE arrived.
As it turned the final corner and began to walk its final miles towards its release date, the very ground beneath its feet shifted suddenly and for always. This would have hurt the film’s chances all by itself…if its chances weren’t already slim.
What Alexander does with THE PUNISHER is pull no punches. She keeps his world as violent as it ever was, as nihilistic as it ever was. Wherever Redemption is on the map, this film is the furthest point away from it. None of this is an approach or tone that is unique (though it is freakishly well-executed), it’s all actually quite beholden to the property. Alexander was true to the spirit of The Punisher and let his lost soul wander. She held true to the family ties that drive Frank Castle to do what he does, and pulled no punches where it came to the violent justice he chooses to dish out.
There’s only one problem: Alexander was set-up to fail. Putting aside the fact that what the people want had so drastically changed while this film was being finished, The Punisher is such a ridiculous character that his films were always going to be an incredibly tough sell. He’s a relic of 80’s and 90’s comic book culture where big guns, big tits, and intense violence were considered the best thing to sell comics. His broken moral compass leaves so little for wider audiences to identify with, meaning the demand for another film featuring him (let alone a first) was razor-thin.
So while sexist studio heads might have enjoyed spending so many years as using this as an example of why women can’t direct a successful comic book film, the bald truth of it is that Lexi Alexander made the best PUNISHER film one ever could have wanted…too bad next to nobody wanted it.
The film now stands as an outlier; a handsome, violent, hard boil of movie. Alexander’s talent for action couldn’t be more evident (as would later be re-enforced by her television work on “Supergirl” and “Arrow”). It’s a symbol that we could really do with more Lexi in our lives, and more women directing our fan properties…
…better fan properties, if you please.
Here’s the week at hand…
SWISS ARMY MAN – I could not possibly have expected how much this movie would delight me. More tomorrow.
Streaming/Blu-Rays/DVD’s I’ve Never Seen
EVENT HORIZON – It’s going to take a while before I get the taste of this out of my mouth.
CASUALTIES OF WAR – Between The Row Three Cinecast, and a retrospective at Lightbox, there is a lot of DePalma attention happening this summer. Not a bad thing, but this wouldn’t be my favorite of his by a long shot.
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE – Can we give the Netflix show to Lexi as well?
Streaming/Blu-Rays/DVD’s I’ve Seen Before
TAXI DRIVER – I’m always smitten with just how grimey this movie is.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – TCM had a spotlight on Kubrick last weekend and I tuned-in just in time for this
JAWS – This is becoming something of a July 4th tradition for me.
MIAMI VICE – I don’t care what anyone says, this film is tight.
Boxscore for The Year
123 First-Timers, 82 Re-Watched
205 Movies in Total
How’s about you – seen anything good?