|Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle in “Punisher: War Zone,” released September, 2008|
Set for a September, 2008 release, "Punisher: War Zone" promises to be a darker, more violent filmic version of Marvel Comics’ Punisher than previously seen on the silver screen, and largely influenced by the acclaimed MAX series by Garth Ennis. Director (and world kickboxing and karate champion) Lexi Alexander, who won much acclaim with her 2005 film "Green Street Hooligans," is directing the picture, and spoke with CBR News about the Ray Stevenson-starring adaptation.
Asked whether "Punisher: War Zone" takes place in its own world or in the Marvel Universe, where Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four might be hanging around, Lexi Alexander told CBR News, "It definitely is its own world. We do call it the Marvel New York, because, rather than have it take place in the ‘real’ New York, I wanted it to have a bit of a surreal feeling."
Of course, there is a good deal of curiosity among fans as to how this new film would relate to 2004’s "The Punisher" starring Thomas Jane. "The last Punisher movie was really not relevant compared to what we are doing in ours," Alexander said. "None of our team really looked at that and said, what can we do similar or what can we do different? It’s a completely different reboot. The mythology stays the same, but I have a very, very different take on it. I’ve put Castle in an environment where he belongs."
Alexander reaffirmed the new film will be much darker, come with a "hard R" rating, and said producer Lions Gate Films has allowed her to use as much violence as she likes. "I like doing violent movies," Alexander said.
The director draws heavily on the MAX "Punisher" series for this film. "What comics fans will realize immediately is that it feels a lot more like the comic," remarked Alexander. "We really wanted to make it as close to the MAX series as possible, and I think we’ve accomplished that."
Alexander also spoke to the advantages and disadvantages of working on a big-budget studio movie compared to smaller films like her "Green Street Hooligans." She explained the advantages include a bigger crew and more resources, but with this comes greater responsibility to ever-increasing numbers of people. However, Alexander said she "got lucky with this being my first studio movie," because Lions Gate has given her considerable creative control.
Regarding the film’s subtitle, "War Zone," the director said, "It has something to do with the ending. The ending really justifies the title ‘War Zone.’"
The ratio of gunplay to hand-to-hand combat in "Punisher: War Zone" will be "about 70 % gunplay, 30% hand-to-hand," Alexander said. "I love hand-to-hand and I love putting on these fights; that’s the background I come from. But when I studied Castles’s biography, there is a lot more gunplay in there." Nevertheless, Alexander said there will be a good deal of hand-to-hand fighting in the film, utilizing the many martial arts styles the Punisher has at his command. The director also indicated her favorite kill "has something to do with a headbutt."
Alexander joked about her renowned martial arts experience, and teaching the big, macho actors. "I have a lot of people hired that do the fighting, to teach the actors the fight choreography," she explained. "Every now and then, I’ll jump in when I see an elbow doesn’t sell or a punch that doesn’t sell. Ray [Stevenson, who plays Castle,] will say ‘I can’t believe this little midget is teaching me how to fight!’ They all think I can kick their ass," the director laughed.
When asked about the presence of the villain Jigsaw in the story, which is partially based on "Welcome Back, Frank" by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, Alexander said the character was already in the first script she read. "At that point I really wasn’t familiar with him," she said. "When I read it, I fell in love with this character, I just think he’s a great villain."
Obviously, the cast has changed completely from that of the previous Punisher film. Alexander said Ray Stevenson was ideal for the role of Frank Castle. "He’s really, really intense," the director remarked. "Not only does he look like the Punisher, he’s really intense. His whole life is in his face, and, you know, you can see that he’s had a life."
About Dominic West’s ("The Wire," "300") portrayal of Jigsaw, the director praised his acting skills. "He’s a real British theatre actor, he has a real range," Alexander said. She also declared, "people will see a side of him they haven’t seen before."
The actors also embody their characters off-screen, according to Alexander. "When you have these guys at the dinner table, personally, you can see the characters are in them," she explained. "Ray will sit there and not say anything the entire time, while Dominic will be up and entertaining people."
That a woman is directing a film like "Punisher: War Zone" has been a hot topic for some observers, but Alexander indicated that there was never a suggestion by the studio or by Marvel that this would be a problem. "They see me as a director; I don’t think my being female was ever an issue," Alexander said. She also reminds Punisher fans that she has directed violent, action-oriented movies before.
As to what Punisher comics she enjoyed reading as part of her research for "War Zone," Alexander mentioned an episode from early in the MAX series. "Something that stayed in my mind–but it’s not in the film– was Castle is in his street clothes, his wife has just died. And this neighbor comes over to comfort him, and in the course of their conversation reveals that he’s been having an affair on his own wife. Castle screams at him,’I’ve just lost my wife and you’re telling me you’re having an affair?’ Then he just says, ‘Run.’ And he doesn’t, so Castle throws him through the roof!"
Now discuss this story in CBR’s TV/Film forum.