When Warner Bros. announced that an R-rated “Ultimate Edition” of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” would be released for home viewing, my Internet flipped out. The success of “Deadpool” was credited for the idea. There would be extended violence in the home version of the first silver-screen meeting of DC Comics iconic heroes. One can assume the apparent darkness and seriousness of the film will be more of a focus.I don’t think I need more violence from these two characters, and I went into “Deadpool” knowing it would be excessively violent with doses of strong language and sexual content. What bothers me is the perception that rated-R comic book movies are something new. “Deadpool” was touted as Marvel’s first film to get the red-band rating and that just proves how selective our collective memories are. I sat through three “Blade” movies and two versions of “The Punisher” in the theater. Now, those aren’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that includes Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, but technically – and legally – neither is Deadpool.
As for DC, have we really forgotten the event film that was “Watchmen” (2009)? The folks at DC haven’t, because they pegged Zack Snyder to helm “Man of Steel” and bring us the team-up film fans have been waiting for since at least 1986, when writer Frank Miller geared the Dark Knight up in a suit of armor and had him throw down with the Last Son of Krypton.
Let us not forget the independents, as well. “The Crow” (1994), two “Sin City” flicks, and a not entirely successful version of “Spawn” (1997) also carried R ratings.
If you are hankering for a violent, R-rated movie based on a comic book (and the opportunity to tell your friends they are wrong about the status of “Deadpool” as an original), I offer “Punisher: War Zone” for your viewing pleasure.
The 2008 film stars Ray Stevenson, who would get another Marvel gig as the jovial Volstagg in the “Thor” movies. Stevenson took over the role of Frank Castle from Thomas Jane. Their approaches to the character are different, and some of that has to do with “War Zone” not needing to be an origin story. At this point, Castle has been knocking off criminals for a few years, and the underground has learned to fear the skull-shirted vigilante. Jane’s version of Castle was much more tragic. Here, Castle is hardened, focused and much better at his job.
Stevenson was directed by Lexi Alexander, and for those keeping score, she is the only woman to have directed a major superhero movie (Patty Jenkins is directing the 2017 solo “Wonder Woman” film; other women have been in the mix for the director’s chair on other films, but nothing has taken hold). Alexander is a former world champion martial artist and played Princess Kitana for a “Mortal Kombat” touring company. Prior to taking on the Punisher, she directed “Green Street Hooligans.”
Alexander’s action experience helped her to create a film full of what I like to call operatic violence. It’s bloody and gruesome, but it’s beautiful. Watching it, you can see the thought put into each movement and every shot. Pat E. Johnson served as stunt coordinator, and though you may not know the name, there’s a good chance you’ve seen his work. He’s done a couple of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, two “Mortal Kombat” films and got his start doing stunts on Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon.” “War Zone” is expertly edited by William Yeh, who was a member of the editing team on “Braveheart.”
All the film cred is there. No, Stevenson wasn’t an A-list actor and “Punisher: War Zone” didn’t have the budget of its predecessor, but those aren’t bad things. Stevenson is still part of the MCU, and Alexander has been tabbed for episodes of TV’s “Arrow,” and “Supergirl.” We can only hope she gets more action-oriented work on the big screen.
And for those who think “Deadpool,” if not the first R-rated comic book film, will remain the best R-rated comic book film, writer-artist Todd McFarlane is bringing Spawn back to theaters. Eat your heart out, Ryan Reynolds.
“Punisher: War Zone” (2008) is available on DVD and Blu-ray and for streaming from Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes. It is rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use.
Tranchell reads and writes horror fiction, teaches at the University of Idaho, and is secretly training his son Clark to be a superhero. If you’d like to talk about books, movies, music or TV, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 834-1966.