By "Hollywood" Mel Caylo
Welcome back, Frank!
"Punisher: War Zone," scheduled for release September 12, 2008, is in its last weeks of shooting in Montreal, but director Lexi Alexander took time out to unveil the first image of new "Punisher" star Ray Stevenson ("Rome") and speak to us about the highly anticipated movie, which has a many a Marvel zombie wondering, "Is this a sequel?"
"This is a complete reboot," says the German-born martial artist turned filmmaker, who was recovering from a serious cold she got after shooting in subzero weather for two straight weeks. "[Frank] Castle is one story—the mythology stays the same. The one thing I concentrated on is to really make it as close to the [Marvel] MAX series as possible." That can only mean one thing: violence, and lots of it!
"Punisher: War Zonephoto
"I really like violent movies," Alexander confesses. "[This] will be a hard [rated] R. The feeling of it is going to be much darker [than the previous "Punisher" films]. Comic fans will realize immediately the world we created feels more like the comic book world."
It's that devotion to sticking close to the source material that has Marvel fans pumped for this film, which not only borrows elements and characters from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's 2000 "Welcome Back, Frank" storyarc (the inclusion of Detective Martin Soap, for example), but digs into the entire Punisher universe (like pegging longtime villain Jigsaw as the main baddie) for inspiration.
"We took parts out of the world of Frank Castle and tried to make the best story possible," notes Alexander. The film, which is set in the Punisher's hometown of New York City ("We call it 'Marvel New York' because rather than setting it in real New York, I wanted it to have a little surreal feeling," says Alexander), pits Frank against mobster Billy Rusotti (Billy "The Beaut" Russo in the comics). A confrontation between the two leads Rusotti to crash face-first through glass, disfiguring his face and earning him the puzzle-like nickname of Jigsaw.
Playing Jigsaw on the big screen is "The Wire" actor Dominic West, who, along with Stevenson, Alexander credits for helping "Punisher: War Zone" take shape.
"Ray Stevenson is incredibly intense," marvels Alexander. "Not only does he totally look like the Punisher, he's…kind of got that look where his life is on his face, you know?
"On the other hand, Dominic is just a really skilled actor. This guy is a real British theater actor; he has a huge range. When you have both of them at the dinner table, privately, you can actually tell that the essence of each of these characters is in them. Ray will sit there and say nothing all evening and be really intense and just listen. Dominic will sit there and be entertaining everybody and be loud and like a clown. We have two actors who really represent the essence of these characters."
Alexander, a former World Karate and Kickboxing Champion (she's since hung up her Gi to pursue filmmaking), was herself also able to bring a lot to the production. Because of her martial arts background, she worked closely with Stunt Coordinator Pat Johnson (whom she also worked with on her last film, "Green Street Hooligans") to design all the hand-to-hand combat scenes in "Punisher: War Zone," which account for about 30 per cent of the Punisher's killing methods (the other 70% being, of course, his imitable gunplay).
"Once in a while I jump in because I see that a punch doesn't sell," says Alexander of her hands-on approach to filmmaking. "The guys shake their heads because they tower over me. I'm like, 'Can you turn around and do it like this?' And Ray [Stevenson] will say, 'I can't believe this little midget is showing me how to fight.'
"There's a lot of humor about the fact they think I can kick their ass," she laughs. "That's good for a director because they all listen to me."
Alexander definitely has our ear, as we'll be checking back on the production in the months to come, here on Marvel.com.
If you enjoyed this report, we hope you check back next week—and every Tuesday—when I, "Hollywood" Mel Caylo, deliver the Marvel's official entertainment 411, right here on Marvel.com!