Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchinson, Wayne Knight, and Colin Salmon
Running Time: 1 hr 43 mins
Plot Synopsis: Waging his one-man war on the world of organized crime, ruthless vigilante-hero Frank Castle sets his sights on overeager mob boss Billy Russoti. After Russoti is left horribly disfigured by Castle, he sets out for vengeance under his new alias: Jigsaw. With the “Punisher Task Force” hot on his trail and the FBI unable to take Jigsaw in, Frank must stand up to the formidable army that Jigsaw has recruited before more of his evil deeds go unpunished.
The Punisher is one of Marvel’s most famous characters. The infamous skull t-shirt is something that most people can instantly realize as the trademark of The Punisher, Frank Castle. He is somewhat of an anti-hero, something that has been very popular recently. People love the fact that Castle acts on his own, doing things his own way, and dealing out his own unique brand of justice. This is why the character is so popular. The Punisher comics are filled with stories that seem made for the big screen. Hollywood seems to have noticed, as they have attempted to turn the character into a movie hero several times, to no avail. But Frank Castle did make it to the big screen three times.
The first time was in The Punisher, with Castle being played by Dolph Lundgren. It was a not very well received. Critics cited the bland action, weak plot and poor acting as the film’s biggest flaws. The movie did have one thing going for it, at least in my opinion it did. Lundgren’s Punisher film was very true to the character’s comic book origins. Then there was Thomas Jane’s Punisher. That movie strayed pretty far away from the comic character, though I thought Jane did a fine job portraying the Punisher. Still, two films and still not a good Punisher film. Then came word of a “sequel” to Jane’s Punisher film. Jane dropped out of the project amidst rumors of the script being piss-poor. In came Ray Stevenson, and tah-dah! We have Punisher: War Zone. The same movie that Jane dropped out of, with some obvious rewrites, but still the same project. I had my doubts as to how good this movie would be, and I can honestly say now that I am both surprised AND disappointed all at the same time.
P:WZ is a very brutal, gory, violent and over the top movie. The visuals are very stylized, the colors are reminiscent of some of the fight scenes from Batman and Robin, and I find that it makes it very hard to believe that all of the action in the film could be real. I didn’t like it at all. Punisher should be dark, gritty and realistic. Castle has no super-powers; he just runs around with common weapons taking down criminals that could very well exist in the real world. So the film should feel real, and it doesn’t. You’ll find a lot of bright colors that wash over everything, creating almost a cartoon-ish look.
The acting was equally frustrating. Stevenson looks like the Punisher, but he couldn’t deliver a strong performance to go with the look. When he delivered certain lines, they became corny and lame when a better actor could’ve made them powerful and impactful words. Dominic West was the definition of over the top and a complete and total cliche of a villain. I will say though, that I don’t blame him for the character’s flaws. All of the supporting actors were just good enough to not stand out as overtly terrible. Most of these problems could be attributed to the writers, whose script appears to be nothing more than a collection sequences from other action movies that are all tied together by cliches and over the top violence.
Talking about violence, this film is full of it. You’ll find everything from decapitations to heads exploding, and everything in between. It is gruesome and bloody. Almost like a bad horror movie. Blood spews from bullet holes. It is actually one of the better aspects of this movie. For all it’s failures, the film is full of action. It tends to follow along the same lines of other action films, it’s pretty predictable, but it is still rather enjoyable. I really enjoyed watching Castle systematically taking out thug after thug after thug. It was very creative. For the first time on the big screen, I found myself thinking “Hey! That’s the Punisher! Finally!” The massive gun-fights, where Frank takes out the larger groups of criminals, are amazing and exactly what I would expect from the Punisher in the comic books. He was bad-ass! If you like over the top violence and gore, you’ll fall in love with most of the film, and even though I don’t rate this film very highly as far as the whole movie experience, I will always remember the bigger action sequences and will look upon them favorably even years later.
Punisher: War Zone is a very stylized, almost cartoon-ish story of ridiculous violence and blood. The plot is weak and so is the acting. But the film does have some endearing aspects to it. I am actually glad I watched it. Would I watch it again? No. Would I recommend it to my friends? Yes, with one caveat: You must be a fan of blood, gore and extreme violence. If that’s cool with you, than you will find some enjoyment in this film. I liked it. Ultimately, we still don’t have a good Punisher film, and I’m starting to believe that we never will. If Hollywood couldn’t deliver with this ultra-violent R rated film, then we may never get a true Punisher film. But I can live with that. At least now I’ll always have P:WZ for when I need my fix of guns and blood.