Short version: Whether you enjoy Punisher: War Zone or not will depend completely on what you’re looking to get out of it.
Screen Rant reviews Punisher: War Zone
So… there are two approaches I take to reviewing movies here at Screen Rant. Sometimes I review movies from a more “overall” perspective – generally speaking, and compared to most other movies out there, is it a good movie or a bad one overall?
Then I have what I call a “context review.” This is where I decide whether to basically adjust the bell curve and review a movie from more of a niche perspective. In other words, does it accomplish what it sets out to do within the context of its genre?
Were these movies perfect? Oscar-worthy? Of course not. Did they deliver what they promised within their respective genres? Absolutely.
So the question is: On which side of the fence does Punisher: War Zone fall? Based on what I’d heard prior to seeing the film I would have to say I’d have to review it in the latter category. But even using that criteria, some films fail miserably.
This film has suffered through probably the MOST controversy throughout its production of any movie we’ve covered here at Screen Rant – yet I kept an open mind going in.
Enough of that, right? What’s the verdict?
Punisher: War Zone was fun.
At least as much fun as an R-rated, bloody, violent as hell movie about a vigilante can be.
This version of the Punisher is a clean-slate restart of the movie version of the character – it assumes there has never been a Punisher movie prior to this one. During the opening credits (which were really cool, btw) we learn that a mob boss who was on trial has been set free due to a mistrial – the judge presiding over the case was murdered. Cut to a fancy mansion with cars arriving where we meet Billy Russoti (soon to become Jigsaw) and from the first moment we see him his brutal personality is made clear. As it turns out he’s an extremely vain SOB, making his soon to be fate that much more meaningful.
It doesn’t take long for the first action scene to arrive, and it’s a doozy. The violence and gore in this first scene, while not played for laughs, is so over the top that I found myself laughing out loud – in a good way. Who knew that watching a bunch of bad guys getting shot, stabbed, skewered and beaten could be so much fun?
We also see that the NYPD is on Frank Castle’s (the Punisher‘s real name) side. They go through the motions of having a “task force” (of one apparently inept guy) trying to hunt him down – but really they’re glad to have his help.
While trying to track down and go after Billy, Castle accidently kills an undercover FBI agent and he takes it extremely hard. BTW, this is where Russoti turns into Jigsaw and all I can say about how it happens is, DAMN…
Having lost his own wife and two children in violence, attending the funeral of the agent and seeing the surviving wife and young daughter causes Castle to decide to hang it up. The fellow who supplies him with weapons convinces him that Jigsaw will be going after the wife and daughter, so Castle says fine, but this will be his last job.
In the meantime Jigsaw breaks his apparently insane, homicidal maniac brother James out of a mental institution in order to help exact revenge and kill the Punisher. This guy was played by Doug Hutchison and I thought his performance was one of the worst things about the movie. It was pretty cheesy and goofy in my opinion. I actually liked Dominic West as Jigsaw (moreso when he still had his own face). He played the character as “hard core” New Yorker – I half expected him to throw in a “mook” or “palooka” at some point, but it worked for me.
And Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle? I thought he nailed it. No disrespect to Thomas Jane, but I never bought him as the Punisher. Stevenson on the other hand – never doubted him as the character for a second.
As to the violence in the film – holy cow. Earlier rumors of a possible PG-13 for this? Give me a break. Doubts about Lexi Alexander doing justice to the kill scenes because she’s a woman? Leave those at the door. Punisher: War Zone is at its best when it’s delivering its particular brand of over the top, 1980s movie style violence. This is gun action/violence as it should be: bloody and gory as hell.
So why all the bad reviews? I think people are judging this from an “overall” point of view instead of a “niche” view. You see this isn’t Iron Man or The Dark Knight… this is (as Massawyrm at AICN pointed out) a comic book movie that knows it’s a comic book movie. It’s not shooting for a serious, real-world take as much as other movies are in the current superhero movie trend. The action is over the top – sometimes to the point that it makes you laugh, but in that put-a-grin-on-your-face “that was AWESOME!” kind of way.
It’s no cinematic tour de force – no Oscars will be given here. Most of the acting is mediocre, some outright bad. There’s cheesy dialog and some silly characters (a free-running Rastafarian-looking black guy with a Brit/Irish accent for one), but when Frank Castle is doing what he does best, you’ll forget all that and revel in the awesomeness of seeing scores of bad guys get what’s coming in a ton of creative ways. Oh, and the beat-down the two main baddies get at the end are among the most satisfying “bad guy finally gets what’s coming to him” scenes I’ve seen in a film in recent memory.
So, if you go into this looking for a good time I think you’ll come out pretty satisfied. Go into this expecting a “good” movie and you’ll end up laughing at it, not with it.