Punisher: War Zone Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated April 30th, 2009 at 9:10 pm,

Short version: Whether you enjoy Punisher: War Zone or not will depend completely on what you’re looking to get out of it.

punisher war zone review Punisher: War Zone Review
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?

Examples of this would be movies I’ve given 4+ star reviews to like The Signal and Shoot ’em Up, and even movies I’ve given 5 out of 5 stars to like Kung Fu Hustle.

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. simple smile Punisher: War Zone Review

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.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. After seeing the redband trailer and reading your review , I think I’m going to reeeeeeally like this one.

  2. Thanks, Vic. Now I’ll have a good idea of what and what not to except.

  3. I might go see this now. I must say the marketing campaign by Lionsgate has been horrible. The trailers are pathetically bad! You can’t go by the mainstream critics on films like this as there not trying to be high art. One of my favoite B-films is Death Wish 3. Its a one star movie in a Leonard Maltin book But I love it!


  4. Vic, if I’m not mistaken, in the beginning, it was the lead witness that was murdered, not the judge.

    Anyway, I just saw it too, and I found myself laughing in the same manner as well. It was just so rewarding to see bad guys get mowed down by Titus… ehem, Frank Castle. And yah, I agree with you 100% about LBJ (Looney Bin Jim). His acting was particularly horrible. I swear if he opened his mouth any wider when he AN-NUN-CIAT-ED every freakin word, someone could shove a triple stack burger down his throat and he wouldn’t know what happened.

    And if that Jesse person is telling the truth that her father played Pittsy, well, I hope you’re reading this that I thought what happened to your father’s character was one of the funniest parts of the film. LMAO! And Castle just calmly turns around and walks away as that agent was still freakin out about it, LMAO!!!

    Overall, the villains were the weakest part of the film. Jogsaw himself was ok, and the Russian he delt with (the son more-so the father) was pretty good, but his brother LBJ and that Ink guy was pretty crappy. It was like when they were on, it was bad, then they go back to Stevenson as Castle, then it was good, then it was back to the stupid bad guys, but then it was back to the awesome Punisher, lol. Rollercoaster.

    Anyway, the movie was crazy. I would explain it as a horror movie where the killer is the good guy. And the screaming running teenagers are the badguys.

    The only thing this horror movie was missing was the nudity. But that’s what we get with a woman director. Dammit Lexi… 😀

  5. Man, did I just call Jigsaw Jogsaw???

  6. @ Charles Darwin

    His name is Vic, and what you just wrote makes me think you dont know how to read. If you dont want to read any more reviews on here, thats good this site doesnt need people like you. He CLEARLY stated that there are two ways to review a film. Anyways….. I loved this film i agree 100% with Vic, alot of movies are gonna end up getting bad reviews only because they go in expecting to get an Iron Man or TDK. If your a fan of Punisher this movie does justice to the character. i would give it a 4 out of 5 but thats just my opinion : ) BTW Charles Darwin, have fun at some other site with writers who dont know what they are talking about. You wont be missed ^_^

  7. @Charles Darwin

    Buh Bye. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.


  8. Now im kinda upset that im not seeing this till next weekend instead of tomorrow. Still really excited though, and im happy to hear that there is plenty of violence that we expect from a punisher movie.

  9. I always hated that fraud Darwin!

    Btw Ken J! Your never gonna live “Jogsaw” down,,, (LOL) wow what a huge blunder on your part,,, 😉
    I will always bring that up, just when you make a rebutted point,,, :-) :-)
    Arh arh!!!

  10. LOL, Darwin thinks people actually care if he reads the reviews here or not. Oh no Vic, you might as well pack up now, there’s no way the advertisers will pay to have their ads here now without Darwin!

    LMAO!!!!! 😀

    I guess that’s how these unintelligent people can name themselves after a famous naturalist and other intelligent people because they have delusions of grandeur.

  11. And guys, I *really* appreciate your support. You rock. :-)


  12. I was eventually going to see this when it came out on DVD, but I think I might have to check out a matinee showing next week!!!

  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the film Vic.

    Even better that you enjoyed It!:)

  14. @Rampage

    Hey man, I’ll be very curious to hear YOUR thoughts on the film. Come back here and let us know!


  15. @Vic

    Oh, I LOVED it.

    If you check out the front page of our site, you’ll see that the Global Punisher Army was invited to the PWZ premiere and afterpary. It was insane!

    I’ve posted the same review at SHH, IMDb, and the GPA.

    I’m worried it might be *too* long for your comments section, so here are a few excerpts instead.

    “An 8 out of 10 and A+ comic book movie.

    PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is a fast paced and unrelentingly violent introduction to the world of the Punisher and one of the top three, must see comic book movies of 2008.”


    “RAY STEVENSON: Stevenson’s dead on evolution into the title character summons the descriptions found within William Blake’s THE TYGER more uncannily than any previous Punisher actor was ever capable of.”

    And lastly.

    “Surprising, that PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is without a doubt, the most FUN I’ve had at the movie theater all year long! Any knowledgeable fan of Frank Castle will instantly recognize and appreciate the depth of Alexander’s familiarity with the source material.”

    I’ve contained a link to the whole review in the “website (optional)* section of my comment box, in case you’re interested.

  16. Just be glad you no longer have to deal with me PMing you PWZ info almost every week.;)

    I’ll keeping reading ScreenRant and subscribing to the newsletters though!

  17. I would have to admit, that since I wasn’t already a huge fan of the comics like a lot of the people who likes it are, it took something more to win me over. And I would have to say that for me, it was Stevenson’s portrayal of Castle that really did it. If it had been another actor, or if Stevenson didn’t pull it off as well, I probably wouldn’t have liked it.

    I loved how they kept that last beat down scene going and going and going. The more pain it looked like Punisher was dealing to Jigsaw, the more rewarding it was, lol. Most movies would have given the villain a chance to get some hits back, but that was totally one-sided, and that is what’s great about it. He wasn’t beating him down because he needed to for self defense, it was pure PUNISHMENT.

  18. I’ve never been able to understand the “fun” part of movies. When people say it’s not good but it’s fun i always cringe. For me a good movie is fun. I have never enjoyed watching a movie that wasnt good or at least decent in general. This was also the case with Punisher when i sat down to watch it. The acting was god awful and while i bought Stevenson as Punisher he brought nothing to the role. There was no depth in him what so ever. I thought the last movie was superior to this one. Bad acting, Bad dialogue, god awful makeup and just a really pointless movie. I thought War Zone made Transformers look like a master piece and transformers was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last 5 years. I thought RDJ was a terrible choice for Iron man and he was great. I thought Heath Ledger was gonna suck and he blew the roll away I went in to TDK and Ironman expecting disappointment and was blown away. I went in to War Zone expecting crap and shockingly it was worse than I thought it would be. I respect your thoughts on the film Vic but I couldn’t disagree more with your thoughts on it.

    Unlike some people though while I don’t agree with your thoughts I still respect you and your site and will continue to read every review and enjoy it.

  19. @Daniel

    Thanks, bro, I appreciate that. Film is after all, a subjective thing.

    Have you never enjoyed a good ol’ “B” movie, Daniel? Heck, pick any sci-fi/horror movie from the 1950s. Schlocky as hell, certainly not well made but tons of fun. :-)


  20. “When Worlds Collide” was classified as a B-film and I thought that movie was loads of fun. Also, I hear their making a remake.

    I think I’ll check PWZ out today after my car is finished being worked on.

    And where is Charles Darwin? Is he going around catagorizing origins of species again? :-)

  21. I forgot one thing. **spoilers**

    My girlfriend mentioned to me after the movie that she loved the fact that not everyone WON at the end. Usually with a film like this Punisher would have been able to save Micro, which i thought was gonna end up happening, but Micro actually got shot. I dont know if its a big thing but little details like that influence on whether or not you end up liking the film.

  22. Vic,

    Spot on the review. I’ve been a Pun fan for a long time. I enjoyed the first version but this captured the essence of violence that center’s around Castle’s life. Plus, just like you said, I laughed at some of the salient violence. Impressive overall for the type of movie it was.

    Side note – I fly B-1 Lancer’s in the USAF. A couple of buddies of mine flew the two ship B-1 scene in ‘Transformers 2′. There’s speculation that one of them is an actual Transformer (like the F-22 in the last one). Do you have any info on that?

    Thanks again for the Punisher review.

  23. I love how you compared this to a B movie lol. The difference is though that B movies know their B movies. THey know they are super cheesy and lame. This was trying to be a actual film. Also to be honest I really havn’t enjoyed B movies unless it had Bruce. I especially never enjoyed them from the 50’s

  24. LOL, I guess someone forgot that Punisher is actually a comic about a guy running around killing hundreds of bad guys every week. The Tom Jane version was a better Punisher film huh? Oh yah, that’s what you see in the comics, Frank Castle planning and plotting for 4/5 of the comic only to kill a few people at the very end, and not in any violent way either. Yep, Punisher is really a PG-13 comic, I guess most comic fans never realized this, but you are enlightened, lol.

    The acting was pretty bad in this film, I think everyone has stated this fact. I liked Stevenson’s role, but most of everyone else was not that great. But I don’t even remember most of the bad acting because the only parts I really cared to notice was the parts where gang bangers and mobsters got their brains blown all over the walls. I know I didn’t go to the theaters expecting a drama where Frank Castle fights all his inner demons and where they drown you in endless narratives of self pity. In fact, if they had done that, I would have hated this movie. I expected some simple popcorn fun.

    But I do wish they had better villains though. Hopefully if they do a sequel they get some better actors for their villains. I’m glad they killed off the ones in this one. Although he is Punisher, not Batman, he actually kills the bad guys… I never understood the need to “save” the bad guys. Seems more of an excuse to bring them back in later episodes or whatever…

    To each their own I guess. I love well made films with great acting, script, and action, but you can’t keep me from the guilty pleasures like cheesey action flicks, lol. As long as I can identify with the protagonist, it’s all good.

  25. looney-bin-jim. like’s kidneys
    and apple sauce.
    its a delicasey ya know?

  26. As a show of support for the original classic, I am skipping The Day the Earth Stood Still Remake
    to watch PWZ instead next weekend .

  27. I think it was one of the most awful pieces of film I have ever seen in a theater and I loved the Punisher comics especially the early nineties books. Bad acting equals bad movie in my books and the acting was atrocious. The one-liners were cheesy and the violence was way over-the-top. It’s too bad I couldn’t get my money back because Lexi ALexander and Lionsgate picked my pocket for 12 bucks…

  28. poor Charles doesn’t understand what movies are about :(

    Just got back from seeing it, I’d probably give it the same review.

    If you are going to see this because you want to see a PUNISHER movie – then you will enjoy it.

    It’s too bad there were a few things that were stupid/weak about it: The one cop on the taskforce – he was horrible and not funny, the parkour gangsters were corny as heck and not fun, and the chandalier spin which was out of place compared to the rest of the combat which was so focused on a more realistic use of weapons and weapon-use detail or the gritty and almost bourne-like hand-to-hand combat.

    It was good for what is was: gun-play actioner. I Hope there’s a follow up, but there was only 9 people in my theatre tonight for a 7:15pm showing :(

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