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. icon 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. @ Dracoola, I can tell by your writing that they dont teach english at your middle school. I enjoyed Punisher, i havent seen the extended but im pretty sure ill like it even more. And guess what! Im not a girl, and im not a fag! yay for me!!!

  2. @ Tattooedgeek

    Good post.

    It is possible for comic book films to be made with quality. Just like any other product, if the consumers do not start to demand quality, the studios can and will continue to churn out poorly conceived films.

    For comic book films, we are at a milestone. 2008 is a year to be remembered, wouldn’t it be nice if PWZ could have been added to the list of surprisingly great comic book films like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight? I would have loved for ‘Punisher’ to be a great film period, not great if you ignore some aspects of the production and lower your expectations of talent and creativity to “enjoy it”.

    If I can influence one person to admire and respect quality cinema, my posts are more than worth my time. Ya Know?

  3. It’s too bad Marvel has that policy of no movies over PG-13, because I’m sure if they would have directly produced it they would have done it right, not what Lionsgate done to it…

  4. Definitely… so I’m guessing Marvel has the rights for Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers?

  5. Yup, Marvel has all those.

  6. Vic, this sounds impossible, but do you think you can dig up a list of which characters still belong to Marvel? and which ones belong to other movie companies.

  7. I think only Spider-Man, X-Men and Punisher belong to other studios.


  8. ok, plus the Fantastic Four, and that also includes Silver Surfer im guessing. Cant wait till they all come back to Marvel :) Do you by any chance know what it will take for the rights to revert back to Marvel?

  9. Sorry, Oscar – no idea. I suggest a Google search… that’s what I’d do. :-)


  10. Lol, its just hard to believe the internets, this is the most reliable place i can think of :)

  11. Mike… have you ever READ an issue of the Punisher? If he got in a fight with a Super, it’d be a wash. He’s got no powers, except that he trains damn near 24/7.

  12. Vic, I gotta say man, I feel let down. I watched this one based off your review telling me it wouldn’t totally suck. Well, I disagreed. It totally sucked. This is what happens when you force people to watch something and keep trying to insist to them, “Hey, its supposed to be dark, gritty and kick-ass” without actually being any of these. The plot sucked, the visual style was terrible, and the acting- I definitely missed Tom Jane, almost missed Travolta-hell, I missed the fat opera-singing guy. But, your other reviews are always spot on, and I give mad props to you having the balls to stick by your opinions, and support others who do the same. Just thought I’d warn any others who may share my taste in movies.

  13. @huntthejest

    Well I’m sorry to hear that – maybe this movie just caught me in a good mood, or my expectations for it were so low that it surpassed them.


  14. Absolutly HATED IT!!! it kept me only entertained Because I like blood and gore Idk But I really didnt enjoy it And I am confused …wich one was based more on the comics?
    And the guy was what 50 at least and his range of movement seemed…limited I’d of liked him to be more jumping around and such..

  15. ok yes punisher cannot win alone if he faces with superpowered but have you ever read punisher kills marvel universe when he kills all of them with help. if he has a sidekick replacing microchip like stuart clarke or other sidekick( i dont know their names yet) he has a chance to get the level of the superpowered people. there was a magazine that he beat the crap outta of rhino with help. dont you see frank is not stupid, if he was beaten once but he will never be beaten twice by the same enemy. “I MEAN NEVER IN THE COMICS”, he uses his mind and strategy to beat his opponents with help needed

  16. like i said before frank castle wants to punish people who have killed his family, but not all of them are just plain human. thats why he needs a helper. a guide. i wish the second movie of punisher will give more meaning to people not just blood and gore. if we just put the thomas jane punisher and ray stevenson punisher together,(ray stevenson is still the punisher) maybe the movie will turn out 2 be great

  17. again to make all things clear. punisher punisher has few of friends that helped him in gang war . they didnt physically hepled him but mentally by telling him the enemys weakspot. punisher is always go to the weakspot of the enemies even with superhuman people because he is just human and that is fair. frank will have plans and foverver will be, peace =)

  18. Watched it on Blu Ray…
    Thought it was really good,
    I want another one, i think a a punisher in a larger Marval universe migh tdo the trick…
    Vic, Great Review…

    I want another one…

  19. I liked Thomas Jane alot more than Ray Stevenson as the Punisher. His movie was much better than this one, although i did hate Travolta in it.

  20. @manowar, you are out of your mind, lol j/k

    But seriously, in my opinion Jane was a HORRIBLE punisher. This movie was pretty bad in terms of directing and production but Ray Stevenson was right for the role, it’s just too bad he did it for such a poorly made film.

  21. I dont think there should any other Punisher attempts. We’ve done too much damage to the character already.

  22. @Claude

    Well I knew that people would disagree with me on this one – maybe I was just in the right mood that day. :-P

    I’ve only seen the first Punisher once and it was many years ago, so I don’t remember it.


  23. If you have the time, check it out. You’ll see what i mean. Nuff said.

  24. I love it when someone shows up and his word is definitive. It takes the guesswork out of making up your own mind… ;-)

  25. Not as bad as some make it to be.

    It seems that it was not in their intentions to deliver a “serious” Punisher film (like e.g. the “serious”, and pretentious, Dark Knight), so I think it’s not a case of a movie that fails to deliver what it sets out to do – this is the definition of a lame movie.

    It’s a Bad Movie (with capitals in both words), yeah, but a lame movie, it’s not!

    It seems like a corny homage to ’80s action movies with bucketloads of excessive and fairly unrealistic gore. Yeah, I know gunshot wounds are much uglier in real life compared with what we see in normal actionfests, but in Punisher :War Zone the gore-level seemed to be intentionally raised to ludicrous points – like a video game.

    Combined with the weird Batman Fornever-like purple and green neon lights in the set design (the cathedral looked very comic-bookish) and the whole simplistic, comic book-like mentality (in the derogatory use of the word) as well as Ray Stevenson’s totally straight face no matter how ridiculous things happened, I think this is a “masterpiece” of modern 80′s homage.

    I’d love to write something better, but with English being a second language and my limited time here… This movie is great entertainment, as long as you know what you’re in for, and you accept it for what it is and what it wants to be.

  26. Actually, depending on the type of round, caliber of round, and where they hit, bullet wounds CAN be much much cleaner in real life than in movies. Of course they can be uglier too, really depends on a lot of things.

  27. I didn’t know that.

    I don’t have (thankfully!!!) first hand experience, but I always though (from articles, interviews of people that actually fought in wars etc.) that bullets do much more serious damage compared to what we see on screen, and I think most modern military assault rifles guns can mutilate with great ease if someone is shot in the arms or legs.