Review: Punisher: War Zone (2008)


Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Directed by: Lexi Alexander | 103 minutes | action, thriller, fantasy, crime | Actors: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Wayne Knight, Dash Mihok, Colin Salmon, Julie Benz, Stephanie Janusauskas

Actually, it’s quite ironic to see how much compassion publisher Marvel has with professional executioner The Punisher. Despite two failed theatrical releases, the mass murderer is allowed to try again in the big halls. The cartoon character does not have that much compassion in his own comic series. Make a mistake once and it will cost you your head, that is what the uncompromising anti-hero is very easy to do. Still, Marvel Comics sees bread in the franchise around the tormented avenger. The public does not. Also the third film about the cold-blooded killer, called ‘Punisher: War Zone’, only lasted a few weeks in American theaters. After the 1989 Dolph Lundgren vehicle and 2004’s ‘The Punisher’, ‘War Zone’ is the third attempt to introduce the comic book phenomenon to the general public.

‘Punisher: War Zone’ starts with a clean slate. Again. In this second reboot, the hard-core Frank Castle is reintroduced. This time played by Ray ‘Rome’ Stevenson (before that Thomas Jane and Dolph Lundgren took the honours). Castle has been a broken man since the mafia killed his perfect family. Consumed by revenge, the iron eater has committed himself to fighting (organized) crime. The arrows of this one-man army are aimed at Billy Russoti (a caricatural role by Dominic West). The Punisher leaves the crook for dead, but the man turns out to be ‘only’ horribly mutilated. Going by the name of Jigsaw, Russoti seeks revenge and enlists his brother’s help. This Loony Bin Jim (a completely over the top Doug Hutchison) is a deranged and ruthless killer. Castle, in turn, enlists the help of arms dealer Micro (subdued by Wayne Knight).

You can think of The Punisher as Charles Bronson on acid. While Bronson in the ‘Deathwish’ series killed his opponents quickly and painlessly (a bullet between the eyes and die), Castle uses more sadistic methods. For example, he dumps mob boss Billy Russotti into a container full of glass and turns on the grinder. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize this makes for a pretty gruesome scene. In terms of violence, ‘Punisher: War Zone’ isn’t childish at all. For example, a villain is pulverized by a rocket launcher and Castle literally smashes in a few skulls. The influence of the ‘Saw’ franchise is obvious. Very good of course, because the comic character has become famous and loved for his violent streak. The blood flows freely and this is without a doubt the most brutal Punisher film adaptation ever.

Sounds good right? Unfortunately, there is something wrong with this comic film adaptation. The balance between drama and action is completely lost. Stevenson is without a doubt the best interpreter of Castle ever. With his sad glance and modest playing, he knows how to subtly interpret the damaged psyche of the bonebreaker and even create a hint of depth. The lone avenger is a lost soul desperate for its humanity. It is therefore important that the actor has to deal with an overacting opponent. West and Hutchison, in particular, go completely over the top, portraying their characters as cartoon characters incarnate. The make-up is quite entertaining, but clashes with Stevenson’s serious portrayal. In addition, a dramatic plot centered on a widow (her husband was accidentally killed by Castle) and her adorable little daughter is written in the film. Besides bad acting, you can also expect a lot of false sentiment from the ladies.

Mass murderer Castle suddenly thaws when he sees the ladies, while smashing his head in a minute before. The balance between melodrama and action is completely lost. Actually, ‘Punisher: War Zone’ is a mess. The build-up of tension is cliché, the acting erratic and the editing broke. Still, this isn’t a bad movie. The action scenes are well put together, Stevenson is a good Punisher and the pace is also good. You don’t get bored. Really one of those Sunday afternoon movies that you rent when you have nothing to do. Pulp with a capital P. Now let’s hope for that one, long-awaited definitive Punisher film. Without annoying children and with Stevenson please. Do you read movie bonuses?