- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ith the comic book genre riding high on the success of movies like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight,” it’s been awhile since we’ve seen something as truly terrible as “Ghost Rider.” That trend doesn’t look to end any time soon, either, as Lionsgate’s reboot of their “Punisher” franchise is far from the low-rent piece of garbage that many were expecting it to be. Following Tom Jane’s decision not to return to the title role, and director Lexi Alexander’s falling out with the studio over the final cut, early buzz wasn't too promising. Nevertheless, “Punisher: War Zone” succeeds in almost everything it sets out to do, and though the film’s over-the-top violence and twisted sense of humor won’t win over many non-fans of the book, it’s still an action-packed guilty pleasure that will serve as a nice distraction for those looking to escape all the hoopla of awards season.
“Rome” star Ray Stevenson is Frank Castle, an ex-Special Forces operative who, after his wife and kids are killed for witnessing a mob hit, begins parading around town as a vigilante known as The Punisher. It’s been five years since that day, and in that time, The Punisher has wiped out almost every major mob family in the city. His latest victim is notorious mob boss Gaitano Caesar, but in the midst of an assault on the family – which includes throwing high-ranking gangster Billy “The Beaute” Russotti (Dominic West) into a glass crusher – Frank kills an undercover FBI agent. Somehow, Russotti survives, and after having facial reconstructive surgery that makes it look like a stitched-up piece of meat, he begins to raise an army under the name Jigsaw and exact revenge. Distraught over the innocent blood that he’s spilled, Frank considers hanging up his guns and calling it quits, but when he discovers that Jigsaw has kidnapped the wife (Julie Benz) and child of the fallen FBI agent, The Punisher takes to the streets to do what he does best.
If you guessed “punish,” you’re right, but while it may seem like the set-up for yet another tepid revenge flick, “Punisher: War Zone” has a little more edge to the proceedings. Lexi Alexander’s hugely underrated “Green Street Hooligans” featured some of the most brutal fistfights ever captured on film, but it’s nothing when compared to the ultra-violent action that takes center stage in “War Zone.” Sure, The Punisher mostly just shoots people with his arsenal of guns, but when he does, it usually results in a headshot of watermelon exploding proportions. He’s also not afraid to get down and dirty, and in one scene, he literally punches someone’s face in. Realistic? Hell no. Highly entertaining? You bet. And if you’re wondering how Alexander employs humor in a movie about a humorless vigilante, look no farther than his execution of a gang of free-runners. Two words: grenade launcher.
Though there’s a joke to be made about Lionsgate owning two movie properties with a character named Jigsaw in them, it doesn’t seem like they really mind. After all, why else would they use what looks like a set from one of the “Saw” films for Frank’s underground hideout? As for the character of Jigsaw himself, he’s not exactly one of the coolest comic book villains ever created, but Dominic West embraces the ridiculousness of the character with an over-the-top performance that makes him slightly more tolerable. The same goes for Ray Stevenson, who may look the part of The Punisher, but sounds like a tool every time he opens his mouth.
It’s an unfortunate result of the Irishman trying to feign an American accent, and so it helps that he doesn’t talk very much. In fact, he doesn’t utter a single word for the first 30 minutes of the film – which is fine, since he’s too busy looking like a badass for it to matter. And isn’t that the point? “Punisher: War Zone” isn’t like most comic book movies in that it favors action over story, but then, The Punisher isn’t like most comic book characters, is he? Slightly better than the 2004 version, "War Zone" had the makings of a direct-to-video stinker, but surprisingly, it's more fun than it looks.
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Blu-ray release of “Punisher: War Zone” is a bit light on bonus material (especially after bombing so badly at the box office), but the extras that are included should still please fans of the film. The audio commentary with director Lexi Alexander and director of photography Steve Gainer offers a more in-depth discussion on the making of the film than the featurette intended for that reason, while the rest of the disc includes a series of short but sweet featurettes on things like Ray Stevenson's weapons training, Jigsaw's make-up effects, and the film's candy-colored cinematography. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.