Film Review: Punisher: War Zone

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Bathe on 6 Feb 2009

At last reaching screens over 4 years since The Punisher back in 2004, Punisher: War Zone had its fair share of difficulties on route to a cinematic release. With actor Thomas Jane pulling out of the project after losing faith with the production staff and writers, when an approved script at last dropped on Lionsgate’s desk in 2007 and with a new actor cast in the lead role, principal photography began that October.

Billed as a second reboot, after the original 1989 film and more recent 2004 release, instead War Zone does little to re-imagine the comic book character. Re-telling the murder of Frank Castle’s family through a couple of very brief flashbacks, War Zone largely glosses over the events that turned family man Castle into retribution-driven vigilante crime fighter the Punisher, meaning War Zone could easily be noted instead as a sequel to the 2004 film.

The film drops the audience into the life of Frank Castle (Stevenson) sometime after assuming the Punisher character, and pits our hero against the rising mob bosses of his home city. Shutting down one arm of the Russoti family, he moves on to tackle the new leader, Billy Russoti (West), but after a brutal showdown, can’t quite finish the job, and leaves Billy clasping for life, but wildly scarred. Now with a patchwork skin face, Billy takes on the mantle Jigsaw, hell-bent on his own revenge and seeks to putting the Punisher down once and for all.

Desperately trying to clone The Dark Knight, Punisher: War Zone sadly falls down countless times along the way. Lacking any real depth or emotion, the film packs in 100 kills per minute but doesn’t ever feel like it really gets going. After Heath Ledger’s magnificent portrayal of the Joker, Jigsaw seems only a poor attempt at a twisted, deformed villain and is badly performed by Dominic West, while the Punisher’s grit and determination, never mind a powerful arsenal of weapons, never come close to the intensity and sheer might of Batman.

War Zone is worse than the first Punisher, which though didn’t set the world alight, showed a lot of promise, and this is down mainly to the man in the lead role and the writing behind him. In the 2004 film you felt for the Punisher and understood hism actions were rightful retribution, in War Zone, Stevenson comes across as a man who is acting for good, yes, but going about it in a wholly arrogant and nonchalantly deadly way as Frank Castle feels remarkably shallow.

Though the kill rate is often ludicrous and the film is brutally violent throughout, the action is at least thrilling, and on the whole effectively shot, but War Zone still falls a long way shot of the quality of the comic books and the more recent film adaptation.

The final damning verdict left by the American box office, whom far from raced out to see it, meaning takings of £8m leave Punisher: War Zone the lowest grossing Marvel adaptation to date.


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