By the time we got to the third swing at capturing the criminal slaughtering, skull shirted vigilante that is known as The Punisher, there was a definite feeling that the slightly more thoughtful approach of the Thomas Jane iteration didn’t quite cut the mustard. Enter Green Street director Lexi Alexander and future Asgardian Ray Stevenson to try to fuse the mental 80’s excess of the Dolph Lundgren attempt with the more comic accurate slant tried by the previous version. On paper, this stitched together amalgamation of visions (a Franken-castle, if you will) seemed like a sure fire chance to finally realize the character as he is on the page with Marvel’s resident skull ventilator dropped back into an urban setting and with familiar friends and foes plucked from the very pages of his bullet-filled title. However, once again Frank’s aim is less than accurate…
Continuing on his quest for the bloody punishment of every wrong doer that foolishly wanders into his sights, Frank Castle, aka The Punisher accidentally kills an undercover agent while in pursuit of egotistical mob lunatic Billy “The Beaut”. After feeding Billy into a huge industrial glass crusher (because they exist, apparently) Frank goes to the agent’s widow to make amends and possibly even retire but his work isn’t over yet because Billy has survived his pointy and sliced ordeal (albeit in a substantially more shredded form) and has renamed himself Jigsaw. While Frank dodges a vengeful former partner of the man he killed, Jigsaw sets about forming a criminal army to take out the seemingly unkillable vigilante and so an inevitable and incredibly bloody showdown is on the cards but surely not even Castle can take down the majority of the cities criminals on his own, can he?
What you choose to get out of Punisher: War Zone is pretty much what you put into it. If you are looking for brain dead thrills and a spectacular (and varied) body count and not much else then this review is pretty finished, but anyone looking for something more substantial will be far better served looking elsewhere.
It’s not because P:WZ is badly made. Lexi Alexander obviously has made the film she wanted to make, but by turning the comic book angle up to such a searing degree, she’s ended up with a movie so noisy, crass and garish, it’s as subtle as a fire hose colonic and twice as jarring.
For a start, there is epilepsy inducing neon EVERWHERE, making this insanely violent movie feel like someone has tried to reboot Death Wish on the set of Batman & Robin and if the look of the movie doesn’t grate, there’s a good chance some of the performances will which shifts the film into the realms of some sort of gruesome pantomime. As Jigsaw, The Wire’s Dominic West sports one of the most blunt and bizarre “Nu Yawk” accents ever captured on film and being coated in prosthetic scar tissue seems to have given him carte blanche to overact wildly and to chew the scenery like a giant termite in a mob suit.
And yet if you can tolerate the film being SO heavy handed in virtually every aspect of it’s creation (some alcohol may help) the movie settles into strangely entertaining, foam-lipped, bad taste extravaganza which beats you around the head and neck with it’s ludicrously excessive gore until you either go along with it or simply turn it off.
The parade of endlessly amusing violence pauses only to cram a boring subplot of the wife of a undercover agent unwittingly killed by Castle but when it’s in full swing, the brainless bloodletting is almost charming in it’s desire to elicit adolescent cheers from it’s audience (be aware that I fully include myself in that bracket).
Exploding heads, faces speared by chair legs, a head caved in with a right hook right in the sweet spot – you’re unable to take any of this crap seriously and nor should you even try but if you are genuinely unmoved by the sight of Frank shooting a free runner out of the sky with a rocket launcher then why are you even here in the first place?
Stevenson, black hair slicked back and encased in body armour, makes for a stunningly accurate looking Punisher and looks like he’s literally stepped right out of some Tim Bradstreet cover art to blow the head off some random rapist (although the skull could be whiter…) and he holds the majority of the insanity together.
However, when you aim extraordinarily low, it’s far easier to hit the targets you’re shooting for and you can’t deny that War Zone shoots SO low that it frequently hits itself in the foot, but for uncomplicated carnage and sheer body count it’s a dubious over achiver.
But for the most part, irritating characters, pointless subplots and a stubbornly misguided stance that treats it’s heavily armed antihero as a righteous hero, Punisher: War Zone for all it’s zany energy proves once and for all that Castle’s guns may have jammed for good.