Punisher: War Zone finds Ray Stevenson as the latest actor to play Frank Castle, following Dolph Lundgren in the 1989 version and Thomas Jane in the 2004 version.
Six years into his vengeance mission under his persona of the Punisher, following his family being butchered after witnessing a mob execution, the story opens with him interrupting a party for a mob boss who’s escaped a jail term for his involvement in numerous murders.
During the fracas, vain mobster, Billy Russoti (or Billy the Beaut) (Dominic West) escapes to his hideout – a local recycling plant. Castle is informed of the escape and follows Russoti and immediately dispatches a thug who’s exiting a toilet. A shoot out between Castle and Russoti ensues and, unsurprisingly, Russoti comes off the worst – he ends up in some piece of machinery that’s mixing up and crushing a lot of broken glass. Turns out that this isn’t great for Rusotti’s skin as he’s left horribly disfigured.
Castle’s victory is a hollow one, though, as the random thug he dispatched turns out to be an undercover FBI agent Nicky Donatelli. Unsurprisingly, his partner is none too pleased and sets out to bring Castle to justice and joins the NYPD’s Punisher Task Force.
Rusotti doesn’t react well to his disfigurement, killing the doctor who breaks the news and decides to adopt the moniker ‘Jigsaw’ (may recognise this from another of Lionsgate’s titles). Jigsaw frees his brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) from a local asylum and recruits a band of undesirables. He then sets out to seek revenge by kidnapping Donatelli’s wife and child and killing the Punisher.
Having turned his back on vigilantism, after becoming the evil he swore to eradicate, Castle is convinced to return by his weapons supplier Micro (Wayne Knight) to stop Jigsaw and save Donatelli’s family.
Now, I approached this movie with an open mind. I quite like the idea of The Punisher, but when it was released I thought it looked awful and had no intention of watching it. I thought the Thomas Jane version was OK and the Dolph Lundgren version was entertaining enough, but didn’t like the look of this at all.
However, I was told that it was “brilliant” and “the best action film of the year”, by some acquaintances. Obviously, opinions are subjective, but alarm bells should have been ringing when they dismissed the latest Star Trek as being rubbish and praised this instead. I should have gone with my initial instinct not to watch the movie. It’s really not very good.
There are a couple of good points, though; Stevenson does a decent job as Castle/The Punisher, as much as can be expected with the material he had to work with. The rest of the cast are, without exception, awful. Prime example being Doug Hutchison as Loony Bin Jim. It’s rare that every word spoken and every action taken by a character immensely irritates me, but that was the case here. Another thing that really irritated me was the Oirish Parkour gang. I’m really not ruining a movie like this by revealing that the characters listed above get messed up by The Punisher. These were moments in the movie I got some enjoyment out of as I wouldn’t have to suffer their presence another minute.
Dominic West was a huge disappointment. I’m a fan of The Wire and he’s great as McNulty so was quite interested to see him in a role like this. Sadly, he’s poor here. It’s rumored that Paddy Considine was considered for the role of Jigsaw when West initially passed on the role, but West reconsidered and accepted the role. If his, outstanding, performance in Dead Man’s Shoes is anything to go by, Considine would have been far better suited in the role than West. But given the quality of the material, it’s probably a lucky escape for Considine.
On to the director, former stuntwoman Lexi Alexander. Alexander has created an interesting look to the movie by limiting the colors seen on screen at any one time. It’s a little OTT on neon on occasion but, that aside, is quite effective. There are a couple of shots that were cringe-worthy: Jigsaw recruiting undesirables with the backdrop of the American flag was a head in hands moment.
The action sequences in the movie vary from the dire to the decent, but promise is shown and I’m sure she’ll go on to be involved in much better films than this. Unsurprisingly, she wants nothing to do with a follow-up. Frankly, I’d be stunned if there was one. This had a budget of around $35 million and took about $10 million worldwide. Apparently, Stevenson’s keen at reprising the role and fancies directing it.
The transfer is very good here. Visually the film is very strong, indeed. The look of the movie is complimented brilliantly by the picture quality, which is excellent with only minor faults on a couple of occasions. The sound is also good. The transfer far exceeds the quality of the movie. So, not all bad then.
Extras Extras are not exactly extensive but fairly interesting. You get a run of the mill making of, an interesting look at Stevenson’s training to become The Punisher, a look at the weapons of The Punisher, how they created the look of the movie, a look at the makeup process for Dominic West becoming Jigsaw as well as some trailers. There’s also a commentary with Lexi Alexander and the cinematographer Steve Gainer that mainly focuses on the technical aspects of the movie, which to some would be interesting I’m sure.
The Punisher 2: War Zone is available on Blu-ray now.