Friday, 23 March 2018

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

It's been a while since I saw the first cinematic incarnation of this character, played by Dolph Lundgren, but I have more recently enjoyed both the film starring Thomas Jane and the series, with Jon Bernthal in the main role. The latter is the better portrayal of the character, but I still enjoy the film too, as maligned as it often is.

And now I have finally watched Punisher: War Zone, and I have a new favourite. Time will tell whether or not that remains the case but that's how things are for now.

Ray Stevenson plays Frank Castle, and the plot is fairly simple. He's taking out villains and one of them ends up in a nasty accident that leads to him renaming himself Jigsaw (Dominic West). Making a move for more power and money, Jigsaw and his cohorts end up setting themselves up for a confrontation with The Punisher, but our hero may be held back by the police officers who want him cuffed and off the streets.

Directed by Lexi Alexander, I really cannot see why more people don't love this one. Having spoken to fans of the comic, I am led to understand that a number of the onscreen characters are twisted a bit too far from their comic counterparts, and I can understand that being an issue, but the rest of the film is so gloriously entertaining and insanely violent that it would seem to be absolutely perfect for fans of The Punisher.

Written by Matt Holloway, Art Marcum, and Nick Santora, there's a fine blending of the grim and the darkly comedic throughout. It works really well, and is helped by pacing which means you're never too far away from either an action set-piece (some more over the top than others), a fun character moment, or a bit of ultraviolence. This thing barrels along. Stevenson may not get too much dialogue, The Punisher is a man of few words, but that doesn't stop the script from crackling elsewhere with amusing dialogue and entertaining statements of menacing intent.

Perhaps thanks to his relative lack of dialogue, but that may be unfair to say, Stevenson is fantastic in the main role. Seriously, he IS the best version of The Punisher I have seen onscreen. Lundgren was always fun, but also always Lundgren, Jane was okay (points for trying), and Bernthal is fantastic. Stevenson, however, just edges ahead. The size, the moves, the attitude, he's on point. West has a blast as Jigsaw, helped in a number of scenes by his crazy brother, played by Doug Hutchison. Wayne Knight is just fine as Micro, Mark Camacho and Keram Malicki-Sanchez are a decent couple of henchmen, Colin Salmon is fine and upstanding as the cop wanting to arrest Frank Castle, and Dash Mihok is enjoyable as the cop actually helping Frank when he can. Julie Benz is one of the few main actresses, and she does well as the widow of someone caught up in the crossfire between Frank and the gangsters.

I highly recommend this to fans of the character, to action movie fans, and to those who want some comic book fun that is far from family-friendly.


Buy it here.
Americans, buy it here.

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