Punisher: War Zone
Review by James Harvey

Click Here!While I'll likely lose any credibility I managed to amass here, I thought Punisher: War Zone was one of the coolest movies of the past year. Now let me explain myself, as I'm sure many are mystified by that opening statement there. The movie is by no means Shakespeare, but it also makes that abundantly clear right away. Teaming with blood, gore, action, and humor, Punisher: War Zone definitely delivers what the audience wants. While some found the movie to be teaming with cliches and lacking any surprises, I found the movie not only mocked the standard action-movie cliches, but had fun with it, too. It seems obvious from the start that Punisher: War Zone is not your typical action film, but one dripping with black humor and some pretty striking visuals. More to come after the synopsis.

Punisher: War Zone brings us back to the world of one of the most ruthless vigilantes around - The Punisher! Waging his one-man war on the world of organized crime, ruthless vigilante-hero Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson, HBO’s Rome) sets his sights on overeager mob boss, Billy Russoti (Dominic West, HBO’s The Wire). After Russoti is left horribly disfigured by Castle, he sets out to seek vengeance under his new alias: Jigsaw. With the “Punisher Task Force” hot on his trail and the FBI unable to take Jigsaw in, Frank must stand up to the formidable army that Jigsaw has recruited before more of his evil deeds go unpunished. The film is based on Marvel’sPunisher comic book series, written by Nick Santora and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, and directed by Lexi Alexander.

I was completely surprised by this movie, I have to admit. Punisher: War Zone sees director Lexi Alexander embrace the brutal two-dimensional nature of the character, a man on a mission and nothing more. I can see why fans would be turned off for what could be seen as a disrespectful take on Frank Castle, but she makes it work here. One reason why it works is because the movie embraces the absurd side of this and gives us probably some of the most enjoyable kills ever put on screen. Heads are lopped off, heads are literally punched through, and goons are taken out with rocket launchers. Come on - how does that not sound awesome? Well, it simply is, which helps make the movie an absolute fun ride. There is one particular kill in here that is so awesome that to say anything about it would completely ruin its impact - it is that awesome!

What may surprise many viewers is how stylish and sometimes greatly composed Alexander has framed shots. Where a movie this full of vibrant colors could be off-putting and detrimental to the film, it actually makes the carnage easier to swallow. On top of that, it seems everyone - every character - has embraced the absurd nature of the movie and it just running with it. Stereotypes are off the charts here with nearly every character coming across as so over-the-top it's almost offensive. In any other movie it wouldn't work, but here, and I don't know how, Alexander manages to combine all of this, all of the stupidity and carnage, into something of a guilty pleasure dripping with great "laugh-out-loud" moments, great style, and some awesome kills. Oddly enough, if I was to compare this movie to anything, it'd be to All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder comic series. Both properties embrace the ridiculous nature of these characters and just run with it, and for the most part, it's totally fun, too.

The movie manages to balance the action scenes with the quiet scenes well, but, admittedly, I was hankering to see what else Alexander was going to come up with next after seeing each scene. It blows my mind how this film managed to get only an R-rating and not NC-17, though it did garner an 18A rating in Canada. The violence here is unbelievable at times, it really is. One can only assume the bright colors and black humor helped the movie avoid such a rating.

Fans of the 2004 Tom Jane-vehicle The Punisher probably won't like this. While that movie played everything straight to an incredible degree, despite the odd moments of humor here and there, this movie is completely different. Whether or not it's better than the other one, I suppose, is up for debate. Both movies have their pros and cons, but, to be honest, I had more fun with this one. While the 2004 The Punisher was a revenge flick, this one is something completely different but also true to the source material, and both are valid interpretations of one of Marvel's cult anti-heroes. If fans come into this movie with an open mind, I am sure they'll come out pleasantly surprised. With an amazing body count and an impressive amount of unique and stylish kills, Punisher: War Zone is a movie that is hard to dislike. Alexander does a great job at making what could have been a painfully dreadful movie into something thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

You know, while Punisher: War Zone isn't the best movie by any means, I still had an absolute blast watching it and, personally, I can see myself revisiting this movie down the line. As weird as this may sound, it has a sort of charm to it, especially when it really lets itself indulge in dark, black humor. If you don't take the movie seriously and just go with the flow, I think many people will be pleasantly surprised with the movie here. Punisher: War Zone, to me, is a pretty under-appreciated movie that is absolutely fun. By no means does it compare to some of the best comic book movies out there, but it knows that and doesn't try to. If you let yourself get lost in the mayhem and absurdity of Punisher: War Zone, I think you're going to end up really enjoying it. On that note, I'd have to give Punisher: War Zone the Recommended stamp, just because, if you go along with it, you're going to have an absolute blast with the movie.

The Blu-ray:

Thankfully, Punisher: War Zone has received a solid Blu-ray release. After a very poor showing during its theatrical run, this movie seemed destined to be dropped onto the home video format and forgotten. Thankfully Maple Pictures in Canada, and Lionsgate Home Entertainment in the United States, has given this movie a very excellent release.

The video presentation for this movie looks really great. For a movie that really plays with color and style, the transfer is free of any compression or noticeable defects. Blacks are incredibly deep and colors appear full and vibrant. While the color palette can be extreme at times, it never once feels fake or embellished in any way. As for the audio, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is absolutely packed with ear-crushing sound effects. It's amazing how the audio track can hop from such an over-the-top action sequence filled with brutally loud shootings to as very quiet scene. It's a very well balanced track with every channel exploited when it needs to be. Everything comes out crisp and clear...and usually unbelievably loud. An excellent, excellent transfer.

And, for those fans of the movie, Punisher: War Zone gets a great helping of bonus features! The disc starts off with a very enjoyable and genuinely interesting commentary track with Director Lexi Alexander and Director of Photography Steve Gainer. The track manages to stay on the technical side for the duration, discussing things such as specific comic homages and the intentional humoristic tone of the movie, and avoids addressing any of the behind-the-scenes issues the movie was reported to have gone through. The "Training to Become the Punisher" featurette is exactly that, following Stevenson's Marine training for the role. The "Making of Punisher: War Zone" featurette is just that, a giving us a quick look at the film but not providing anything really concrete, and trying desperately hard to sell the movie. "Creating the Look of Punisher: War Zone is a roughly three-minute look at the film's unique lighting scene and, personally, I would've preferred a bit of a longer look as I found this to be interesting. "Weapons of the Punisher" is probably the weakest of the featurettes, taking at look at all the different gear our main character uses. The disc is rounded off with the theatrical trailer for the film, trailers for other Lionsgate titles, and some BD Live content. A standard definition copy of the movie is available on the second disc. All in all, a nice collection of extras that fans of the movie should enjoy.

Make no mistake, Punisher: War Zone is a stupid, stupid movie. But it's also one hell of an awesome movie that's a total funhouse ride from start to finish. It's just an utter blast, something that fans with an open mind will enjoy. And, really, it's a movie that has a lot of appear to, whether it's horror fans or action movie fans, there really is something for everyone. Just make sure you go along with the movie and toss all reason out the door. I have no doubt this will be one of those movies that will become a true cult and fan classic down the line. Punisher: War Zone is seeped in black humor and is full of some seriously awesome moments. And if you're looking for the best way to experience this flick, the Punisher: War Zone - 2-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray release is the way to go. Everything looks and sounds absolutely perfect and the bonus material brings some nice background material for this under-appreciated flick. Again, I seriously, seriously, seriously recommend checking out this flick. It's an absolutely stupid movie, but it's so fun and so packed with action that it's hard to resist. Punisher: War Zone comes Recommended, so give it a shot (pun intended...yet again)!

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