Waging his one-man war on the world of organized crime, ruthless vigilante-hero Frank Castle sets his sights on overeager mob boss Billy Russoti. After Russoti is left horribly disfigured by Castle, he sets out for 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 best of the Punisher movies with a weak last act*** The Punisher first appeared in the Spider-Man comic in February, 1974, and became a semi-regular foe/ally in that mag, but was more apt to appear in Daredevil in the 80s until the character got his own mini-series in 1986 and then his ongoing titles: The Punisher (1987), The Punisher War Journal (1988) and The Punisher War Zone (1992). The character was so popular at the time that he inspired a black & white magazine as well (1989). The reason The Punisher was and continues to be so popular is because he's essentially an over-the-top version of "Dirty Harry" and "Deathwish": Frank Castle's family is killed by the mob while on a picnic in Central Park and so he declares war on all criminals wherein he becomes their judge, jury and executioner. Unlike Daredevil, a lawyer who utilizes the justice system, The Punisher just kills 'em all. The first movie version was 1989's "The Punisher" with Dolph Lundgren, which was a disappointment. Lundgren was good, but the movie was too Grade B cartoony and it took too many liberties. Still, some consider it a cult flick. The 2004 movie with Thomas Jane curiously transferred the character from New York City to sunny Florida, specifically the Tampa area. There were other oddities that didn’t sit well, but Jane was good as the protagonist and there was enough good in the flick to marginally enjoy it. This 2008 rendition, “Punisher: War Zone,” was originally intended to be a sequel to the 2004 movie with Thomas Jane, but delays in the production caused him to pull out. Lexi Alexander ultimately got the gig as director and she pitched the idea of doing the film “as a throwback to '80s era action films” with 6’4” Ray Stevenson taking over as The Punisher. Jigsaw (Dominic West) makes for a memorable villain with Loony Bin Jim an entertaining wacko sidekick (Doug Hutchison). Wayne Knight plays Microchip and Julie Benz the wife of an undercover agent that Castle mistakenly kills on one of his missions. The towering Colin Salmon stands out as a police agent intent on tracking down The Punisher. It was a good call to bring the story back to New York City and, honestly, this has to be one of the best-looking big city movies I’ve ever seen, no kidding. The cinematography/locations/lighting are exceptional. While the movie has the urban grittiness of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it balances it out with amusing cartoonish-ness. There is some quality drama, like Castle’s anguish over killing a “good guy” and his dealings with the dead agent’s widow & daughter, but it’s not overlong and dull like in “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008). Unfortunately, the last act, while serviceable, could’ve been better. At the end of the day, “Punisher: War Zone” edges out the 2004 movie as the best film version of the character. It’s more faithful to the comics and overall more entertaining even though it totally bombed at the box office. The film runs 1 hour, 43 minutes and was shot in Montreal, Quebec. GRADE: B/B-
To be fair, Punisher: War Zone is the most accurate representation of the comic we've had to date. The gore, extreme violence, and borderline sadism is very much a part of the comic. Ray Stevenson is spot on as Frank Castle. Dominic West is not so good as Jigsaw but at least his gang is more competent than Travolta's. Given that this came out in the same year as two other big comic book movies, there is one big thing that Punisher: War Zone contributes: proof that a female director can make an unforgivingly cruel but kick ass action flick, so I don't understand how more of them aren't being given the opportunity to do so.