Marvel Movie Madness! Part 18: Punisher: War Zone

We go to war on this one.

by | June 17, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 18: Punisher: War Zone (2008, 27% @ 98 reviews)

Directed by Lexi Alexander, starring Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Wayne Knight, Julie Benz

Alex: Another stab at a Punisher movie, another failure. Ray Stevenson mostly looks grumpy, not quite insane enough. The rest of the cast seemed to have been given no direction to rein in their characters, especially Dominic West as villain Jigsaw and Julie Benz as the widow of an undercover FBI agent slain by the Punisher.

The basic plot revolves around the Punisher somehow discovering that, among the hundreds of thugs he guns down, one happened to be an FBI agent. Suddenly, he has a conscience. Why does he even care?

This is a Saw-era Lionsgate movie and it shows. Blood and organs all over the place, with the same half-assed shrug for human life. Characters come and go, each dying randomly without a single dramatic moment.

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Tim: Yeah, Punisher: War Zone isn’t very good. But give it credit for one thing: it’s more honest in its intentions than the previous Punisher flick. It doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a brutal exploitation flick, and on that level it feels (slightly) less morally questionable than its predecessor. It’s still got plenty of problems; after an explosive opening, it sags badly in the middle, and the subplot about a terrorist attack on New York City is barely fleshed out (and gives the bad guys the opportunity to use the word “ragheads” a couple times — though I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a Punisher movie isn’t particularly concerned with political correctness). Ray Stevenson does his best with the role — he’s got the grizzled look of a seen-it-all vigilante, and he’s credible as an action star. And it’s always a pleasure to see The Wire‘s Dominic West on the big screen, but it’s a pity his wryly expressive face is trapped behind gory prosthetics for most of the movie. Overall, there isn’t much in the way of compelling characters or plotting, and what we’re left with is a so-so b-movie with a better than average cast and a couple decent shoot-outs. Who woulda thunk that the Dolph Lundgren Punisher would end up being the most satisfying of the bunch?

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Matt: I don’t think this movie is very good, but it’s not as bad as the other attempts and bringing The Punisher to the big screen. If you really want to see a grim and brutal vigilante take down criminal scum, that’s what you get. Is this Punisher movie truest to the character? Yes. Does that make for a good movie? Not really. Depending on how squeamish you are, the movie isn’t unwatchable, but it’s not a great example of moviemaking either. More than anything else, this movie comes off as a Saw-type action movie, like Alex says. Which isn’t to say that wouldn’t have an audience, but it’s likely to be relatively small.

I think the biggest problem here is that the Punisher is a pretty limited character to work with. Getting into his origin works in the comics, but the nature of a 30 page comic means that you’d get his origin and that’s it (next issue: more blood and guts!). Dropping the origin story into a movie is dicey though, because you’re going to have to juggle the tragedy of his family with the viciousness of his never-ending quest for revenge on all criminals. It occurs to me that Punisher is like Batman, if Batman had been a marine when his family was killed and then had a murderously psychotic breakdown. Sure, they both fight criminals, but The Punisher crosses the line. Which was the whole point of the character. He was a villain when he first showed up, and he still plays that role quite a bit. Marvel editors will sometimes put him in the hero column, but I don’t think it fits really well in the comics, and it’s even worse in the movies. Maybe the best thing Hollywood could do for the Punisher would be to treat him as the villain, because the heroics sure as hell aren’t working for him.


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