Punisher: War Zone (R) ★★★

Review Date: December 5th, 2008

The one-man killing machine known as The Punisher is back, but not Thomas Jane. Carrying this deliriously deranged Marvel Comics reboot falls on the very broad shoulders of Ray Stevenson.


When we last saw the armed-to-the-teeth vigilante Frank Castle, he was fleeing Tampa after exacting his revenge upon the money launderer responsible for murdering his son, wife, parents, aunts and uncles, third cousin twice removed … But that was the old Punisher. Meet the new Punisher. Like Incredible Hulk, Punisher: War Zone reboots a franchise by assuming we know enough about the Punisher without having go into excruciating detail about why he became judge, jury and executioner. Another good sign: Ray Stevenson's Punisher is back where he belongs, in a dirty, grimy New York, not sun-kissed Florida. And he's got his sights set on comic-book nemesis Jigsaw, the alias of mobster Billy "the Beaut" Russoti (The Wire's Dominic West). While trying to assassinate Russoti, the Punisher accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent, compelling him to hang up his guns. Russoti escapes, but his face is torn to shreds by glass. With his once-handsome face stitched up like a 12-piece puzzle, the rechristened Jigsaw springs his brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) from -- of course -- a loony bin to help him punish the Punisher. So much for the Punisher locking up his war journal for good …


No disrespect, but Jane's too much of a pretty boy to pass himself off as the Punisher. The big, burly Ray Stevenson (HBO's Rome) looks every bit the cold-blooded dispenser of justice fanboys know and adore. And the Northern Irish hard man possesses an intimidating physical presence, something Jane inherently lacks. Jane, though, received significant leeway to explore the anguish resulting from the loss of Castle's family. Stevenson wears nothing but a scowl as the taciturn and psychologically scarred human weapon, which admittedly is in keeping with the comic-book character's stony disposition. Then again, the out-of-control West does enough emoting for an army of Punishers. With his exaggerated gestures, dancing eyebrows, and thicker-than-Italian-cheesecake Noo Yawk accent, the Brit blasts through War Zone with the destructive force of a rocket-propelled grenade. This is a money gig for West, and damnit if he isn't going to have fun earning his paycheck. The Green Mile's Hutchinson, as Jigsaw's organ-chewing sibling, almost keeps pace with West. Seinfeld's Wayne Knight does his usual shtick as weapons supplier Microchip. Colin Salmon fills space as a by-the-book lawman pursuing the Punisher. Rambo and Saw V's Julie Benz -- who obviously can't say to any sequel or reboot she's offered -- is wasted as the FBI agent's widow and the voice of Castle's conscience.


Try counting the ways the Punisher dispatches of his foes. He hangs from a spinning chandelier and sprays a roomful of mobsters with bullets, blows up a man leaping between buildings, punches his fist through a bad guy's face, sets another on fire, and … well, we could be here all day. Fair to say, director Lexi Alexander's blood lust drives her to come up with one grisly laugh-inducing death after another. With its Empire State Building-high body count, Alexander's does the impossible and out-Rambos Rambo. And, quite frankly, it's everything a Punisher quest for vengeance should be. The 2004 Punisher seemed too disconnected from its source material. Why relocate from New York to Tampa? Or pit the Punisher against a villain from not from the comic book? Or have the Punisher setup Travolta for his fall when he lives by the gun? Jane's departure paved the way for a reboot that's closer to the spirit of the comic book and wants nothing more than to be an old-school shoot 'em up like Commando or Lethal Weapon. There isn't a moment that goes by when you're not howling at the disgracefully bad dialogue, gasping in shock at each and every execution, or wondering at just how much more dumb and fun things can get. Alexander, the German director who turned sweet little Elijah Wood into a soccer thug in Green Street Hooligans isn't trying to transcend the comic-book genre á la The Dark Knight. Instead, she's just wants to give us one hell of an adrenaline rush. "This is just the beginning," Stevenson growls after taking care of business. Let the bodies continue to hit the floor.

Bottom Line

Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.