Marvel Movie Madness! Part 18: Punisher: War Zone

We go to war on this one.

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.


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.


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?


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.

More Marvel Movie Madness:

Comments

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Thanks for restating my Batman comparison (and somewhat referencing my anti-hero point) from Part 17, Matt!

I'm still surprised this was treated like it was better than the last one. In Part 17, I said I could find nothing that WRONG with it - but this one has almost everything wrong with it. Marvel Knights must have traveled into the future and read Part 17 and noticed that you complained about the movie trying to have heart - because they sure as hell all near stripped this movie of any. I found myself not caring what happened to anybody, Punisher or villian.

However, I felt there were SOME good intentions - the actors playing the two main villians really gave their all in this movie. You watch it and you believe that they completely surrendered to the roles. It's just sad that the roles weren't worthy of their faithfulness.

Two fundamental issues I had with the main badguy was 1)The Dark Knight came out earlier, and I couldn't help seeing the comparison between that Joker and this character - and since Joker was SO incredible - this performance paled in comparison. 2)This ALSO reminded me of Burton's Joker. I felt the script wanted us to see him the same - both in HIS origin, and how he reacted to the smooth-mobster-turned-ugly. Same goes with the final act. It completely reminded me of the tower scene at the end of Batman.

Speaking of the final act - besides Batman's final act - did anybody else feel like they were watching a video game, where the final boss battle happens in a building loaded with baddies to get through first? Either way, blech.

I love Julie Benz - but I wish she would stop playing the broken-yet-resiliant-female role (Dexter, Punisher, Rambo). She did fine, but I want to see more.

Speaking of her storyline - I felt this caused the whole franchise to tread water. He loses his family in 2004's movie, goes on to kill a crime syndicate...only to now basically avenge a widow? I understand it's a reboot, but for those fans who are coming back from seeing the next one (and even first timers), why aren't we moving on to bigger mob groups? Maybe we find out Travolta's group has a group above them? Even without referring to the previous Punisher movie, why isn't he going after something bigger than a local group. I never knew Punisher's moto to be "Shop Local". I guess you can never accuse Castle of not supporting the Mom 'n Pop mobs.

Jun 17 - 01:24 PM

Justin D.

Justin D.

You know I never mentioned it w/ your other Batman/Punisher comparisons, but I sometimes feel that Punisher might have worked better if he were, a) a DC comics character and, b) a Batman villain. This way the Dark Knight would have someone to compare himself to, like looking into a fun house mirror.

Jun 17 - 04:34 PM

Sabius

Christopher Shine

Agreed about the video game end battle. Amazing how they all showed up in large groups (in apparently empty Manhattan...uhh I mean Toronto? What city was this actually?) and line up in rooms just waiting to be shot. I am consistently shocked at how off these RT marvel "reviews" are. Warzone was laughably bad and all over the place, a far, far cry from the 2004 movie and not even remotely close to any of the comics...and the Thomas Jane movie somehow morally problematic because they wanted to give it some heart? This movie was morally bankrupt as if written by an angry teenager. The 2004 film was based on "Welcome back Frank" and in one of those stories Frank kills a group of vigilantes for accidentally causing collateral damage. In the video game (2005) he outright refuses to kill innocents if you point a gun at one. That's why he cares. Ok, can we have some critics that read The Punisher at some point? Or likes comic book movies?

Jun 17 - 05:47 PM

gridlock'd2

First Last

I thought it was much truer to the comics than the Thomas Jane movie. Since when is the Punisher an uncover cop who lives in Floria? (He seemed ridiculous wearing all black with a leather jacket in a hot climate) And since when was Frank Castle ressurrected by a voodoo priest? And who the hell is Howard Saint? And why is he planting fire hydrants instead of shooting people?

I'm not saying War Zone is a good movie. It's not. But it is closer to the comics. At least the ones I read.

Jun 18 - 11:34 AM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

The villain was WAAAAYYYY better in Tom Jane's Punisher, but Stevenson was a way better Punisher. Bridge the two movies and you got a hit.

By the way, all the nonsense about Punisher not being a hero and/or not being translatable to the screen? I only say this. I am glad the people who think this way ARE NOT making movies.

Jun 19 - 03:02 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Ray Stevenson was easily the best Punisher. He was just in the wrong damn script. Dominic West, while a great actor, was all over the place in Punisher as Jigsaw. I could not believe the level of annoying camp in his performance. It's like he was determined to derail the film, and he did that with reputable success.

Jun 19 - 02:57 PM

frogleg

Josh Quarles

I agree here. I think Stevenson was far and away the best Castle. I just thought the movie was really shitty.

Jun 20 - 07:16 AM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Agreed. lol. I blame Dominic, man. His Jigsaw COMPLETELY derailed the movie.

Jun 20 - 08:11 AM

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Jun 19 - 06:39 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Welcome to my ass to kiss, as well as everyone else here for a legitimate reason. Your ads are not welcome.

Jun 19 - 06:45 PM

Mr_White

Mauro Corstiaans

Of the three Punisher movies I hate this one the most. There was a lot of talk in pre-production of them taking elements from Garth Ennis' Punisher MAX series which is arguably The Punisher at its best, but they somehow ended up ignoring the parts that made Punisher MAX so good and just took random elements that barely had anything to do with the series' quality.

The MAX run works primarily because of its huge supporting cast of psychopathic criminals, corrupt special agents, vicious business men, etc. etc. It creates a terrifying world of pain and suffering in which The Punisher enacts his 'justice' as something of an apocalyptic force of nature. It's unsettling and dark, but also gripping. It's a shame no film maker has yet come to see this.

Jun 17 - 01:29 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I agree with you 100%, man.

Jun 17 - 02:54 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I liked this one the best of the bunch, though it's still a bad movie. Punisher is about brutality and violence, and at the very least this is what the movie gave us. Also - Wayne Knight gets shot in the head, that HAS to count for something.

"This is for trying to sell out Jurassic Park, bitch!" *blam!*

Jun 17 - 01:35 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

I love PUNISHER: WAR ZONE unreservedly. The nerds on this comment thread are incapable of understanding great entertainment.

Parkour dude gets blowed up real good by a sidewinder! It's glourious.

Jun 18 - 06:15 AM

bijio

biji badness

uh, don't you think its a little rich to bash the "nerds on this comment thread"...IN the comment thread?? i mean, not to say you're being a tool or anything, but...well, i can't finish that sentence.

Jul 6 - 06:38 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I have expressed my hate for this movie on the other Punisher threads, so I am going to keep this one short and just say I think this is the worst one.

Jun 17 - 02:54 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Why? All of them suck, this one at least has the gore to numb you a little bit and make you not pay as much attention to its awfulness.

Jun 17 - 03:12 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

If that was the case, then the Saw movies would've been tolerable...which they weren't.

Jun 17 - 04:07 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I never said this movie was tolerable. I said it sucked, but still better than the other 2.

Jun 17 - 06:23 PM

truheart

Peter Williams

I'm not going to say this is the worst of the bunch, but it's close. I think all of the movies had elements that were good. Punisher was a complete killing machine in this movie, which is what he is in the comic. The biggest problem with this movie is that somehow this seems to be more low budget then the Dolph Lundgren version. This movie looks really cheap in every way. Also, Jigsaw is cheesier then Travolta's Howard Saint. No way on God's green earth did I think anyone could come off cheesier then Travolta in the Tom Jane version. Ray Stevenson physically is the best looking of the 3. The problem is that he doesn't seem as psychotic as Dolph's version. He just seems depressed. I've come to the conclusion that The Punisher could have only been made in the 70's. Studios refuse to have a main character who doesn't fit the definition of a hero. The Punisher is not a hero in the movie definition. He's a killer who seeks to punish all that he believes should be punished. There is no gray in the Punishers world. He doesn't give a shit if you had a bad childhood. If you committed a crime you're toast. He's one of the most brutal characters around.

Jun 18 - 12:46 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

It's not that simple. You can't just "commit a crime" to get on Castle's radar. Folks keep painting him as this "villain" who will kill you if you steal a pair of pants out of Walmart. That is NOT The Punisher.

Jun 22 - 05:08 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I agree with you 100%, man.

Jun 17 - 02:54 PM

Wisenheimer

Joshua Dinsmore

I haven't seen this movie but there really isn't any rush to do so.

Jun 17 - 03:12 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Why? All of them suck, this one at least has the gore to numb you a little bit and make you not pay as much attention to its awfulness.

Jun 17 - 03:12 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

If that was the case, then the Saw movies would've been tolerable...which they weren't.

Jun 17 - 04:07 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I never said this movie was tolerable. I said it sucked, but still better than the other 2.

Jun 17 - 06:23 PM

Racer Z

Shannon Potratz

Not as bad as the others Matt? Really? Jigsaw alone renders this movie completely unwatchable! With all the great (and complex) movie "super" villain archetypes to reference (Darth Vader, Roy Batty, Kahn, Magneto, Joker, Lex Luthor), it always amazes me that Hollywood would choose to go with the campy, one dimensional, psychopathic moron and then play it so far over-the-top that it actually becomes embarrassing to watch.

Had I been at the theater alone, I would have simply gotten up and walked out. Even G.I. Joe wasn't that bad.

Jun 17 - 03:28 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Exactly, the recruitment of the gang by Jigsaw and LBJ where they montage walk down the street like a retarded version of Saturday Night Fever was the most painfully inept scene with painfully mishandled characters in a horribly subpar movie. Stevenson deserved better than this. They should have gotten the writers and director from Rome to take a crack at this. While they were at it get Vorenus to play Jigsaw and this movie might have had a chance.

Jun 17 - 06:50 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

If it's "unwatchable," how come I've watched it 10x already?

Jun 18 - 06:29 AM

Manuel G.

Manuel Granados

You have bad taste and too much free time?

Jun 20 - 12:34 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

Erroneous. Erroneous on both counts.

Jun 20 - 03:11 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

lol. A-fuckin-greed.

Jun 21 - 01:22 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

It's the only reason I can think of. If you love this movie that much I fear for your sanity cause it's just horrible on every level.

Jun 21 - 06:06 AM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Just because you can say "erroneous", doesn't change the fact that you clearly have horrendously bad taste if you can for a moment defend that damn scene. Jesus. It was worse than Parker-Man's Travolta moment. And that is a flavor of worse that I never thought I'd see.

Jun 22 - 02:18 AM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

totally not my thing

. . . what's with all this excitement over super heroes???? (my cousin loves them; he's 50 years old and still dresses-up like Batman to attend Comic-Con) . . . a lot of people even those over 50 dress-up like Batman.

You GOTTA LOVE IT!!!!!

Jun 17 - 03:59 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

Cool story, bro. If it's not your thing, don't even bother commenting.

Jun 17 - 04:08 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

If that was the case, then the Saw movies would've been tolerable...which they weren't.

Jun 17 - 04:07 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I never said this movie was tolerable. I said it sucked, but still better than the other 2.

Jun 17 - 06:23 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

Cool story, bro. If it's not your thing, don't even bother commenting.

Jun 17 - 04:08 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

The Saw comparison is spot on from the overuse of tacky filters to the excess of mindless violence. The slogan during the making of this film must have been "eXtreme!" I vehemently disagree that this isn't the worst of the bunch, in fact I found it to be the worst Marvel movie yet and that's saying a hell of lot. Honestly I couldn't even make it past the twenty minute mark before I had to turn it off. Deplorable.

Jun 17 - 04:13 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

I forgot to mention a script and acting that makes any made for TV movie you can think of look like Citizen Kane. A wannabe Hannibal Lector, a guy who has some serious issues with mirrors, and a pack of oh so hardcore parkour punks ... ... Sorry I just vomited a bit in my mouth.

Jun 17 - 04:35 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

The introductory killing sequence is phenomenal, though. The very first kill at the dinner table is a decapitation by knife!

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE brings me much joy, a joy different in quality but equal in intensity to the joy evoked from watching the works of Jacques Demy & Michel Legrand.

Jun 18 - 06:36 AM

Lenny M.

Lenny Monroe

The only part I liked in this film was when the FBI guy called the cops "you Krispy Kreme mutha fuckas!!!!" I admit I laughed my ass off at that part.

Jun 17 - 04:18 PM

Justin D.

Justin D.

I'll say this much about "War Zone"; it definitely didn't bore me. Granted I still found it bad but at least the action was solid. The 2004 Punisher flick was so boring. It was violent, but in a thriller kind of way. This go 'round was just full on, death metal, lock-and-load, shoot-em-up, blood-and-guts action (and like Tim said, at this one was honest about what it was). Ray Stevenson was the closest to looking like the character, and I feel it captured the feel of the Punisher comics better than the last two attempts, but in the end Frank Castle is just too unsympathetic to be an effective hero. I'm thinking that maybe next time Punisher should appear in the sequel to the new Spider-Man film (provided the first one does well). I'd love to see Andrew Garfield running from a gun toting Ray Stevenson.

Jun 17 - 04:23 PM

Lenny M.

Lenny Monroe

I agree completely, I hate The Punisher movies, but War Zone did keep me a lil more intrigued than the '04 film.

Jun 17 - 04:38 PM

Justin D.

Justin D.

You know I never mentioned it w/ your other Batman/Punisher comparisons, but I sometimes feel that Punisher might have worked better if he were, a) a DC comics character and, b) a Batman villain. This way the Dark Knight would have someone to compare himself to, like looking into a fun house mirror.

Jun 17 - 04:34 PM

Sabius

Christopher Shine

Agreed about the video game end battle. Amazing how they all showed up in large groups (in apparently empty Manhattan...uhh I mean Toronto? What city was this actually?) and line up in rooms just waiting to be shot. I am consistently shocked at how off these RT marvel "reviews" are. Warzone was laughably bad and all over the place, a far, far cry from the 2004 movie and not even remotely close to any of the comics...and the Thomas Jane movie somehow morally problematic because they wanted to give it some heart? This movie was morally bankrupt as if written by an angry teenager. The 2004 film was based on "Welcome back Frank" and in one of those stories Frank kills a group of vigilantes for accidentally causing collateral damage. In the video game (2005) he outright refuses to kill innocents if you point a gun at one. That's why he cares. Ok, can we have some critics that read The Punisher at some point? Or likes comic book movies?

Jun 17 - 05:47 PM

gridlock'd2

First Last

I thought it was much truer to the comics than the Thomas Jane movie. Since when is the Punisher an uncover cop who lives in Floria? (He seemed ridiculous wearing all black with a leather jacket in a hot climate) And since when was Frank Castle ressurrected by a voodoo priest? And who the hell is Howard Saint? And why is he planting fire hydrants instead of shooting people?

I'm not saying War Zone is a good movie. It's not. But it is closer to the comics. At least the ones I read.

Jun 18 - 11:34 AM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

The villain was WAAAAYYYY better in Tom Jane's Punisher, but Stevenson was a way better Punisher. Bridge the two movies and you got a hit.

By the way, all the nonsense about Punisher not being a hero and/or not being translatable to the screen? I only say this. I am glad the people who think this way ARE NOT making movies.

Jun 19 - 03:02 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

I forgot to mention a script and acting that makes any made for TV movie you can think of look like Citizen Kane. A wannabe Hannibal Lector, a guy who has some serious issues with mirrors, and a pack of oh so hardcore parkour punks ... ... Sorry I just vomited a bit in my mouth.

Jun 17 - 04:35 PM

Mr. Bo Ziffer

Mr. Bo Ziffer

I like the 2004 version better than this version by far. This movie had the gore, but none of the brutality of the previous Punisher. This one was fun to watch for the guy getting punched through the face or the meth-head parkour guy getting blown up with a grenade launcher, but it does feel like killing for the sake of killing, rather than killing for the sake of vigilante justice.

Jun 17 - 04:37 PM

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