Although 2004’s The Punisher wasn’t all that good, it still made enough money to warrant a sequel. It didn’t end up with one though, because both the first film’s director and lead actor pulled out of the project, citing creative differences as their reason. But, since the franchise made money in the past, a reboot was decided upon instead. What a good decision this was, even if not many people went to see it.
Punisher: War Zone re-imagines Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson takes the lead in this go-round) as someone who goes around and kills criminals. He lost his family during a mobster massacre, but somehow survived. Possibly because he can’t be killed, as we learn throughout the film. He begins the film taking out a bunch of criminals, with one of them being an undercover police officer. This upsets him, because he promised that he would only ever kill bad guys.
So he wants to give up the “Punisher” persona, but after learning that the wife and child of the dead officer is in danger, he decides to go just one more time. One of the people who he thought he killed in the initial raid managed to live, but since he lost all of his skin in a brutal “killing”, he was stitched back together and looks like the Frankenstein Monster. He now goes by the name of “Jigsaw” (Dominic West), and he is the one wanting revenge on both the dead cop’s family, and on Castle. He frees his mentally unstable brother from a mental asylum and gathers an army to take down all of those who “wronged him”.
This is how the main plot of the film sets up, although it’s mostly there just to give Castle a reason to once again put on body armor, wield a bunch of guns and kill a lot of people. At that, the plot succeeds, even if there are some moments that don’t quite make sense. There’s some sort of deal that is planned involving Jigsaw and some Russians, but it serves very little purpose, except to give Jigsaw and his brother leverage over the police. Somehow. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I ran with it because of how much fun I was having otherwise.
One of the other reasons that Thomas Jane, the star of the previous film, didn’t come back for a sequel was because of a lower budget than he felt was required. War Zone actually got $2 million more than the $33 million that the first film was given, but he still felt that wasn’t enough. If the tone of the previous film was kept, I would have agreed with that sentiment. For how much action that goes on in this film, if they wanted it to be dark and gritty like the previous film, they would have needed much more money than that.
But that’s not what happened. Instead of keeping things gloomy, War Zone decided that an action film should be fun. It went with a B-movie approach, with over-the-top action scenes, and some rather poor special effects. But it works because of how crazy everything is, how well-paced the film is, and because there is always something to look at.
The B-movie level visuals do pose a problem though. Whenever someone suffers damage to the head, their body completely stops moving, even if their momentum, or the momentum of whatever hits them, would knock them over. But instead, their body goes completely rigid for a couple of seconds, and then their body falls over. It feels really unnatural, and makes you remember that this isn’t a wonderfully made film. $33 million is still more money than a lot of more professional-looking movies were given, and they don’t suffer from this problem. But this is a small gripe among a sea of things to like, so it isn’t that important.
I mentioned earlier that it seemed that this imagination of Frank Castle was unkillable. It seemed that director Lexi Alexander was aware of this, and decided to make the potential victims the dead police officer’s wife and child. That’s where any real tension comes from — when the criminals go after these two characters. We don’t care much about Frank Castle, because we don’t view him as vulnerable. But a helpless woman and child, they can be tortured and killed. This was a brilliant move, because it means that there are more grounded characters for us to relate to, while still having a killing machine for us to have fun watching.
This film is also much better paced than the previous film, because it doesn’t stop to have extended dialogue scenes. It’s more or less a film that has action after action scene, and it keeps us entertained as a result. The story itself is dark like the last Punisher film, but since the characters aren’t as glum and there are actually some humorous moments scattered throughout, you can actually sit back and enjoy the vast majority of this film, as long as you don’t mind B-movies.
Punisher: War Zone is a really fun movie. It’s not much more than that; there’s nothing intellectually stimulating or a deeper message than “crime is bad”, but it’s really enjoyable to watch. Since it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the audience can have a good time while watching it. It’s not a perfect movie, and if you aren’t a fan of the action and special effects in B-movies, but if you can tolerate or appreciate a somewhat cheesy and campy action film, then you’ll probably have a good time with Punisher: War Zone.