Lionsgate // 2008 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 11th, 2009
Vengeance has a name.
After the first Punisher went over like a bag of spent shell casings, Lionsgate and Marvel figure the second time's the charm, re-casting the lead, spiking the body count, and launching the gore stats into the ionosphere.
While not necessarily a reboot, Punisher: War Zone pretends the first film didn't exist. There's a smidgen of origin story, told through a longing look at a headstone and some ultra-fast flashbacks, but this tale is concerned with only one thing: blowing the brains out of bad guys. Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) is more than happy to oblige.
The film opens with Castle (a.k.a. The Punisher) single-handedly assaulting the mansion of a powerful Mafia family, then taking the fight to one of syndicate's warehouses, where he leaves the second-in-command sliced and diced in a glass bottle crusher. Gotta always check the pulse Frank, because this dude comes back as the murderous Jigsaw (Dominic West, 300) and he's determined to reclaim his empire and exact revenge...and so on and so forth. Anyway, head shots!
After the tepid original, I wasn't sure if there was an audience clamoring for more big-screen Punishment. Some focus group obviously thought there was still juice left in the franchise, so here's War Zone. Maybe Lionsgate thought this would be the series swan song or perhaps they were angling for an older, gore-loving demographic, but this sucker is blood-soaked. Seriously, I haven't seen horror movies blow out the amount of bodily trauma this thing does, which will ultimately be the deciding factor for viewers.
Do you want a measured examination of vengeance and grief or how -- when they intertwine -- a once well-adjusted family man turns into a hollow husk, propelled into a nightmarish existence as a roving executioner? Look elsewhere. War Zone is as soulless and empty as its protagonist.
If, however, you want to see mass, mindless carnage with lots and lots of guns firing lots and lots of rounds at lots and lots of bad guys, I've got the movie for you. As a slickly constructed frag-a-thon, Punisher: War Zone works. The action is well-executed and, despite a plot-heavy lag in the middle, the film hums along at a nice pace. Thankfully, director Levi Alexander (I can't remember the last hard-R action film helmed by a woman) shoots the action with a steady hand, largely discarding the ADHD hyper-editing that characterizes shoot'em-ups these days. She's also pretty deranged, reveling in the gore that accompanies Castle's slaying: skulls are blown apart by point blank shotgun shells, brainpans are evacuated from sniper rounds, heads are nearly snapped in half, handguns ventilate an uncountable number of victims, and the impaling...oh, the impaling. Violence-wise, War Zone makes The Punisher look like an episode of The Dog Whisperer.
Lionsgate has produced another sterling Blu-ray. Well, near-sterling. The 2.35:1 widescreen is a stunner, save for the smallest of video glitches. It happens during a driving scene, the characters are talking and then really quick the frame stutters. It's far from a feature-killer, but the perfect score is, unfortunately denied. Beyond that, the picture quality is top-notch and, since this movie takes place almost entirely in the dark, the widely improved resolution is a humongous benefit. The DTS-HD 7.1 audio mix pounds. The frantic gunfire makes for an electrifying mix and the orchestral score is transmitted with richness.
Extras: a feature commentary with Levi Alexander and director of photography Steve Gainer; plus, short but sweet HD featurettes looking at the making-of, the guns (there are a lot and they're shiny), the Jigsaw character and make-up, Ray Stevensoon's physical preparation for the role and the look of the film. The custom blog tool MoLog is your BD-Live application.
Hyper-violent, charm-free, and kind of pointless, Punisher: War Zone still manages to entertain, easily outpacing the original. The Blu-ray is a winner.
Really, it deserves a guilty verdict, but the bench has a soft spot for extreme face-punching.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cinema Verdict Review