Movie Review: The Punisher (2004) & Punisher: War Zone

Instead of writing two separate entries for both of these Punisher films, I decided to just group them together. They are, in fact, two completely separate films as the second one released is a reboot and not a sequel. And not only that, if we are being honest, there isn’t a whole lot to write about.

The Punisher (2004) was Marvel’s first attempt at a movie for the infamous vigilante. Well, besides that Dolph Lundgren flick from the 1980’s. In this movie, Thomas Jane (The Mist, Dreamcatcher) plays Frank Castle. Castle is an undercover FBI agent who retires and hopes to live a peaceful life with his family. However, in his last case, he killed the son of Howard Saint, a corrupt businessman. And Saint, played by John Travolta, sends his people to kill Castle and his family on their vacation.

Frank somehow survives the onslaught and vows to get revenge for his family’s murders by becoming The Punisher. As The Punisher, Castle heavily arms himself and wages a one-man war against Saint and his goons.

The Punisher was decent and I really enjoyed it a lot at first. Maybe I was just hopefully. But as time has passed, the movie has become cheesier with each viewing. It just seems so hokey and goofy that I can’t believe I really liked this movie at first.

I also didn’t like the casting choices. I like Thomas Jane. He is a good actor. But he is not The Punisher. He just doesn’t look believable as the character. And Travolta as a seedy crime boss isn’t that believable either. I want to see someone who is gritty and slimy. Not someone with perfect hair and a huge smile.

As much as I disliked The Punisher, I really actually enjoyed the 2008 reboot Punisher: War Zone. While it may have never been a box office success or spawned a sequel, I think his film is actually pretty damn good and is overlooked. Maybe it was hurt by its predecessor. I’m not sure. But it is definitely worth a view for fans of the character.

In this film, Frank Castle is played by Ray Stevenson (Thor, Divergent). Castle is already The Punisher when the movie begins and we see how he became this man through flashbacks. The action starts quickly as Castle attacks a group of criminals. During the gun fight, Castle accidentally kills an undercover agent and is sought after by the police.

During the fight, big time criminal Billy, played by Dominic West (300, The Wire), escaped and was later hunted down by Castle. Castle knocks Billy into a glass breaking machine and it cuts his face up horribly, but he does survive. He goes to his doctor and has a surgery that pieces his face back together. Being a vein man, Billy is angered by his new look and decides he wants to be known now as Jigsaw.

Now out to get Castle, Jigsaw kidnaps the wife and child of the agent Castle accidentally killed and his close friend. He lures Castle into an abandoned hotel for one final showdown. Jigsaw fills the hotel with hundreds of criminals and gangs that want The Punisher dead, but that doesn’t stop Castle. He goes through the hotel and meets up with Jigsaw and his brother Loony Bin Jim. They have his friend tied up on one side and the agent’s child and widow on the other. Castle now has to decide who to save and then have his final battle with Jigsaw.

While the movie wasn’t perfect, Punisher: War Zone was a definite improvement on the 2004 film. My biggest complaint was some of the over-the-top violence and some of the characters. However, most of the characters and cast were great.

Stevenson was perfectly cast as The Punisher. He looked exactly like the guy I remember in the comics: hair slicked back, 5 o’clock shadow, and all business. He had the perfect look and was the best Punisher by far. Also great were West as Jigsaw (although the make-up wasn’t the best), Julie Benz as Angela, the agent’s widow, and Colin Salmon as Paul Budiansky, an agent on the hunt for Castle. Salmon was exceptionally well as he kind of portrayed what The Punisher is, but just on the right side of the law.

And let’s not forget Director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans). She did an excellent job on a small budget and brought the comic to life. Many shots in the film seemed just like comic book panes but without making it obvious. I thought the movie was much better than how it was received and Alexander and the rest of the crew, and cast, deserve a ton of credit.

Daryl Karpinski Jr.