REVIEW: PUNISHER: WAR ZONE

CAST

Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Dominic West (300)
Julie Benz Angel)
Colin Salmon (Arrow)
Doug Hutchison (Shaft)
Dash Mihok (Gotham)
Wayne Knight (3rd Rock From The Sun)
T.J. Storm (VR Troopers)

 

The film follows Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson), a man who was out for a picnic with his wife and son one day and who happened to witness a mob hit. The mob, never pleased with events like this, opened fire on the Castle family and sent all but Frank to their graves. With nothing else to live for, Frank decides to arm himself to the teeth and with the help of his friend and weapons supplier, Microchip (Wayne Knight), wage a war on crime. Taking care of the criminals who fall through the cracks of the legal system, Castle’s managed to accumulate a pretty massive body count, but the N.Y.P.D. tends to turn a blind eye to his activities until one night Castle accidently kills Nicky Donatelli (Romano Orzari), an undercover F.B.I. agent trying to infiltrate the gang run by Billy Russoti (Dominic West).

When the feds learn that Castle has killed one of their own, they send Special Agent Paul Budiansky (Colin Salmon) to work with Detective Martin Soap (Dash Mihok) to bring Castle in for good. Meanwhile, Billy Russoti, whose face was mangled during the incident and who now calls himself Jigsaw, wants revenge. He springs his brother, James (Doug Hutchinson), better known as Loony Bin Jim, from the local asylum and decides he’s going to take out Donatelli’s widow, Angela (Julie Benz) and daughter, Grace (Stephanie Janusauskas) and then the Punisher himself. On top of that, Russoti is in the middle of a deal with the Russian mob involving some biological weapons, a deal that the feds and N.Y.P.D. alike absolutely do not want to happen.

While the plot is fairly thin, there’s enough meat on the bones of the plot to work. Each of the central characters has sufficient motivation that their actions make sense and with the plot established and the characters set up, director Lexi Alexander wisely chooses to not waste anymore time and get on with the action. Sure there are a couple of sentimental flashbacks in the movie, but those serve to remind us that there is a living, breath, feeling human being underneath the skull emblazoned Kevlar armor.

The real heart of this film is in its action scenes and it is in these scenes that the picture really excels. When Castle kills someone, he really kills them. A face is punched in (literally), throats are slit, a head is cut of, brains are blown out, there are squibs galore and in one remarkably ridiculous scene a balletic gang banger is blown up, mid maneuver, by a rocket launcher. The violence in the film is hard hitting and completely over the top – just as it should be!

Equally as ridiculous are the film’s villains. Dominic West and Doug Hutchinson are having so much malicious fun as Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim that, while you want the Punisher to take them down, you can’t help but want them to come back for a sequel. These guys play the parts with completely unwarranted but very welcome enthusiasm, playing everything to the hilt – the mannerisms, the New Yawk accents – to the point where they are literally comic book villains incarnate. Stevenson’s Frank Castle is perfect in the lead, bringing a nice sense of brooding menace to the character and scowling his way through the film just as you’d want him too.

Helping the over the top performances and ultra violence immensely is some fantastic camerawork and lighting. There are large portions of the movie that are bathed in Bava-esque primary colors, really upping the comic book come to life aesthetic that Alexander was obviously going for here. It works, and it works well. Not only does the movie zip along at a great pace but it looks fantastic doing so.

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