Wow. That was the first thought that came to mind as I left the decidedly less than full theater. It is a "wow" that comes with multiple interpretations. One interpretation is that this is a great movie that you would be stupid to miss on the big screen. Another possibility is that "wow" refers to the utter badness of the product. There are likely critics and fans who will fall on both sides of the line, although I suspect the majority will fall on the side of the second wow. My "wow" actually falls under a third interpretation. It is the sort that falls somewhere in between. Punisher: War Zone is not a good movie. It is definitely slickly made and has good production value, but it is not a good movie. It is the kind of movie that can provide immense entertainment if you want to have fun with it.
Punisher: War Zone is the sort of film that can kill a critic's credibility if they come out and say they like it. This works out well for me since I lost that a long time ago! I kid. Frankly, what do you think is better for a critic to do? Should they go along with the rest of the critical community and either praise or denigrate said film; or would you rather the critic demonstrate a mind of their own, regardless of what the masses think? Personally, I go with the latter; it makes it easier to reconcile the sides of me that like the important big films just as much as cheap genre outings. Of course, agreeing with the majority is not a bad thing, so long as you are agreeing for the right reasons.
As for this film? It is an absolute blast, fulled with bullets, blood, and over the top violence. I still have questions over whether or not this is actually a sequel to the 2004 Thomas Jane-starring Punisher film or if it is a reboot for the character. Not enough evidence is presented one way or the other, although I am more likely to believe it is a reboot. There is no mention of the events of the last film, but there is similarly no dwelling on the character's origin. I guess we got enough of an origin story in the Jane film and the even older Dolph Lundgren version.
The story is a simple one. Frank Castle, the Punisher (Ray Stevenson), is a fugitive from the law, a shadowy violent character that no one has yet been able to capture — although it doesn't seem like anyone is terribly interested in bringing him to justice, as he has been targeting the seedy criminal element of New York City. Problems arise when he targets Billy the Beaut (Dominic West). Punisher's attack on the Beaut and the rest of the collected gangsters leads to him accidentally killing an undercover FBI agent. This reignites the law's desire to bring him to justice.
This accidental murder leads to the creation of Punisher's original comic villain, Jigsaw, while also setting up a story that allows Castle to seek redemption for what he allowed (although not really) to happen to his own family. He sees the slain agent's family as his family by proxy. On one hand he just wants to pack up and leave, not fully trusting himself now that he has killed an innocent, but he just cannot truly leave knowing what could happen to the family left behind. So Castle says Jigsaw will be the last. He more or less adopts the wife and daughter of the man he killed, and sets out on a journey of revenge and redemption. On the other side of the coin, Jigsaw plots his revenge on Punisher for his current situation.
That's pretty much all there is to it. Don't go looking for subtext or nuance, there is none. Do not expect anything in the way of substance, this movie is not about that at all. This is the action movie equivalent of a slasher film, except the killer is the good guy. It has one-liners, clear good and bad guys, and a penchant for creative kills.
From the opening moments I was hooked. Of course it helps that the very first line of dialogue had me cracking up. The movie is utterly ridiculous, you cannot help but smile at the crazy things that happen. It brings up the question of what makes one bad movie really bad and another completely entertaining. I do not know if there is an easy answer to this. All I can say is that this definitely falls on the entertaining side of bad movies.
Punisher: War Zone begs, borrows, and steals from any number of other, better films. In the opening shootout I saw references to The Crow and Boondock Saints, later on I saw a situation similar to one presented in The Dark Knight (whether it was snagged from there or not, I do not know). All of these other reference points are used to leap off into other bloody directions. Works for me.
What helps this film along is the energy injected by all those involved. Everyone brought something to the table pushing the entire work over the edge and into camp, but they believed in it. This may be one of the factors that determines what sort of bad movie a bad movie is.
Director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) brings the energy, never letting the action get bogged down in plot, a choice that is most likely the correct one. She worked from a script by Nick Santora (Prison Break) and Art Marcum (Iron Man), a screenplay filled with a number of laughers, but in a good way.
The cast does a fine job. Ray Stevenson remains suitably stoic as the heavy-hearted hero, not saying much with words, but plenty with guns and blades. On the other side is the delightfully and manically over the top duo of Dominic West as Jigsaw and Doug Hutchinson as his brother, Loony Bin Jim. These two are absolutely priceless, immediately cheesing up every scene they are in.
Bottom line. I like this movie a lot. It is the sort of movie you can watch over and over again without getting bored. It is not a good movie, and I will never claim that it is. However, I have long since discovered that a movie does not have to be good to provide immense entertainment.