Punisher War Zone Movie Review

Punisher War Zone Movie Logo

See, here’s the thing about the Punisher movies: they just don’t quite satisfy. The films go down that indulgent path that movies like Taken and Man on Fire navigate to satiate the dark, furious part of people’s souls that require a solution in the face of  violent injustice. No? Just us? Uh-huh, right. Of course, those movies get the extra boost of urgency, while the Punisher movies are mostly about destroying bad people that have nothing to do with the original horror from which our anti-hero was created. So, that being said, what the Punisher movies really only offer is a chance to stomp around sadistically in the criminal world, cutting the cancer out of human society with impunity. There’s no redemption or finality. Frank Castle’s quest will never end and his heroic motivation died long ago. He is now just the Punisher, former father and husband turned killing machine.

Revenge Movies: Taken & Man on Fire

Excellent examples of good revenge movies

In spite of the Punisher’s limited dimensionality, however, he is effing good at what he does. In that regard, the Punisher is a fantastic character. So, given that a significant portion of the public has an appetite for angry, vengeful movies, one might think the Punisher would translate successfully into film. But, not so much. Marvel’s foray into Movieland with the character has now failed three times.

Punisher Movies: 1989, 2004, 2008

The problem is that while Taken and Man on Fire have a clearly defined overarching objective to save a specific innocent (or innocents) from harm, there’s no one in particular or at least no one special that needs saving in a Punisher story. Without that desperate journey, the Punisher storylines devolve into hunting expeditions interspersed with heady action and gore. Tremendously exhilarating, yes, but hollow at the end.

Having said that, we firmly believe that there is a place for The Punisher in live action … not in the movies, but in an episodic format. In this scenario, stories could be built that reach through several serialized moments stretching the drama and allowing characters to be developed more fully. One of the best parts of the Punisher comic books (which follow this format) is that Frank builds a cat-and-mouse game as he closes in on his prey. The longer (albeit not too long) the culmination, the more satisfying. And, in this format, it would be easier to introduce sympathetic characters that could add complexity and life to the character. Ideally, we think the Punisher could fit nicely into one-hour episodes on Showtime or a similar production house. We’ve heard rumor of this sort of project bouncing around, but thus far there’s been no official notice.

PBS Mini Series: The Punisher

When you wish upon a star…

The Punisher is clearly a popular character. Since his introduction in Amazing Spider-man #129 (and yes, we own a copy and we only paid $5 for it back in the early 1990s (but it does have a one inch rip on the front cover, dammit)), Frank Castle has given the Marvel Universe a dark realism that much of the superhero dross can’t create. There have been several series, one-shots, graphic novels, cross-overs, etc. culminating in hundreds of appearances. Incidentally, The Punisher will celebrate 40 years in print next year. We hope he’ll kill a few hundred bad guys to mark the event.

Punisher character in Marvel Comics

But we’re not here to talk about what should be done for future projects nor to discuss the comic books. So, here’s a brief review of Punisher: War Zone.

As we stated, the Punisher has had three chances at movie success. The first film was released in 1989 starring Dolph Lundgren (yeah, we’re confused too) as the titular character. The back story is essentially the same as the comic book version except that Frank Castle is a cop in this one. The story is pretty thin. The Punisher (2004) has a better set of bad guys and is just better done overall. Punisher War Zone portrays a grittier anti-hero and we like him better overall but the characters in the rest of the movie are actually pretty boring.

The Punisher Movie Flare Scene

That’s right. Happy Birthday. Prepare to be stabbed in the head.

The Good: Violence is what we’d expect (the first scene with the flare and the knife through the skull is awesome!) and violence is what we get. Lots of it. The darkness is interrupted by small amounts of dry humor which gives the movie a MAX comic book series feel of the story. There were several complaints about Irish-English actor Ray Stevenson playing the role of the New York vigilante with Italian heritage and special ops roots. But movies almost always stray away from printed characters and we were pleased with Ray’s look and performance.

Punisher War Zone Opening Scene

Rita Bennett from Dexter in a Lara Croft, Tomb Raider outfit

Julie Benz as Rita Bennett as Lara Croft. Sexier in Dexter than in Punisher War Zone

The Bad: We like Julie Benz but didn’t care for her character, Angela. Plus, stupid story elements like an immediate the attachment of Angela’s daughter to Frank is absurd (hey little why are you giving the big angry man in black that your Mom was screaming at earlier a big snuggly hug?!) because it’s a sloppy mechanism to humanize his character. He’s the damn Punisher for crying out loud! He doesn’t need to be soft! Also, remember what we said about serialization? At 103 minutes, the movie was too short to really build up the evil of the antagonists so we couldn’t really grow to hate Jigsaw, his brother, and the host of criminals offered throughout the movie.

Angela, Character in Punisher War Zone

The Ugly: Jigsaw’s face. Yes, Jigsaw is a core member of the Punisher pantheon (see Amazing Spider-man #162), but we can’t stand him or his idiot brother. Jigsaw (Dominic West) and Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) are too over the top as characters that they come off as much more annoying than scary.

Jigsaw, Character from Punisher War Zone

Jack Nicholson’s … oh, sooooorry, geez, … the Joker’s doctor came highly recommended.

We really want to give this movie a higher rating, but the relatively boring storyline puts it at a lower mark. Still, that hasn’t stopped us from watching it three times. And repeat viewings are rare things for us.

2.5 star out of 5

Punisher Quote: "Sometimes I'd like to get my hands on God"

The best line in the movie: “Sometimes I’d like to get my hands on God.”


Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Flare Scene

Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Chandelier Scene

We appreciate an efficient killer.

Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Parkour Jump Scene

Here goes nothin’!

Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Parkour Explosion Scene


Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Parkour and Missile Scene

And, that’s pretty much that.

Punisher War Zone: Rock River Arms Tactical CAR-A4 Carbine

Gang boys, come out to playeeyay!

Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Micro Scene


Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Billy the Beaut in the Glass Crusher Scene

Billy the Beaut in the glass crusher = Jigsaw is born

Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - Angela's House Scene

Julie Benz plays Angela, the widow of an undercover FBI agent the Punisher accidentally killed.

Punisher War Zone Movie (2008) - End Scene

Apparently not.


Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, staring at you Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, black and white, explosions
Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, aiming close Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, face in shadows
Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, city, skull
Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, surrounded by guns Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive
Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, bullet holes in wall Punisher War Zone Movie Poster, aiming, full body

Awesome Red Comic Book Covers, because … why not?

The color RedWe like red. There, we’ve said it. Out of the bag, it is.  Here are some of our favorite comic book covers that are soaked in red. What a beautiful color.

Amazing Spider-man #50: Iconic image. Our pick for best Spider-man cover. Yes, ever. What’s inside? 1st appearance of Kingpin and a soul searching that leads Peter Parker to throw away his suit and figure he is done with vigilantism for good.  Of course, he is sucked back in because — “WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY!”

Amazing Spider-man

The Avengers #57: Pretty much as red as you can get. No other colors on this cover other than black and white and they only serve as shadow and light respectively. What’s inside? The 1st appearance of The Vision (who is a very cool character … most of the time).

First appearance of The VIsion

Frank Miller’s Ronin # 1: Frank Miller’s art took a weird turn in Ronin. His personal project was pretty far out there compared to the more mainstream work he had done on Daredevil. We were already fans when we picked up Ronin as back issues because The Dark Knight Returns had just come out and we wanted to find anything by Frank that we could get our hands on. Anyway, besides the billowing eastern get-up, we like the look of this cover with all the thatching and, of course, the wonder color red.

Frank Miller, comic book

Mage: The Hero Discovered #10: Issue number 7 of Mage was the first comic book we ever bought. The maxi-series is still one of our favorites. The technology today is so much more advanced than in 1985, but the vibrancy of the four-color printing on Baxter paper that was the rage in the 1980s blew us away. This issue also has a lot of red in it and for that we are grateful.

Matt Wagner, Comico, and Mage

Punisher War Zone #1: The 1990s was the Dreadful Decade of the Gimmick. We will write a future post on that but suffice it to say that after a fantastic run of experimental, creator-driven stories and art in the 1980s, the early 1990s were all about the collectability side of the comic book hobby. Pure garbage was coming out right and left and in order to hook the consumer, comic book publishers turned to technologies that were already making an impact on the ugly step-sister of the collectibles hobby (sports cards) for flash and pizzazz that they hoped would compensate for the terrible stories inside. Covers often became the only reason to buy a comic book. Chromium and lenticular surfaces were big “wows” as were die cuts like this comic. Of course, the prices jumped like crazy for the increasingly not-so-special “special” books. The $2.25 price tag on this issue was a dollar more than the average cover price in 1992 when this was released. That was a lot back then. Anyway, we have to admit we really liked this cover. Still do.

The Punisher War Zone (1992 series)

Mister X Volume 3 #4: This comic book came to our attention because we had fallen in love with Stig’s Inferno and since Vortex was the publisher of both, there was an ad for Mister X in one of the Inferno issues. It was some of the most stylish stuff we’d seen to date and the covers were fantastic. Later, the rights to the series migrated to Caliber Comics. We bought those issues but still haven’t read them – no idea why, just haven’t. Anyway, this is one of many good covers and it’s also our favorite of the outstanding red ones (Volume 1 #1 and Volume 1 #12 (the later of which is our favorite cover overall by creator Dean Motter) are also fantastic). Take a look at all of the covers in this gallery.

Mister X in Caliber Comics

Rocketeer Adventures #2: This is a reprint of Dave Stevens’ fan-favorite comic book from the 1980s. We love the art, the stories, and we are even proud to admit we love the Rocketeer movie (even though it was Disney-fied). This gorgeous Art Deco cover demonstrates why the Rocketeer is a comic worth admiring.

IDW publisher, Rocketeer

So, there you have it. This was just a small snapshot of some fantastic red-colored covers that we love. Which one do you like best? You’re welcome to comment on other red covers you really like.

Thank you and good night!