Frank Castle is the Punisher, a once normal man who witnesses the murder of his family, goes off the deep end and spends the rest of his life “punishing” the criminal element; he’s like Batman, minus the cape and plus even more rage. The first Punisher movie came out in 1989, starred Dolph Lundgren and hardly anyone noticed (it went straight to video in the U.S.). The second one was released four years ago and came close to being decent but was still unloved by audiences and critics. Now, in his second cinematic re-boot, Castle is played by Ray Stevenson of TV’s Rome. Whoop-de-doo.
Remember the teleportation machine in The Fly and how it fused Jeff Goldblum with an insect? Well, if you fused Steven Seagal, a bulldog and a lumberjack, you’d get Ray Stevenson. As far as his acting abilities go, he makes one pine for the emotional dynamics of Jean-Claude Van Damme or the subtle nuances of Hulk Hogan. He makes Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando.
Stevenson wears the same expression for the entire movie: an angry squint that suggests he has to pee really, really bad. In his leading man debut, he all but guarantees that this will be the last time he’s given a starring film role.
Then again, anyone would look foolish in a movie this bad. As far as poor comic book adaptations go, this one is several rungs below the likes of Catwoman and Judge Dredd.
Punisher: War Zone goes wrong from the first scene, where a cluster of actors playing Italian mobsters sport badda-bing accents as phony as their macho posturing. Eventually, one of the gangsters, played by Dominic West (in a performance nearly as bad as Stevenson’s), is horribly scarred, the first of the film’s many (failed) attempts to borrow from the Batman movies.
If you’re looking for an action flick, Quantum of Solace, Australia and even Bolt are superior alternatives. Those seeking hard-core violence will similarly be let down. Movie violence can work on many levels: it can be shocking, dramatically powerful or even cartoonishly over-the-top. Here, the spurting blood and exploding heads have all the artfulness of a kid playing with ketchup packets at McDonald’s.
I dug deep and found a single compliment I can give the filmmakers: the lighting is colorful. That’s it—the only good thing about quite possibly the worst movie of the year.
This character has possibilities as a film franchise, but is seemingly cursed by directors and screenwriters who can’t bring Castle’s sad journey to life. The prior Punisher films were B-movies but at least had leading men who resembled or embodied the role. From the looks of things, this series may need yet another re-boot. If that means having to watch Castle’s family get slaughtered again and witness another vile decathlon of blood and guts with no heart, count me out. MTW