Punisher: War Zone Review
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since Dolph Lundgren dyed his blonde locks black for the first cinematic interpretation of The Punisher in 1989. 20 years and Hollywood still cannot get it right, Thomas Jane’s lacklustre 2004 effort failed mostly because The Punisher didn’t really do all that much punishing, but Punisher: War Zone certainly redresses the balance in that particular aspect. Frank Castle doles out a monumental amount of mean-spirited ”justice” in this film, which starts off with Castle taking down the Cesare crime family in a bottle factory, dumping hotheaded gangster Billy Russoti face first into a glass bottle crusher, and killing one of his lieutenant’s who happens to be an undercover FBI Agent. Stricken by the revelation he’s killed one of the good guys, Frank contemplates quitting the vigilante business whilst watching over the dead agent’s family, but when Russoti emerges from the crusher as the mangled psychotic: Jigsaw, it’s not long before Frank is required to go back to what he does best.
If ever you needed a perfect example of why something that works on page may not work on screen, then Punisher: War Zone is most definitely it. I’ll give director Lexi Alexander some credit for at least attempting to be faithful to the character’s comic book roots, but she does so with such zealousness that it results in a completely overblown, grotesquely exaggerated mess. I’m not impartial to a bit of nasty violence in my action films, but there’s only so many times you can see close ups of people getting their faces caved in before it becomes extremely tedious. The script is an unmitigated disaster, Ray Stevenson is the best screen Punisher to date, but the unrelenting gruffness of the character makes for an intensely dull lead. The rest of the cast are stuck doing heavy New Yoik accents and delivering the kind of dialogue that would make George Lucas blush, but the majority of the performers are non-natives who fail miserably to nail the accents. Jigsaw looks fantastic and Dominic West plays him facetiously, but all the villains in this film act as if they’re mentally retarded rather than mentally ill, which pails into comparison to how badly characterised Punisher sidekick Martin Soap is. The tone of the film is also all over the shop, it starts off as quite a nasty and cynically trashy action film with absurdly flashy gun shoot-outs, but eventually descends into depressingly unhumourous farce that ends with a shockingly morally dubious coda that really insults the intelligence of its audience. This may be the most faithful adaptation of The Punisher to date, but it’s just as lousy as the previous efforts!
The Disc: Lexi Alexander seems to favour the Zack Snyder approach of xeroxing panels from the comic book blowing out the contrast to create a rather stark, gritty look. So this 1080p, 2.4:1 transfer looks massively over-exposed in daytime sequences, whilst night time sequences have deep blacks and hit & miss shadow detail. Naturally with this crushed appearance grain can get quite sharp and thick, but for the most part it’s kept to a moderate layer with no obvious signs of noise reduction. The Punisher is quite a colourful film with many sequences that are just bathed in primary colours that are brought vividly to life by the transfer on this disc, there’s no obvious colour bleed or chroma noise – in fact the AVC compression in general is very good, although a little contouring can be spotted in darker regions of the picture. Image detail is also very good and maintains a fairly sharp Hi-Def edge, but unfortunately noticeable edge enhancements haunt he transfer at times.
Sadly Sony have not ported over the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 from Lionsgate’s US release that has received rave reviews, but the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 certainly does an excellent job. Bass has serious punch and sound dynamics are excellent, filtering out every gunshot and shell casing ping whilst also breathing life into the heavy rock soundtrack. Dialogue also remains smooth and audible throughout, while the soundstage is given a full and thorough workout from every direction. As for extras, the only substantial feature is a good natured but rather technical audio commentary with Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer. The other featurettes are too short to offer anything substantial, but the Training for The Punisher feature is pretty interesting.