Yeah, you read that right. Punisher: War Zone. I realize that this is a shocker to most of you, but I am also willing to wager that many of you never saw this one. I immediately dismissed it as soon as it came out on the back of how bad the Thomas Jane Punisher movie was. There was no way I was going to see another terrible Puinsher movie. And the trailer didn't defy my initial feelings.
That is why watching PWZ for this project was such a pleasant surprise. This movie delivers everything that the original Punisher movie did not. It is dark; it is gritty. It is set in a city that is appropriate for such a film. The action is over the top without being goofy or stupid. The villain is not a cornball, but a twisted hardball who radiates evil. The movie starts strong, does NOT beat us over the head with an origin story, and ramps smartly toward its high intensity climax.
PWZ does everything it promises us from the start. It does not promise to be a study of violence a la Clockwork Orange. It does not aspire to be great cinema, but like several of the movies in the middle of this list, what it promises is to be a violent action movie with clearly defined good guys and bad guys and the triumph of good over evil. It's not hard to make a good, enjoyable movie, but nearly half the films on this list fail where Punisher War Zone succeeds. Keeping it simple and staying true to what you are setting out to do goes a very long way.
Ray Stevenson's Frank Castle is heads above Thomas Jane's interpretation, who was likeable, but not given much to work with. Stevenson takes everything he is given and then takes it to the next level. He is gritty and serious and never once shows a hint of weakness. He is the embodiment of justice and retribution, and bulletproof in his war on crime. He gives you an easy character to cheer for.
Wayne Knight is a surprisingly pleasant addition as Micro; a character I honestly feel would have been more at home in the goofy first Punisher movie. But instead of being an obese, bumbling milquetoast (yeah, I'm bringing that back), Micro proves his value to Frank's mission in the film much as he did in the comics.
Again, you are not going to be blown away by how incredible Punisher War Zone is, but you are also not going to be disappointed by it. I firmly believe that it belongs in the Top Ten Marvel Movies of the modern era. It delivers exactly what it promises and has few flaws that derail it from its goal. Ultimately it is entertaining and enjoyable. I would happily watch it again before I would watch any of the movies below it on this list. Still skeptical? Open your mind a bit, give PWZ a watch--invested only in having a good time watching a crime flick--and I think you'll see my point.
Ok, I get it. I have no doubt that you're sitting here wondering how on earth we could rank this movie, so panned and hated, in the absolute top ten. Yes, it beat out your precious Captain America.
I'll tell you why it's so awesome: it delivers exactly what you want to see and no more, no less. It doesn't bog down in origin stories and gives you only the information you need to understand what you're dealing with. It features over-the-top violence in some pretty exciting ways, and while the acting isn't always the best, the entire package works as a gritty comic book on film.
You know exactly what you're getting the very moment the Punisher puts a chair through a man's face. This is a workable level of camp. This is a real "Punisher clocks a polar bear" moment, and thus, a totally acceptable and compelling incarnation of Frank Castle on screen. It's not some angry guy fighting John Travolta's fat laughing ass-face in friggin' Florida and it's not Dolph Lundgren naked in the sewers. It's a lone vigilante fighting organized crime from the street level with the prowess afforded a combat-trained man with nothing to lose.
|A chair through the FACE!|
And isn't that the kind of Punisher we all wanted to see? Not some kind of crazy complicated story that makes no sense, no tertiary characters without meaning (I actually really enjoyed Wayne Knight here).
Ultimately, if you are squeamish about violence, you'll hate this thing. It has an impossibly high body count and, you know, chair-through-face action. But that's much closer to the beloved modern Punisher stories upon which the Thomas Jane film was supposedly based. If you love the character, and can take your "offendometer" off the hook for a couple of hours, you'll be solidly entertained. This film is not spectacular or beautiful. It's not going to win any awards. It simply... delivers. It's above reproach.
It belongs in the Top Ten, no questions. I don't care what the critics say.