After a sequel to The Punisher could not get off the ground, studios finally decided to reboot the Marvel franchise with Punisher: War Zone. Ray Stevenson would replace Thomas Jane as the iconic anti-hero.
While the 2004 film was a mild success at the box-office, it wasn't exactly the definitive Punisher movie as it lacked a certain edge and emphasis on action, something War Zone willingly delivers. Pushing the violence and gore up to 11, this reboot really tried to outclass both prior movies in terms of sheer brutality and, indeed, that mission was quickly accomplished. This Punisher is not for the faint of heart and critics back in 2008 were probably not expecting such a big difference in tone although anyone who knows the character and the comics knows he usually reduces bad guys to mush. The film sees Frank Castle lose a friend during a shoot-out with mobsters. He then takes out the leader by crushing him in a spinning pile of glass bottles but he somehow survives and plots his revenge as the disfigured Jigsaw (Dominic West), with the help of his mad brother James aka "Loony Bin Jim" (Doug Hutchison).
Stevenson may look a bit different than most representations of The Punisher with his slicked back hair and turtle necked bullet-proof jacket but his portrayal of Castle is appropriate: violent, moody yet human and well-meaning. Gone are the annoying sidekicks from the last movie, instead we get Wayne Knight as Microchip, Castle's tech-savvy assistant, and he's far more likeable. West is admittedly pretty cartoonish as Jigsaw and he almost turns into a Dick Tracy villain at times but he's also very entertaining and adds some welcome dark humour to a movie that would have otherwise been much too bloody and serious. He's certainly a hundred times more fun and more of a threat than John Travolta's character in the last film.
Don't believe Punisher: War Zone's bad rep: this is a slick, blood-soaked action movie throwback with a lot going for it and it's still the best Punisher movie to date by far. It's very much aimed at an adult audience so don't expect a PG-13 take on the skull T-shirt-wearing character but anyone who enjoys seeing Frank Castle take down bad guys in the harshest ways possible then this is the movie for you.