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Punisher: War Zone
cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Colin Salmon, and Julie Benz

director: Lexi Alexander

103 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray region B retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Picking up from where Kathryn Bigelow's memorable cycle of spectacular action cinema (Near Dark, Blue Steel, Point Break, Strange Days) left off, German-born karate champion and ex-stunt performer turned director, Lexi Alexander, follows a similarly untraditional Hollywood-career path, but there are still hardly any other women filmmakers creating macho thrillers such as this. If Batman adheres to his liberal-minded zero-fatality policy in Dark Knight, and Sly Stallone's blood-crazy Vietnam veteran really lost the plot in Rambo, then at least Marvel comics' most compelling antihero remains the ultimate in gun-toting masked vigilantes, almost unable to choose a side in Mark Miller's excellent graphic-novel mini-epic Civil War (which saw superheroes forced to register their secret identities and become US government employees in a meta-human security initiative), where he's beaten up - for being 'insane' - by stubbornly rebellious freedom-fighter Captain America.

The first screen adaptation of The Punisher comic-book starred Dolph Lungren, and was directed by Mark Goldblatt in 1988. That was remade in 2004 by Jonathan Hensleigh, with Thomas Jane in the lead role - The Punisher. As happened with Incredible Hulk (a franchise reboot of Ang Lee's Hulk), this new Punisher film is practically as much a re-starter as it is a sequel. Ray Stevenson (Outpost, TV series Rome) plays ex-cop Frank Castle, alias the Punisher, has fought 'the law' and won for the last five years, partly with tacit approval of NYPD patrols willing to look the other way, but when the Punisher gate-crashes a mafia dinner party, slaughters guests including a wheelchair-bound 'don', and mistakenly kills an FBI mole, even Castle's own mordantly perturbed guilt - prompting a sympathy visit to FBI widow, Angela (Julie Benz, Rambo; TV series Dexter; Darla in Buffy and Angel), does not dissuade the dead federal spy's grieving partner, who's thoroughly unimpressed by tactical terrorism and displeased with the Punisher's one-man war on crime, from seeking revenge by whatever means necessary.

Attacking a syndicate warehouse-lair, the Punisher drops wannabe mobster Billy (Dominic West, 300; 28 Days; McNulty in The Wire; Cromwell in Devil's Whore) into a bottle recycler, leaving the heavily-scarred hood alive to adopt super-villain moniker 'Jigsaw'. Soon enough, Castle's death-dealing antics are opposed by FBI agent Budiansky (Colin Salmon, Hex; AVP; three of Pierce Brosnan's 007 films) and Jigsaw's cannibalistic brother 'Loony Bin' Jim (Doug Hutchison, Salton Sea; J.T. Petty's Burrowers) sprung from asylum lockup. Aided only by stoic weapons dealer Micro (Wayne Knight, the cop in 3rd Rock From The Sun), the Punisher assaults his enemy's hideout to rescue the kidnapped heroine, and continue with this film's agenda of almost non-stop action scenes.

Yes, the bloody havoc and inventive ways to kill sundry unfortunate henchmen is fairly relentless in Alexander's debut feature. Stevenson's bullet-spewing angel of vengeance demonstrates a disconcerting lack of conscience or humanity, blasting apart everyone standing in his way, ensuring the Punisher is a figure of dark justice who's homicidal mania is only marginally less fearsome than The Terminator's cyborg assassin. There has never been a more formidable 'grey area' antihero created for the pantheon of comic-book icons. The serial killer in television's Dexter seems more likeable, and perhaps even admirable, compared to an obsessive like Frank Castle!

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