Punisher: War Zone (2008) [Female Filmmaker Friday] [SDCC 2022]

Frank Castle, already known as The Punisher, kills a few bad guys, gets the police riled up, and organized criminals on his trail as he eliminates those he deems needing punishment. 

Written by Nick Santora, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway, and directed by Lexi Alexander, Punisher: War Zone is possibly the best cinematic adaptation of the character. The Netflix show notwithstanding, this may very well be the best Punisher to hit theaters. This version here shows a version of Frank Castle that is established before the film starts, he has been on the streets and has been doing what he does best, kill bad guys. In this version, the script brings him onto the screen as more than just a revenge killer. He’s someone who has reasons for what he does, he has a goal, he’s not doing this simply for revenge which would have been enough in an off itself. He is brought to the screen as a man who knows how to be two things: A husband and father and a man of war. With the first part taken away, he is left with the second. The script and direction here bring this to the screen in beautifully colored images, filled with violence and has a point about it. The film is violent, it’s not afraid of being overly violent even, but it’s not all there is. In a world where the police have failed over and over again, this man took over in a much more brutal manner. The writing here works, the directing is on point. Lexi Alexander proves she understood the source material and knew how to bring it to the big screen.  

The cast here is fantastic and Ray Stevenson takes Frank and The Punisher, makes them one with himself. He is Frank, he is The Punisher, he is more than that. An actor who is now more known to Marvel fans as Volstagg in the Thor films, a more jovial character, is here used to great effect to bring out the brooding, the sadness, the layers of Frank Castle. He takes the character on and makes him the best representation we could have at the time. Granted, Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle is also quite on point, but cinematically (as in for the cinemas), so far, Stevenson is the best Castle we’ve gotten (take this from a huge Lundgren fan). His work here is what Castle needed to be brought to life in this film, with its style, and its violence. Playing the lead baddie Billy aka Jigsaw is Dominic West doing his best overly colorful version of him and it works. It’s a comic book adaptation after all. Here, his work comes off a bit much at times, but it still fits. Adding an emotional side to things is Julie Benz as Angela, a cop’s widow who doesn’t connect to Castle at first. Her reactions and acting brings this closer to a real-world situation. The cast overall is what the film needed, people who understood the material at hand and how to bring it to the screen. 

The look of the film here is very much its own when compared with other Punisher adaptations. This one is colorful with very comic book-ish tones at times. The way the lighting is used is fantastic throughout with some scenes that make this photographer’s heart (yep, not just a film nerd) so very happy. The cinematography by director of photography Steve Gainer and the editing by William Yeh come together perfectly to give the film the right look and energy. This is how you shoot a comic book adaptation, give it style, but don’t make it completely un-comic-book-ish. The film retains a bit of the look of its source material while adding its own flair. 

Punisher: War Zone is a colorful, violent, almost perfect comic book adaptation which seems to be forgotten by some fans of the genre. It’s also a great piece of work by Lexi Alexander who went on to direct on Arrow, Supergirl, the Taken tv series, and a bunch more and who has a Netflix Original film in post-production. Her work here shows that she knows what she’s doing with action sequence, dramatic sequences, and more violent content. She is a fun director to keep track of for sure.