While my curiosity didn't overwhelm me to the point where I had to check out Punisher: War Zone in the theaters, I made sure to put it on the top of my Netflix queue as soon as it came out. After all, I have a soft spot for the character. While I'm not nearly as enamored with him as I was in high school (back when I was more of a capital punishment kind of a guy) I still follow up on his comic adventures now and then. So, it was inevitable that I would see this one.
My verdict is this: It's the best Punisher movie ever made. However, this is kind of like saying that my last bout of inflamed herpes was the best one ever. (I don't actually have herpes, but it's the best metaphor I've got.) The problem with the first one was mainly that it was cheaply made with a talentless actor and was clearly made by people who had never read the comics. The second one had a better cast, but it was really confused as to what it wanted to be. There are definitely some scenes in that film that I like, but it really doesn't add up to a cohesive whole. What's worse, the plot was just so darned meandering. Why exactly is he just hanging around so he can be attacked again instead of just going out there and taking out the bad guys himself? Also, it tried to have moments of dark comedy, but if you're going to go dark comedy, you have to go all the way. (And this approach has worked in some of the better Punisher comics. Basically, he works best when the writer understands that the man is not a hero at all - he's a murderer, even though he murders people who pretty much have it coming.)
So, why is this one the best one? Well, before I go on, let me make it clear that I am in NO WAY saying that this is actually a good movie. In fact, it's definitely a bad film. It has plot holes. It has some bad acting. However, I was definitely entertained, and the whole thing went by rather fast. So, the good things include the following:
1. The lead. Ray Stevenson looks more like Frank Castle than anybody who's played him so far. Thomas Jane is actually a better actor, but in a movie like this, I'm not exactly looking for an amazing performance. Stevenson did what I'd call a serviceable job. He didn't bring to The Punisher what Robert Downey, Jr., Tobey Maguire, Hugh Jackman and Christopher Reeve brought to Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Superman (respectively), but he does the job well enough for me not to complain. (And we know he can act from Rome, where his character, Titus Pullo, was easily my favorite.)
2. The look. Yeah, it has that dark look that we've seen a million times before, but it fits the character better than the look of the last one.
3. The villains. Jigsaw! Totally cheesy, totally over-the-top, but I have to admit that I was entertained every time he was on screen. Let's face it, after Ledger as The Joker, it's going to be hard to be a super villain in a comic book movie. This brought nothing new to the table, but it was fun. His cannibal brother was kinda lame though, and the rooftop jumping thugs were totally dorky (but their fates more than made up for that little problem).
4. The story. No, it wasn't good, and as I stated before, there were definitely some plot holes. However, my biggest problem with the last one was that it had absolutely no momentum to it. One thing happened, and then another thing happened, only to be followed by something else. This one though, seemed to be going somewhere. Perhaps the word that I'm looking for would really be pacing rather than story, but as I stated before, it went along well enough to make me not think too much of the problems until afterwards.
My grade would be D+ for this movie. Hardly a glowing recommendation, I know. I probably enjoyed it more than that, but that's because of my aforementioned soft spot for the character and comic book movies in general. I probably enjoyed it at a C+/B- level, but if I were to be objective about it, I'd stick with the D+. The others? D- and D.
I'll probably wind up buying this one when it's really cheap. I have a feeling that I probably won't have to wait too long for that.