Film Review: 'Punisher: War Zone'

Updated on February 19, 2019
RachaelLefler profile image

My superpower is making witty comments about movies. I still haven't been recruited by the X-Men...


The Punisher: War Zone is about the Punisher, an edgy anti-hero type vigilante. He kills criminals, specifically those involved in organized crime. He's sort of like Batman, minus the moral rules and fancy billionaire toys. He doesn't care about justice or saving humanity, it's more or less just about revenge and hatred.

The film was produced under Marvel's "Marvel Knights" banner, which is for comics aimed at mature audiences. Other characters published by the Marvel Knights team include Black Panther, Black Widow, Sentry, Ghost Rider, and Daredevil. They were also behind Deadpool and Logan.

Punisher: War Zone is actually a sequel to a prior Punisher film. I had not seen it before reviewing this movie, but I don't think it matters. The Punisher isn't a complicated character, and this isn't a philosophically heavy series, so there's not much to "get". He's a vigilante anti-hero who kills mobsters. He's every kid who wants to be tough's power fantasy.


The problem with Scarface? Not enough literal scars.
The problem with Scarface? Not enough literal scars.

The opening scene has him show up and kill a bunch of mobsters at their annual mobster convention, or whatever. A surviving mob boss inherits some wicked cool-looking scars (mad props to the makeup people of this movie), his father's crime family, and a personal hatred for The Punisher.

At the same time, a federal investigator is working with the police to try to solve The Punisher's ridiculously long list of murders. How long? Well it was shown that his police files take up a whole room full of shelves of files. But to me it kind of seems like the police, even the feds, aren't that interested in catching The Punisher, because he helps them. For such a room full of files to fill up, they must have been either had him on the back burner for many years, or secretly don't care if someone murders those they consider scum anyway.

The story culminates in a climax where the surviving scarred mob boss pitches the idea to lots of other NYC mob bosses of them all going after The Punisher at once. It's kind of similar to Joker pitching the idea of everyone going after "the bat man" in Dark Knight, with just as much eye gouging. Only the camera doesn't cut away here so, be warned about this movie's exceptional violence, and maybe don't eat while watching it.


I really do appreciate the cinematography, which is probably one of the best things this movie has going for it. Look how much they are able to make a subway entrance, which is normally drab, visually pop.
I really do appreciate the cinematography, which is probably one of the best things this movie has going for it. Look how much they are able to make a subway entrance, which is normally drab, visually pop.
The Punisher: War Zone
Lionsgate, Valhalla Motion Pictures, MHF Zweite Academy Film, SGF Entertainment Inc., Distributed by Lionsgate Films & Marvel Studios
Gale Anne Hurd
Screenplay: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & Nick Santora, based on comics by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, & John Romita Sr.
Lexi Alexander
Steve Gainer
Music by
Michael Wandmacher
Main Actors/Actresses
Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Colin Salmon
Running Time
1 hour, 43 minutes
Box Office
$10.1 million
MPAA Rating


This is a pretty intense film for Marvel. It has graphic violence that the camera does not flinch away from. But overall it's just a cheesy gore-fest, lots of gritty spectacle, but not much to say. People tend to prefer violence in movies when the movie makes some sort of point. For example, in Princess Mononoke, all of the horrifying images of cursed animals exist to show us how bad nature reacts when humans disrupt its balance. In Punisher: War Zone, it seems like gratuitous violence for the sake of violence.

It also doesn't seem like there is narrative tension or much interest, with the middle third of the movie dragging. There is an exciting hook at the beginning and an interesting climax at the end, but in between are a lot of things that either go nowhere or just aren't interesting. It's fine if you just want a "hard core" action film you don't have to pay much attention to, perhaps at a party. But if you want a serious, emotionally evocative film about the role of vigilantes in society, well then watch Dark Knight instead. This was well-acted and well-shot, but didn't have much going on in terms of narrative interest or greater meaning.

Roger Ebert said of it, "The Punisher: War Zone is one of the best-made bad movies I've seen". That pretty much encapsulates it. It's a really well-made movie, with a lousy story.

Rating for Punisher: War Zone: 7/10

© 2019 Rachael Lefler


Submit a Comment
  • John Plocar profile image

    John Plocar 

    16 months ago from Weatherford

    I can't disagree with a single thing that you have written here, but I think I enjoyed the film a little more than you seemed to have. But I have a bit of a fondness for exploitation flicks, which is basically what I see 'War Zone' as being. It's over-the-top, it's ridiculous, and the violence is gratuitous to say the least. But that's what I mainly had fun with. Like you said though, the story and characters aren't the focus of this film. It's the action. But I do remember some lulls like you mentioned where it pretty much goes nowhere. Far from perfect, but it's a silly, hard R action movie that supplied enough entertainment for me to enjoy. At least at the time, it's honestly been a few years since I've seen it last lol


    Dear God, I miss Roger Ebert. Even with movies I disagreed with him on, it was always great to get his opinion.


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