I will make no apologies in declaring this version and reboot of the Punisher the best amongst the lot so far. Yes it's unflinchingly violent, and for those who have issues with screen violence getting too gratuitous, then Punsiher: War Zone is not the movie for you, and you should steer light years clear of it. Being the first Marvel Studios film released under the Marvel Knights label, which is supposedly meant for mature audiences, this is probably the version that stays close to the mythos in terms of Frank Castle's modus operandus.
No offense to Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane, the latter especially who had quite a solid, albeit emotional outing as Frank Castle, but Ray Stevenson's rendition of the titular character made you both look like pussies spread out lazing in the park. There're no fancy stunts set up - Lundgren had this motor-cycle gang going on, and Jane had ample time to set up his bow and arrow - as Stevenson just despatches the crooks without remorse nor mercy, devoid of needless conversation. He's the calculated killer knowing that what he's doing is bringing him closer to the devil, but does it anyway.
For the most parts, especially the beginning, Frank Castle doesn't speak, but lets his inner rage do the talking. From the onset with a decapitation, followed by a massive execution, and I mean execution, around a dining table, you get the idea that this man doesn't take any nonsense and has no patience for dalliances. He pumps bodies with lead, and then again to make sure he gets a flatline. He only gets creative with his arsenal of weapons ranging from double automatic Barrettas to missile launchers, lugging all his weaponry on his specially designed multi-purpose suits with countless of holsters and pockets, which includes body armour, and yes, that famed skull which was threatened to be taken away by director Lexi Alexander.
It was quite surprising to say the least that such an ultra-violent flick is directed by a lady. One would expect some playing of emotions here, but this film has absolutely none of that. It doesn't get bogged down by trying to be cerebral and develop the characters, and the only emotional scene, if it can be deemed that way, would be very limited flashbacks as to how Frank became the vigilante Punisher.
I would like to think that the strength of any comic book movie comes from the characterization of the villain(s). Get weak ones, such as those in Ghost Rider, and you'll be in for a yawn fest. Get it right, then everything else would fall together, given that the hero has some real challenge placed in front of him to overcome. In Punisher: War Zone, Frank Castle goes up against mobster Jigsaw (Dominic West) and Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison), both psychopaths in their own right, teaming up for revenge as well as to recover stolen cash taken by an undercover (and dead, no thanks to the Punisher) cop. Despite some very neat makeup in the facial design of Jigsaw, he never felt the least menacing, and Loony Bin Jim's nothing but a loose cannon.
Perhaps it was also the fault of the Punisher being in god-mode here. Sure he suffers some shots or two, but is always saved by his kevlar. He's virtually indestructible, and dishes his vengeance out with comic-book glee coupled with some really graphic violence. While some side villains were given a little time to showcase what they can do, they get bumped off quite effortlessly, and sometimes turning unintentionally comedic as well. There will bound to be some cheesy one liners that will make you cringe, so it's hard to tell if the intention here is to play it straight or otherwise.
Religion also got thrown into the mix here, with talk about God, redemption and references from Heaven to Hell, but there's nothing too deep about that as well, since the last shot in the film, was quite laughable. Again, there are moments where it might have been played for laughs with a straight face, but given what it dished out, this is indeed one vigilante who has crime lords cowering in fear.
This Punisher is not just a Punisher, but judge, jury and Executioner all rolled into one. If on-screen violence is your cup of tea then this movie might be targeted at you. Unlike The Crow (yet another ultra-violent movie in its time) which had Eric Draven dish out meticulously planned revenge acts, Frank Castle here doesn't waste time as he deems blowing one's brains apart the fastest way to cut through the crap and save taxpayer dollars in keeping felons well fed under one roof.
It hasn't done well at the box office because of its violent nature, and I guess it's not everyone's cup of tea to watch violent scene after violent scene, coupled with a terribly simple storyline to boot. However, this would be a treat for the Punisher fan since it's done just about right with Frank Castle's no nonsense approach.