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Punisher: War Zone

Year: 2008
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Lexi Alexander
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd
Writer: Nick Santora/Art Marcum/Matt Holloway
Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Wayne Knight, Julie Benz, Dash Mihook

Of all the Marvel properties, this one is the most cursed. Following two failed attempts at decent Punisher movies in 1989 and 2004, this film was yanked from a local cinema release after dire box office and sank like a stone straight to DVD.

It's a shame, because this is the one worth your while. Maybe it was the backing of Lionsgate that ensured it arrived on screen intact where other versions pared down the violence and nihilism that characterized the comic, but this is the closest the movies have come to portraying Frank Castle the way he was.

It mostly ignores the existence of Jonathan Hensleigh's drab 2004 effort and we meet Castle (Stevenson) with his mythology intact instead of seeing his origin story again. A bitter ex cop, he lives in an underground enclave amid the sewers of the city and surfaces only to mete out his own form of rough justice to the bad guys.

When he wipes out a cadre of mob bosses at one of their ostentatious parties he leaves only up and coming crime lord Billy (West) alive. Wasting no time, Frank takes care of Billy at the gang's next operation, when he interrupts a big shipment at a dock one night, blowing away a small army of goons and throwing Billy into a glass recycling machine that cuts him to shreds.

Billy survives, becomes the hideously malformed comic book-esque villain Jigsaw, frees his psychotic brother from an asylum and goes after vengeance. The set-up is nothing really outstanding and some of the characters are irritating (like Dash Mihook's bumbling, eager cop), but the extreme action and the brutality of the bloodletting are the film's USP. Give it a chance.

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