A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this over-the-top action movie is unrepentantly violent, with a body count in the dozens and constant extreme, grisly depictions of hand-to-hand combat, gunshot wounds, explosions, industrial accidents, and much more. The movie's tone is also very moody and bleak -- it may be based on a popular Marvel comic book character, but it's not kids' stuff. It's more akin to the adventures of Dirty Harry than those of Spider-Man. Not only does the film tacitly endorse the vigilante "hero" and his violent methods, but so do law enforcement characters -- who either turn a blind eye to his activities or actively help him. Characters also use extremely strong language, drink, and use drugs (some are shown snorting cocaine).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on a popular comic book character first introduced in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1974, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE revolves around ex-Marine/Special Forces instructor Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson). When Frank's wife and children are slain after witnessing a mob execution, Frank begins a one-man war on New York's underworld, unimpeded by due process and the rule of law. Frank's most recent assault on crime boss Bily Russoti (Dominic West) not only sees Frank killing an undercover FBI agent but also leaves Rusotti grievously wounded, insane with rage, and even more dangerous. As Frank tries to atone for his acts to the agent's wife and daughter, Rusotti breaks his criminally insane brother, "Looney Bin Jim" (Doug Hutchison), out of the asylum to pull off a bioweapons-smuggling scheme -- and exact personal revenge.
Is it any good?
There's no denying the vim, verve, and energy that director Lexi Alexander (Hooligans) brings to Punisher: War Zone; there's also no denying the movie's extreme gore and violence. This film marks the third time that The Punisher's come to the big screen -- previous iterations have starred Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane -- and unrepentant fans of hardcore action cinema will enjoy it. In many ways, the filmmakers were even right to make the film so over-the-top; a sanitized, PG-13 version of a film about a semi-insane vigilante who murders criminals might be even more upsetting than the atomized flesh and spraying blood on display here.
Stevenson is easily watchable in the lead role -- tormented when he needs to be, lightning-fast and unhesitant when in action. And West (best known for his work on The Wire) grimaces, giggles, and glowers out from under disgusting make-up and prosthetics as the mutilated villain, who goes by the name "Jigsaw" (in many ways, Jigsaw is a modern -- and disgusting -- nod to classic Dick Tracy villains like Flatop, the Brow, and other deformed, demented pulp fiction criminals). Punisher: War Zone is going to appeal to a very limited audience of older action fans, but they'll love its high-adrenaline, gore-heavy approach. If you go in expecting the glossy, "biff bang pow!" bloodless action of recent comic book adaptations like Iron Man or Batman Begins, you're going to get a rude, gory awakening.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of extreme violence on screen. What draws viewers to this kind of movie? What are the effects of watching so much grisly violence, even if it's intended to be deliberately over-the-top and cartoonish? Families can also discuss the film's endorsement of "going outside the law" to punish criminals who've evaded the consequences of their actions. Do the ends ever justify the means? What other recourse do people have when the system doesn't work?
- In theaters: December 5, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: March 17, 2009
- Cast: Dominic West, Julie Benz, Ray Stevenson
- Director: Lexi Alexander
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use
- Last updated: December 4, 2019
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