A blithely depraved shoot-’em-up in which its glum protagonist cuts a retributive swath across a vast criminal underworld, Punisher: War Zone echoes back to the unthinking low-budget action movies of the 1980s, in which dialogue was only something to fill three to five minutes between set pieces. Steeped in over-the-top brutality and gore-as-comedy, this artless revenge tale has a limited fan base and shelf life.
In 2004, the directorial debut of screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh helped prove the viability of even the bottom shelf of the Marvel Comics canon, when The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane in the vigilante title role and John Travolta as the villain, grossed just under $34 domestically, despite opening within five days of two other hardcore, higher-profile revenge films, Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Man on Fire. Without stars or much of a sense of scope, this iteration’s commercial yield should be lower, though its base-level carnage and mayhem will translate well for international action junkies, and perhaps result in an uptick there. For the full review, from Screen International, click here. (Lionsgate, R, 103 minutes)