The Punisher is a tough character. He typically works best when contrasted against a more morally upright superhero like Daredevil or Spider-Man. On his own, The Punisher is almost like a collection of the worst impulses of the superhero genre. He’s violent; he’s fascistic; he doesn’t have a cure for society’s ills, only violence. He’s an extremist, and to paint him as a hero is to celebrate his extremism.
Director Lexi Alexander cleverly got around this problem in her 2008 R-rated superhero movie, Punisher: War Zone. Instead of embracing the worst tendencies of her hero, she changed the world around him, setting Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) in a borderline phantamagorical nightmare realm where the rules no longer apply. You can’t write a serious critique of The Punisher’s methods when he also inhabits a world where a guy named Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) eats a guy’s kidneys. By divorcing Punisher from the real world, Alexander made his violence and his methods not only palatable, but fun.
Punisher: War Zone recently arrived on 4K, and so I gave the movie a spin, and it holds up wonderfully, especially in its new format. For those just wondering if they should get the upgrade, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”. War Zone pops off the screen thanks to the garish, neon color palette Alexander employed on the movie, but what really works wonders if how she doesn’t overdo it. There’s a “real world” of sorts and then there’s the crime world. In the real world, were we see things like a funeral or a police station, Alexander goes for a muted color palette, which creates a striking contrast when Frank Castle is out in the criminal underworld dealing a gory death to every scumbag he can find.
I wasn’t shocked that the movie would look better on 4K, but what really jumped out at me was the Dolby Atmos track. I really appreciated the detail in the sound mix on this one, especially the way Alexander uses every squish, crack, and splatter to full effect. From a sound perspective, War Zone is an exuberantly gross movie, and it gave my sound system more of a workout than I expected. It’s not just that you’ll get all the gunfire and the explosions. You’ll also get the subtle stuff as well like Castle’s belabored breathing when his nose gets broken.
If you’re looking for a place to start building your 4K collection, Punisher: War Zone is a pretty good entry point. It’s relatively cheap (right now it retails for less than $17 whereas a fair amount of good movies are retailing for around $20 on 4K), and it’s a movie where the 4K upgrade is worth it. The only notable drawback is that Lionsgate, unsurprisingly, didn’t bring any new features to the 4K disc. If you’ve got the Blu-ray, you’re going to get the same features:
- Audio Commentary with Director Lexi Alexander and Director of Photography Steve Gainer
- “The Making of Punisher: War Zone” Featurette
- “Meet Jigsaw” Featurette
- “Weapons of The Punisher” Featurette
- “Training to Become The Punisher” Featurette
- “Creating the Look of the Film” Featurette
I know some people are devotees of the new Netflix Punisher (I do not know folks who are devotees of the 1989 or 2004 movies), but for me, Punisher: War Zone remains the best screen adaptation of the character. The film is wild, fun, unexpected, and wonderfully bonkers in all the best ways.