4K UltraHD Review: Punisher: War Zone

By , Contributor
What's cool about Punisher: War Zone is that, in its balls-to-the-wall, anything-goes way, it outdoes its better-known 2004 predecessor. As Marvel Studios was just getting started in 2008 (with the mega-hit classic Iron Man and the generally underrated, but quite less-rapturously received Incredible Hulk), Lionsgate was still trying to figure out what to do with Frank Castle. In Jonathan Hensleigh's The Punisher, they scored with the casting of Thomas Jane in the lead role but stumbled almost everywhere else. Not the least of its problems was an inconsistent tone.

With War Zone, a reboot rather than proper sequel, director Lexi Alexander (who says women can't direct hardcore action?!) goes full on ultra-violent. So relentless is the gore and gallows humor, you'd be forgiven for mistaking this for a big-budget Troma effort. Stepping in to fill Thomas Jane's shoes is future MCU alum Ray Stevenson (Volstagg in the three Thor films). With a sick wink 'n nod, Stevenson plays Castle with a much less haunted, weary tone than Jane. It's too bad really that Jane didn't get another shot at the character, seeing how he'd tackle it as Castle evolved beyond strictly mourning the loss of his family.

None of this to say that War Zone is any kind of lost classic. Director Alexander (the screenplay was co-written by two of the guys, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, behind the Iron Man screenplay earlier in the year) seems to be aiming for a gorier take on Tim Burton's handling of another famed vigilante, DC's Dark Knight, in two classic films. Unfortunately, the garish look of the film runs a little closer to the later Joel Schumacher versions.

Visual look is not the only area in which War Zone aspires to Burton-esque levels. The main villain here is Billy Russotti (Dominic West), a badass gangster who Castle attempts to dispose of via a glass recycling grinder. And yes, it's as graphic and twisted an attempted killing as you might imagine. That's the thing, just as Nicholson's Jack Napier didn't die in the '89 Batman, Russotti emerges alive—albeit drastically disfigured—and is reborn as Jigsaw. Great work by the makeup department (West's face is genuinely disturbing to look at), but the whole thing makes the thrust of War Zone's narrative feel too much like a rerun.

Just as they did with the 2004 The Punisher, Lionsgate has upgraded Punisher: War Zone to 4K UltraHD in a spiffy looking 2160p transfer. The original Blu-ray release of War Zone (included in this package as well), though released just a few years after the first Punisher, looked notably better. Therefore it's no real surprise that the new War Zone 4K upgrade isn't nearly as big a step up. But it does benefit from increased textural detail that makes a relatively recent film look better than ever. Audio is upgraded from an already powerful DTS-HD MA 7.1 to Dolby Atmos.

Features are ported over from the Blu-ray (found on both the Blu-ray and the 4K disc) and include commentary by director Lexi Alexander (joined by cinematographer Steve Gainer), and several 'making of' featurettes that total about 25 minutes of material.
Punisher War Zone BD.jpg

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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