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Punisher: War Zone (4K Ultra HD)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // September 25, 2018 // Region 0
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 22, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The first time we really see The Punisher in action in this kinda-sequel-maybe-reboot-I-dunno-whatever, he lops the head off a wheelchair-bound, septuagenarian mafioso in a single, majestic swipe.


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Its sinister master villain is ground up with thousands of glass bottles in a recycling plant and stitched back together with chunks of horsehide. One of Jigsaw's flunkies is way too into parkour – hey, it was 2008; we as a nation didn't know any better – and this more-Irish-than-Jamaican-accented thug is in the middle of leaping from rooftop to rooftop when The Punisher aims a missile launcher his way and 'splodes him into a Fourth of July fireworks display of blood and viscera. The Punisher doesn't just slug a coked-up mobster in the face; his fist tears clear through the guy's head, sending gallons of crimson goodness spewing out. We're talking Frank spinning around upside down from a chandelier and gunning down an entire dinner party, knives stabbing through heads as if they were a half-rotten pumpkin on Halloween, twenty story impalings, pan-seared wiseguy, point-blank shotgun blasts, jabbing a grenade launcher through the middle of a closed door and blowing up a room full of gangbangers, a psychopath who rips out and devours a hospital orderly's kidneys, grenade-in-a-bucket, rebar head-ka-bob, and the drive-in totals just keep on racking up from there.


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War Zone generally shrugs off the two prior stabs at bringing The Punisher to the big screen, and it doesn't bother with the sort of glossy, PG-13 superheroics that the early years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had to offer. No, this is a movie that earns its R-rating and then some, just as you'd expect with a world-champion kickboxer at the helm. Between his vengeful psychosis and heavy artillery, Frank Castle racks up a body count that puts entire long-running slasher franchises to shame. Punisher: War Zone is grimy, gritty, and sloshing around in a couple barrel drums of sticky stage blood. It doesn't bother trying to deify The Punisher as some kind of hero who doesn't play by society's rules; he's nearly as much of a psychopath as the batshit insane butchers in his laser sight. There's no love interest. Ray Stevenson is given so little dialogue to work with that Frank might as well be mute. Characterization is pretty much limited to Frank tortured by the loss of his family and cracking a half-grin at sweet little children. War Zone doesn't flinch away from this savage brutality or mask it with jagged jump cuts; the movie revels in it. Reproducing blood-spattered imagery from the original comics panel-for-panel, Punisher: War Zone is so visually striking that it manages to put the "gore" back in "gorgeous".


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Really, I could stop the review right there. You're either up for this sort of gloriously deranged hyperviolence or you're not, and it's not as if some rambling write-up of mine is going to change your mind. I mean, the script keeps it dead simple: The Punisher (Ray Stevenson) is on a mission to slaughter every last criminal and thug skulking the dark, dank back alleys of New York, and Jigsaw (Dominic West) – well, once what's left of him is pieced back together after being sliced apart in a recycling plant's glass grinder – is on Frank's kill list. I mean, there's a little extra color with The Punisher wracked with guilt about gunning down a fed, Julie Benz playing the grieving, gun-totin' widow, and an FBI agent (Colin Salmon) that's hellbent on bringing Frank down since the NYPD are giving the guy a free pass, but none of that really amounts to much. It's a couple of over-the-top lunatics being chased down by an armed-to-the-teeth nutjob with a skull on his chest. Admittedly, the pace drags when War Zone gets distracted by its emaciated skeleton of a story, but otherwise...?


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Unhinged, unrelenting, and deliriously violent, this is a grindhouse fever dream that'd do Garth Ennis proud. Highly Recommended.

We're not talking about the usual flavor of Ultra HD eye candy here. Punisher: War Zone's intensely stylized visuals carve out a middle ground between the skewed palette of the comic book and the gritty, hardboiled look of the grindhouse set. War Zone wasn't exactly dazzlingly crisp on Blu-ray, and, sourced from the same 2K digital intermediate, this UHD release can be a bit on the fuzzy side as well. Don't expect a meaningful step up in the way of definition or detail, nor is there a tremendous amount of depth to the image.


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Still, its Dolby Vision grade seizes hold of the original release's greatest strength – its striking and very deliberate use of color – and elevates it into something even more exceptional. Its frequently vivid hues leap clear off the screen. Neon is not just pervasive throughout the streets of New York but even inside a church. My jaw dropped upon the first glimpse of the lights in Frank's underground base. I completely get your puzzled expression as I talk about the searing highlights on foreheads at a funeral, but when you give this disc a spin, I guarantee you'll know exactly what I mean. Colors in general are significantly pumped up, which works brilliantly for a movie with War Zone's more-is-more mentality. As astonished as I was by the original Blu-ray release back in 2009, its colors look fairly dull in a side-by-side comparison.

Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that Wayne Knight plays Micro. So, there you go.


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The allure of upgrading Punisher: War Zone is slanted far more heavily towards HDR than resolution, yeah, but it's well-worth it.

When I was first introduced to Punisher: War Zone right at a decade ago, I stood in awe of its hyperaggressive soundtrack: one that was as unrelentingly over-the-top as damn near every other facet of the film. This Dolby Atmos remix takes that even further. I can't get over how truly immersive this soundtrack is: sprays of gunfire from every conceivable direction, the rumble of nearby trains in Frank's subterranean lair, and the grinding of glass in the recycling center, just to rattle off a few. Such attention is paid towards directionality, whether it's Frank's 360 degree assault from the chandelier or something as mundane as a toilet flushing. Bass response is colossal, and again, it doesn't matter if you're talking about a hand cannon or shotgun blasting away, thundering metal percussion, or just a parkour junkie landing on a rooftop. I'll admit to not being wild about how the dialogue sounds, though it is balanced well in the mix. There's one exchange in particular from Frank around the 1:22:17 mark that sounds a bit off on Blu-ray but is bizarrely tinny here. Other than that, though...? First rate.


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The other audio options haven't changed from the original Blu-ray release. Thrill to an audio commentary, a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in French, and subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

Unlike lesser studios who make you change discs to check out any of the bonus features, Lionsgate has once again seen fit to include all the bells and whistles on this Ultra HD Blu-ray disc. (Well, all but one, but it's not as if you ever used that MoLog markup feature from the original release anyway.)

  • Audio Commentary: Far and away the most compelling of the extras on Punisher: War Zone is this commentary track with director Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer. The D.P. doesn't hesitate to dig into intensely technical notes about crafting the unique look of the film, and Alexander talks about struggling with indifferent extras, an inflexibly tight schedule, punishing weather, a microscopic budget, and even the runtime of the flick. A few scattered highlights include the two of them pointing out certain shots lifted directly from the comics, a note that you can't land insurance if you drop an actor into a grinder with actual glass bottles, swapping out the original idea for where Jigsaw landed his name, the improvisational tone on the set, the lackluster response from critics, and palling around with the Bubba Blue of machine guns. Their chat covers an enormous amount of ground while still being a heckuva lot of fun, so...yeah, recommended.

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  • The Making of Punisher: War Zone (9 min.; HD): This is a straightahead and fairly bland promotional piece, running through the unrelentingly intense action, keeping it all faithful to the comics, suffering through subzero weather, and plowing through a couple hundred pages of casting notes. There's not a whole lot of meat to gnaw on here.

  • Meet Jigsaw (3 min.; HD): There's some brief chatter about Dominic West's deliriously over-the-top turn as Jigsaw, but this brief featurette is primarily anchored around the prosthetics plastered across his face.

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  • Weapons of The Punisher (4 min.; HD): The sprawling arsenal that Frank Castle lugs around is explored in detail here along with a quick look at the heat that the various gangs are packing when the climax rolls around.

  • Training to Become The Punisher (6 min.; HD): Most of the extras on this disc are talking head interviews, but "Training..." keeps it pretty candid, sticking largely to fly-on-the-wall footage as Ray Stevenson plows through his grueling physical training and Marine-led boot camp.

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  • Creating the Look of the Film (3 min.; HD): The last of the featurettes grabs some of the technical notes from the commentary – particularly War Zone's inventive use of color – and condenses them down to three minutes and change.

  • Trailer (1 min.; HD): Last to bat is a theatrical trailer.

This combo pack also includes a digital copy code as well as the original Blu-ray disc. And hey! A slipcover.

The Final Word
The demented, unflinchingly brutal Punisher: War Zone is essential viewing for fans of Garth Ennis' grindhouse-inspired run on the book. I can't help but wonder how different the reception at large would be ten years on, what with its darkly comedic streak and holy shit ultraviolence really not being all that far removed from the staggeringly successful Deadpool. Its unhinged, blood-drenched camp is well worth revisiting – or, gasp, discovering – on Ultra HD Blu-ray, thanks to some smoldering HDR, a top-shelf Atmos remix, and an awfully alluring price tag. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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