The Punisher (2004) 4k Ultra HD
Thomas Jane is the definitive cinematic Punisher, now in eye-popping 4k Ultra HD!
After his family is killed by a ruthless mobster (John Travolta), former FBI agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) wages a one-man war seeking revenge. Also stars Will Patton, Rebecca Romijn, and Roy Scheider.
Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
Allow me to preface this review by making an admission: I consider Thomas Jane to be the definitive cinematic Punisher - the best on-screen translation of the comic book character. Even with Jon Bernthal’s Netflix version now to be considered, I felt Jane best captured the “comic book” Punisher in both look and spirit. I say this, fully knowing that the 2004 film he is in doesn’t age well, some 14 years after its release.
As he mentions in the director’s commentary, Jonathan Hensleigh (who also co-wrote the film with Michael France) deliberately crafted the low-budget film to mix the heavy violence with dark humor, as an homage to the “Welcome Back Frank” Punisher comic mini-series, a favorite story arc among fans. However, what worked in the comic did not translate to the big screen, as the shift in tone was far too jarring, and the over-the-top acting is woefully out of place.
The only one who seems to be on-target is Thomas Jane, who infuses Frank Castle with the hopelessness and quiet rage that makes his quest for vengeance riveting. Unfortunately, the supporting cast, from John Travolta on down, plays it far too hammy and goofy to mesh with what Jane brings to his character. Roy Scheider and Samantha Mathis do an admirable job as Castle’s father and wife, respectively, but their roles are so small that they are no more than glorified cameos.
While The Punisher may not rise to the level of some of Marvel’s recent cinematic offerings, it certainly has its moments. For all of the shortcomings, I still find it highly watchable. The highly-violent action scenes are well done, and Hensleigh certainly knows how to shoot one without making a viewer dizzy. It also helps that Jane did many of his own stunts in his fight scenes, and Hensleigh is smart enough to let the camera roll and let it happen.
Through sheer force of will, Thomas Jane propels The Punisher forward, delivering the goods in a film that often falls short of his efforts. As a fan of The Punisher dating back to his comic roots (I actually bought five copies of issue #1 when it hit my comic store back in the 1980s), there were moments where I felt Jane truly captured the character’s core, creating several shots that seem tailor-made for fans. That alone makes the film worthy of your time and deserving of a place in your Marvel cinematic universe collection.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Some of Lionsgate’s 4K transfers haven’t quite measured up, but The Punisher looks surprisingly good. There is some hint of film grain in the image, which actually helps sell the gritty look the film needs. Color reproduction is solid, and while the detail is very good, it isn’t quite as impressive as you would expect for 4K. The fact that the film is nearly 15 years old is certainly a factor, but overall, for what was a low-budget action film, I was satisfied by the image quality.
The 4K disc features an impressive Dolby Atmos sound mix, with a deep bass that rattled my room at just the right times. The enclosed Blu-ray also includes a Dolby 6.1 DTS-ES mix.
A solid handful of special features, including some behind-the scenes featurettes and a director’s commentary are among the offerings. A short history of the Punisher in comics is also provided, and is the best extra on the disc. It should be noted that the extras are not mastered in 4K.
The extras included on the disc are:
Deleted Scenes. Two deleted scenes are included: “Introduction of Saints and Sinners Club: Howard, Livia & Quentin / Intro to Bobby and John Saint” and “Livia Saint Insults Mickey Duka.” An optional director’s commentary is included. Running Time: 3:12.
“Keeping It Real” The Punisher Stunts” documentary. Stunt Coordinator Gary Hymes is featured in this look at the various stunts performed in the film, which were all practical, with no CGI. At nearly 30 minutes, it’s a pretty comprehensive mini-documentary. Director Jonathan Hensleigh also appears to discuss the stunts. Running Time: 27:45
“Army of One: The Punisher Origins” documentary. The comic book history of the Punisher is shown. Gerry Conway, the Spider-Man writer who created the Punisher, is interviewed. Artist John Romita Sr., who helped set the look of the Punisher costume, is also interviewed. The various artists and writers who have worked on the Punisher comics over time are also interviewed. Running Time: 12:55
“War Journal: On the Set of The Punisher” documentary. This behind-the-scenes documentary explores the casting of Thomas Jane and the challenges in production. The documentary also honestly shows how cheap Marvel Studios was in its early days - Hensleigh discusses having to shoot the film on a small budget ($28 million) and severe time restraints. Running Time: 29:59
“Step Up” by Drowning Pool Music Video. Running Time: 3:24 “Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style” featurette. Punisher cover artist Tim Bradstreet discusses his designs of the film’s movie posters. Running Time: 6:55
Audio Commentary. Director Jonathan Hensleigh provides an informative commentary on the film, and isn’t afraid to answer some of the criticism leveled at it. He acknowledges the criticism and discusses why he made certain directorial choices, which is refreshingly honest.
Digital Copy. A digital copy of the film, redeemable only through VUDU and Fandango Now, is included. Note that the digital copy is not compatible with the Ultraviolet service or iTunes, and does not transfer (or port) to services like Movies Anywhere. In addition, our past experiences with digital copies from Lionsgate 4K discs has shown that only an HD version of the film, not a 4K version, is available through the code. We were unable to confirm that a 4K digital version of the film would be available at the time of our review, so we recommend confirming that the code provides a 4K version before redeeming it.
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Running Time: 123 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Dolby 6.1 DTS-ES (Blu-ray only)
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish
Special Features: Two deleted scenes, Three mini-documentaries, One featurette, Music video, Digital copy.
Audio Commentary: With director Jonathan Hensleigh