Originally released in 2004, one of the better live-action versions of Marvel Comics’ famed gun-toting vigilante returns to the ultra-high definition disc format, encased in a metal jacket, as a Best Buy exclusive in The Punisher: Steelbook Edition (Lions Gate Home Entertainment, rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 123 minutes, $22.99).
As the adapted story goes, an undercover cop named Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) made more enemies than friends taking down the bad guys over the years. Unfortunately, his last operation before retirement led to the death of crime lord Howard Saint’s son.
Saint (John Travolta), egged on by his wife, takes revenge by wiping out Castle’s entire clan during a family reunion and even running over his wife and son. Castle miraculously survives and fueled by revenge goes after the Saint empire and anyone who gets in his way, taking on the persona of the Punisher.
Mixing snippets of comic book canon, highlighted by the costume homages to artist Tim Bradstreet’s famed comic book covers, the film goes a bit sour when reworking the original source material’s origin story and even making up the main villain.
Saint was an odd choice. Why not just pick one of Castle’s many archenemies in the pop art spheres such as Ma Gnucci or Kingpin? Equally puzzling was creating the assassin Harry Heck for the film.
Again, why not tap into the comics’ legacy by bringing the likes of bad guys Finn Cooley, Bushwhacker or Jigsaw to life.
Luckily, the script does a great job of bringing to cinematic life numerous characters from comics scribe Garth Ennis’ legendary run back in the 2000s.
Specifically, the interactions of neighbors Nathaniel Bumpo (John Pinette), Spacker Dave (Ben Foster) and Joan the Mouse (Rebecca Romijn) with Castle are the best parts of the movie.
The movie’s highlight comes from a scene between the Punisher and his archenemy The Russian (Kevin Nash) who gets into an epic fight practically destroying Castle’s apartment building.
A lowlight is Mr. Travolta, delivering a stoic somewhat mechanical performance and trying to muster up the maniacal evil but looking tired. It’s just hard to take the guy seriously.
“The Punisher” certainly laid the groundwork for the future superhero epics, but still, the gold standard for the character in a live-action format remains the 2017 Netflix series starring John Bernthal as the legendary man in the skull shirt.
The 4K presentation has plenty of inconsistencies with some scenes loaded with grain and soft focus, others crisp and colorful. It’s not Lions Gate’s finest work but does offer increased detail from previous releases, especially night scenes that are well balanced.
Also, a drab color pallet throughout does not allow any high dynamic range enhancements to shine.
Best extras: Bundled on the 4K disc is a generous supply of goodies starting with an optional commentary track with writer and first-time director Jonathan Hensleigh.
He’s a serious guy who offers a pointed, very detailed and informative track touching on cinematography, actor choices, budgeting, locations, creative decisions, story revisions and homages to the comic books.
Mr. Hensleigh explores specifics such as the making a Sam Peckinpah-style film, having a war sequence in Kuwait as the original beginning to the movie and the final demise of Howard Saint.
Next, a 13-minute origin of the Punisher in comics segment is just as enjoyable and features lots of artwork from Marvel Comics as well as key interviews with his sequential art chroniclers, including Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr. (the creators), Mr. Bradstreet and Mr. Ennis. That’s also supplemented by a seven-minute piece focused on Mr. Bradstreet and his exceptional, photo-realistic style.
Additionally, two longer featurettes deliver an hour’s worth of production information split between an exploration of the stunt work, violent gunfights, close-quarter combat (including the Russian fight even compared to comics panels) and practical vehicle effects; and an overview of the film explored by key cast and crew relayed like watching a director’s on-set diary.
Finally, the only new extra is the slipcover and metal case that features a bloody and fiery-red-and-orange color scheme with new artwork from Orlando Arocena. The artist choice is a bit confusing since I bet Mr. Bradstreet would have loved to have participated.
I digress. The translucent slipcover displays a shattered-glass design with a circular hole obviously made by a bullet revealing part of an illustrated skull.
Remove the cover to see the whole skull pattern with vehicles crashing in a fiery explosion on the front. On the back, we get a 3/4 view of the Punisher, in black leather trench coat and skull shirt, holding an automatic rifle and lit match.
The interior of the case offers the Punisher’s chest with hands holding two pistols pointed at the viewer.