The Punisher is Filled with Blood and Violence but is Never Gratuitous.
Normally, I don’t review shows or series. But seeing as how I’m a total comic geek, I’m probably going to break that habit starting with The Punisher.
Previously, fans were treated to a look at Jon Bernthal’s interpretation of Frank Castle in the second season of Daredevil. Now, it’s tempting to get into a whole tirade about everything that went wrong with the second season, but I’m not. Instead, I’m just going to say that Netflix got that character very right. Which is fortunate, because they continued to get him right this time around as well.
The Punisher pushes the envelope for Marvel Netflix series. Before we got a little blood, some implied sex, and maybe a curse word or two. This time though we see two bikers run over, a headshot, and a man murdered in a bathroom stall in the first five minutes. Needless to say, The Punisher sets out very early on to prove that it is not the same as the previous Marvel series that came before it. In fact, it does a pretty damn good job of leaving the audience torn over whether they should even like Frank Castle or not. Trust me, it’s definitely a question that still remains after the final credits roll.
For the first time, one of the Marvel heroes is forced to face a real threat. Previously, we’ve been given The Hand, crime bosses, and even some guy in a “power suit.” The Punisher though takes a hard look at the terrible things that are done during war and more importantly the people that are behind those things. Castle finds himself going against his former boss, and men he served with as he tries to find his own version of justice (which mostly means a whole lot of body bags). However, he isn’t the one man army one might expect as he finds himself teaming up with an NSA whistleblower who goes by the alias “Micro” (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Together they take it upon themselves to right the wrongs done to them any way they can.
The Punisher is not a series for the faint of heart. It’s an absolute bloodbath and for good reason. In a world like Marvel, a man with no powers can hardly stand among the likes of Luke Cage or Jessica Jones, but Frank Castle does have one very special quality and that’s the fact that nothing stands in his way. Jon Bernthal plays him like a force of nature, overcoming impossible odds and staggering away with injuries that would leave normal people sobbing on the ground. His version of Castle is one that will never stop until his mission is over. It’s this singular focus that always makes him such a hard character to relate to at times. While other characters might be opening up emotionally, that’s not something Frank is capable of. To be this beast, he had to lock away the parts that would make him human. The fact that I even am conflicted over whether to like him or not though is a huge testament to Bernthal’s performance. He’s a monster, but a monster we can care about.
Hardcore fans might not like some of the changes made to a few of the characters in the series, but I honestly felt like all of them were made for the better. Rather than Castle taking on the mob, which he could cut through like butter, he has to face down his own kind. Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) is a character that served beside him as a Force Recon Marine, and he is every bit as dangerous as Castle. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few one-sided fights in this series. Let’s just say Frank Castle is a much less elegant, but just as effective John Wick when it comes to fire fights.
The major hiccup in The Punisher comes in the form of a sloppily shoehorned sub-plot which brings back Karen Page (a Marvel Netflix series regular I can’t stand). I’m not going to spoil it for you, but let’s just say I can see exactly what the executives were going for with it, and greatly respect the message, but it just felt too much like filler to be truly effective. That being said, I do want to recognize that the series does seem to take care when dealing with veterans and the issues that many face coming home. One of Frank’s only friends hosts a support group for veterans returning home from battle and it shows the many different sides of the soldiers who served.
Now for the real question: How does The Punisher stack up against the other Marvel Netflix series? Well, rest assured that it is much better than The Defenders and Iron Fist. In fact, I would say it’s a pretty close tie with Luke Cage. It keeps its focus, introduces and maintains new and interesting characters, and keeps the tone that Netflix has cultivated with its shows but never feels redundant. In my opinion, it’s definitely a series worth binge-watching and I hope that we get a chance to see a second season soon.