Last November, Netflix returned with their most recent contribution to the Marvel Universe. This time we follow the story of Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, in an action-packed and ultra-violent opening season.
This isn’t the first time we have seen Jon Bernthal as The Punisher; we first met him in the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil as the villain turned vigilante who wreaks revenge on those who have wronged him, getting caught up with Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) along the way.
The Punisher’s standalone series picks up a good few months after we see him in Daredevil, with Frank going by the alias Pete and working long hours on a construction site. Having let himself go, he now looks like a burly hipster with unruly brown locks and a rather impressive beard. In fact, Frank himself makes many references to his new trendy look.
After coming out of hiding to help out a colleague in desperate need, a mysterious hacker and technology whizz bribes Frank into helping him uncover secrets that the CIA and United States Elite Forces are trying to keep buried. What then unfolds is a blast from the past for Frank and (perhaps) one too many near death experiences, leaving the audience wondering how he is actually going to make it through all 13 episodes.
The Punisher has been a notoriously hard comic to adapt to screen, with many attempts in the past and all of them being panned. The character of Frank Castle in this recent adaptation is certainly a step up in that he is much more human and carries emotion with him throughout the series, and that emotion is one of the major driving forces behind his murderous sprees. He is more than just a killing machine, and the audience are able to empathise with him.
Jon Bernthal is perfect casting for Castle, as despite very much going for the ‘alpha male’ approach, and taking a leaf out of Christian Bale’s book when it comes to roughing up his voice, it works well for this version of the character.
Karen Page also makes a return to the show as Frank’s confidante, but the new characters are what makes this one of the better Marvel TV shows. We see the introduction of David Lieberman, aka Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who has his own battles and storyline which are key to the progression of the show as a whole. He is a well-rounded character, skilled and a force to be reckoned with in his field of computer hacking and technology, but he is also vulnerable and a newbie to the vigilante world. He is the perfect antithesis to Frank Castle’s hands on approach, and the combination of the two makes for compelling viewing.
One of the unique things about this series, compared to other Marvel outings, is how The Punisher is a symbol of fear – even to the main villains – which adds a different element and approach to the usual superhero model. It helps the audience root for Frank because we know for a fact that he can win, and any moments that he comes close to death it packs more of an emotional punch for the audience. This does help to freshen things up a bit – however where The Punisher excels in some areas, it really lacks in others.
The reason that The Punisher has been widely criticised was its approach in discussing gun control and gun laws. The show was released not so long after the Las Vegas shooting, and the show’s stance came across as pro-gun, making it hard to view it as a TV show in its own right without the context of current gun issues. It felt political and also quite disconcerting, despite this stuff only really being a small snippet of one episode. It changed the whole meaning of the show, and that makes it harder to give it a higher star rating.
Due to conflict between this shows politics and real world events, we’re giving The Punisher 3 stars – the agenda it depicts doesn’t work in its favour, and leaves a somewhat sour aftertaste from what otherwise could have been a great chapter in the MCU.
The Punisher is streaming on Netflix now.