One of the best aspects of the Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe series is the variety in the shows. Daredevil is a superhero crime drama, Jessica Jones is a psychological drama, Luke Cage is a gritty urban superhero drama, Iron Fist is a supernatural martial arts drama and The Defenders is a team superhero drama. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is like their latest series The Punisher.
Jon Bernthal (perpetual scalp rubber Shane from The Walking Dead) returns as the homicidal comic book vigilante and one man army Frank Castle after his introduction in, and being the very best thing about, Daredevil Season 2. In his solo series he works with a hacker named Micro to take down powerful enemies from his past. With a SPOILER ALERT here is my review in four shots:
Shot 1 – One Batch of Characters
Bernthal is so good as Castle it is ridiculous. Every facial expression, movement and word encapsulates the skilled soldier turned vigilante. He is haunted, haunting and as serene as a pool above an active volcano. And when he goes full Punisher it is terrible and terribly engaging. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is a wonderful foil as David Lieberman/Micro and the arc of their relationship from paranoid foes to grudging friends is the highlight of the series. Castle with Lieberman’s family – a surrogate family for the one Castle lost – does a lot to humanise the character but you do get tired at times of watching Micro watching Castle with his family. And Castle’s parenting skills need some work. That’s all I’m saying.
The stunning Amber Rose Revah is a strong female lead as Agent Madani though I thought her relationship with the villainous Billy Russo (Ben Barnes long grown up from his Narnia days) and its eventual breakdown would have been more impactful if it was based on more than sex. On Russo I thought he was okay but I was never blown away by him and he lacked the depth and complexity of Bernthal’s performance. Continuing on villains, Daniel Webber’s troubled PTSD veteran Lewis Wilson’s decent into darkness was an intriguing watch while Paul Shulze’s evil Rawlins was Bad Guy of the Week generic.
Shot 2 – Two Batch of Blood
In terms of blood and gore Punisher is more akin to The Walking Dead than The Flash. The battle scenes are less action than extermination. Oh my goodness gracious me. Castle is so vicious, so brutal and so deadly you actually feel sorry for his victims. Gritty and visceral does not cover it. You almost want to turn away but you can’t. I can still see Castle popping Rawlins’ eyes out or scraping Russo’s face against that glass. The pain. The pain of it all.
And I think the realism of the violence was quite intentional. Castle is no hero; he is a man doing horrible things because he believes it is right. You root for him but you are simultaneously horrified by him. It is quite the dichotomy and kudos to the writers and director for achieving this. On another note The Punisher is not an action fest so don’t expect gunfights every two minutes. There is a slow burn at times but when it gets fired up it is blazing! Too many fire puns? Is there such a thing?
Shot 3 – A Penny of Plot
The main plot of the series is Frank seeking to avenge his family by taking down Rawlins, Russo and the rest. The subplots include Madani trying to avenge her partner, Micro trying to reunite with his family and Lewis’ aforementioned journey from traumatised vet to terrorist. The theme of loss and moving on runs through all of them and how the characters deal (or not deal) with it makes for thoughtful character studies.
The Punisher also flirts with the issue of gun control through the Karen Page storyline but wisely skims the surface – a series about a gun-toting death machine may not be the best forum for that debate. In terms of storyline it is pretty straightforward and without many unseen twists and turns, but everything is delivered so competently you don’t really mind.
Shot 4 – A Dime of Darkness
Of all the Netflix MCU shows The Punisher is the most grounded and self-contained, and deliberately so. Watching Daredevil Season 2 would better explain the relationship between Castle and Karen but you can figure it out from this series alone. Fans will get a kick out of seeing unlucky criminal Turk again and I half expected that it would have been night nurse Claire to patch up Castle after his torture session rather Madani’s doctor father, who did seem to pop out of nowhere.
And the series goes to pains (no pun intended) to show that Castle is not superhuman. He gets hurt, he gets wounded, he needs time to heal. And his emotional scars run deeper than any bullet wound. He is man with darkness in his soul, violence in his heart and a soldier through and through. You are not supposed to like him per se but you gotta respect and his code. The Punisher stands tall on the shoulders of Bernthal’s riveting performance, a stellar script and bloody, bloody violence for an enthralling watch that is right up there with Daredevil Season 1. With the tease of Russo completing his transformation into comic book archnemesis Jigsaw, Punisher Season 2 should be a blast.
Rating: The Punisher Season 1 gets 4.5/5 extremely amateur cosmetic surgeries
For our review of Iron Fist Season 1 you can click here.