Sometimes, comic book characters are selected for leading roles, such is the case with the four members of the Defenders on the Marvel/Netflix collaborations. But in Daredevil Season 02, Jon Bernthal was introduced as The Punisher. And he wow people so much that Marvel and Netflix decided he should have a whole series. And he got it, and it is brutal, and honest, and totally worth your time.
WARNING: We will be dropping some spoilers in this review, if you haven’t seen The Punisher, don’t read on!!!
Given the comic book nature of The Punisher, it would’ve been incredibly easy for Netflix to dial the violence and blood up to 11, give their viewers a spectacle, and then move. But instead, they decided to delve even deeper into what makes Frank Castle The Punisher. We knew some of his history via Daredevil, but here it’s expanded upon in many ways, and it, not the violence, is what makes the shows one of the best of these collaborations.
Take the pilot episode, “3 AM”. Here, we see Frank finishing the mission he began in Daredevil, to kill all the gangs who were responsible for his family’s death. But just as quickly as it starts, it ends, now Frank doesn’t have a war to fight, so what does he do? Well, he gets a job, one where he physically tries to take the pain of his loss out. It’s a brilliant move, and showing him struggle to sleep as he continues to see them, and the desire to at least try and live a regular life is compelling.
But of course, things go wrong, and when he meets a man named “Micro” (another character from the comics), his war begins anew.
Make no mistake, the show lives and dies upon the performances of Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Micro), and others. And that’s not a bad thing. The last thing we need is another Iron Fist situation where the supporting cast is terribly miscast, but that doesn’t happen here. Ebon as Micro is almost a literal polar opposite to Frank, and yet, that’s exactly why he needs to be teaming up with him. Like Micro says, a missile needs a guidance system.
Which brings me to Frank and his arc. From his beginning in Daredevil, he’s always wanted to be a man who works alone, and get the job done himself. But when he realizes the scope of everything that’s going on, he realizes he can’t do it alone, he needs help.
That’s another thing I’m grateful the Punisher did. It didn’t just focus on Frank and Micro, there were other elements to it all too. We got to meet some of Frank’s unit in Curtis and Billy, and see how they’ve been dealing with things since Khandahar. It’s both touching and tragic to see how far these three have come since their mission, and as time goes on in the season, it only grows. Even lesser characters like the returning Karen Page and PTSD victim Lewis have their own stories to tell, and it’s great.
If I was to compare this series to a Marvel film, it’d honestly be like Winter Soldier, because there’s a lot of political things going on here, both intentionally and now. We see the CIA, Homeland Security, Private Military and more get spotlighted here, and as things grow, you honestly have to wonder how things got this bad, and yet you look outside in the real world and you understand it.
That’s what makes The Punisher so real, we see real-world events right before our eyes, and get glimpses of things we probably don’t see that are happening nearby. For example, a recurring setting in the story is Curtis’ group of veterans that he talks to. Each of them with a story about how life after war is incredibly hard, if not impossible, and your heart breaks because you know this is real.
And of course, we also see that with Frank. Again, Jon Bernthal is incredible as the character, and he plays Frank masterfully. From the rage that makes him one of the deadliest character in the comics, to the quieter moments like with Micro’s family as he watches over them, or with Curtis and Billy. And even in the final scene, where a BIG character spot shows why Frank Castle is a tragic character. And the fact we keep seeing him flashing back to moments with his wife and kids keep us in the know that Frank will always think about them.
Now, there are some downsides to this. People who are expecting wall-to-wall Punisher action will likely be disappointed. In fact, there are episodes where there is very little action at all, which actually helps, but there will be those who are disappointed. Also, some storylines, including the storyline with Homeland Security, just doesn’t connect as much as the Frank/Micro storyline does. Finally, there are a few plotholes here that aren’t resolved.
But even with all of that, The Punisher shines as one of the best in the Marvel/Netflix lineup. Give this show a chance, and you might be surprised at the story that is told.