TL;DR – This is a show that works just because of the charisma of its lead, however, it would have been better if it was more condensed
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Without a doubt, The Punisher might be the most difficult character to get right in the Netflix TV Marvel Universe. How do you make a man who murders a lot of people, a lot of people, yet still keep him a relatable character. Revenge driven storylines are thus really hard to make work because of this and for every Punisher or John Wick you have a plethora of others that don’t stick the landing. So the Punisher or Frank Castle first appeared in Season Two of Daredevil (see review) where he was one of the best parts of the entire season. However, the question is can a character like Frank work in a series all by himself? Well, that is what we will be looking at today.
So to set the scene, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) was a Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan who one day, when he was on leave, watched as his wife and children were gunned down in a gang shootout. Castle was gravely wounded but managed to survive and went on a mission to heap retribution on all those who killed his family. At the start of the season, there is only a hand full of the gang members left, who are all brutally murdered in the first five minutes of the show. This is it, Frank has finished what he started, but why does life not feel any different? We find out why as Frank is ripped back into his past life and the morally questionable activities he undertook in Afghanistan that threaten to expose government corruption and more than a few war crimes. Indeed the whole season is set in motion because Frank acts to protect a co-worker that got in over his head, which puts him on the radar of Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who is looking for his own redemption. Soon the worlds of the intelligence community the CIA’s Rawlins (Paul Schulze), the private military (i.e. mercenaries with better branding) lead by Franks old friend Billy (Ben Barnes) and the investigations of Homeland Security run by Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) collide, with Frank in the middle.
The strength of The Punisher is based almost entirely on the charisma of Jon Bernthal as he plays the titular Punisher. Indeed, this is a good reminder as to how important casting is because few people could play him even remotely as well as Jon does. Here you have a character that is physically impressive, highly trained, yet has some deep vulnerabilities, and all of this shapes his life. Sleep is not a respite, work is not a respite, life is not a respite, yet he still perseveres. This season we also get to see the more tactical side of Frank as we explore his past, and also how that impacts on his future. The rest of the supporting cast is great as they all counterpoint some part of Franks life, the life that was, the life that is, and the life that could have been. The action scenes are as good as you would expect for a show like this, though often quite brutal at times, maybe overly so in moments. The series is also dealing with some important issues, the lack of support for veterans, the dubious role of private military contractors in wartime, the dubious role of the CIA during and after wartime, and the role of guns in society.
However, while there was a lot I really liked about The Punisher, I think more than any of the Netflix-Marvel TV series it shows one of their big flaws, it is about four or more episodes too long. No, I am not someone who thinks shorter is always better, I think a series should be as long or as short as the story needs, whether that be six, twelve, or twenty-four episodes, or anything in-between, or more. The issue here is that the story the show wanted to tell has been clearly padded out to meet the twelve episode runtime and not the other way around. There are moments in the show where something happens to stop Frank completing his mission, like a side quest in an RPG that only exists to pad out the runtime. This is really frustrating when you have storylines that are really important like that of Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber) a young war veteran who struggles to re-enter society, but then it is just there to hold Frank up in the end. They could have condensed the series a bit and it would have been much better for it.
In the end, do we recommend The Punisher? Actually, yes, I still do. Mostly because you need to watch Jon Bernthal’s masterful performance as he charts a very difficult character and still remains sympathetic throughout, ok mostly sympathetic, he was a bit of dick at times. You know Netflix, The Defenders (see review) was a much better show and part of that was its more compacted run time, match the episode run to the story you want to tell and not the other way around.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Punisher
Directed by – Tom Shankland, Andy Goddard, Kari Skogland, Dearbhla Walsh, Jeremy Webb, Antonio Campos, Marc Jobst, Jim O’Hanlon, Kevin Hooks, Jet Wilkinson & Stephen Surjik
Written by – Steve Lightfoot, Dario Scardapane, Michael Jones-Morales, Christine Boylan, Bruce Marshall Romans, Felicia D. Henderson, Angela LaManna, Ken Kristensen & Felicia D. Henderson
Based off – Punisher by Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr. & Ross Andru
Created by – Steve Lightfoot
Starring in Season One – Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah, Daniel Webber, Paul Schulze, Jason R. Moore, Michael Nathanson, Jaime Ray Newman, Josh Stewart, Floriana Lima & Giorgia Whigham with Shohreh Aghdashloo, Tony Plana & Clancy Brown