When I heard that Marvel was looking at creating a Punisher series, both excitement and worry hit me at the same time. Excitement as Marvel is currently at an all-time high for TV shows – Netflix showcasing that the company can deliver quality television to match DC. The worry extended from the fact that portraying The Punisher character within the MCU would be a tall order – given Marvel’s unwillingness to touch R-rated content with a barge pole. With The Punisher landing on Netflix, what kind of show are audiences in for?
It’s important to note that the show makes it easy for both old and new viewers of The Punisher character to jump in. We’re introduced to Pete Castiglione working on a building site. The first episode sees a robbery go wrong for some builders, who are committing the robbery to pay a loan shark off. Things go south quickly and as the group look for revenge on a colleague, Pete Castiglione steps in to stop the young builder from being killed. This is when we learn that Pete Castiglione is actually Frank Castle.
From here the series kicks the brutality up a notch. As the series pushes on, there are lots of twists and turns that ultimately serves as Frank Castle getting his revenge. The introduction of Billy (William) Russo, an ex-Navy Seal in Frank Castle’s squad, serves as the backbone to the series and gives the series events some personal stakes. With Agent Midani acting as the main link between the two, the series has plenty of fun addressing the differences between these two brutal characters.
As the series goes on Frank Castle learns that Agent Orange, the man in charge of Castle’s last operation, has been knocking off every member of that squad in an attempt to cover his tracks. It must be stated that Agent Orange is a weak antagonist in the grander scheme, ultimately failing to get above the level of cookie-cutter villain of the week. Not that the role particularly calls for much more than this – he largely exists as a brooding counterbalance to Castle’s redeemable edges. Castle’s violence is forgivable through the framing of his character and the arc he follows – Agent Orange isn’t afforded such luxury.
It’s not just his character that suffers in this way. The way the story tries to include the Mexican Cartel and gangs of New York ultimately falls flat when audiences see them as generic goons. They occupy screen time but there’s very little reason to care about them or their goals when the show fails to give them time to expand. Of cour, e Netflix and Marvel have one eye firmly fixed on a potential season two of The Punisher – but it only serves to expose this flaw in the writing.
But if we’re saying that the villains are somewhat forgettable, then we have to heap praise uponJon Bernthal. Not only does he nail the nuances of Frank, he manages to make the Castle character somewhat palatable against the backdrop of violence. It’s in the quieter moments between the endless shooting and violence where his depth truly shines, offering insight into a truly complex character. Of course, the performance is hugely solid, ranking among the best in the entire Netflix corner of the MCU.
This is important because there’s been a lot of talk about the brutality of the show and how its violent tendencies ultimately harm its execution. I never really saw this as a problem, largely because the show is fairly faithful to the tone of the comic book source. As a long-time fan, I was delighted to see the boundaries being pressed with this character – affording him the gritty realism that he so desperately needed.
The action scenes are incredibly over the top and for some Marvel viewers coming in from the relatively bloodless MCU, might provide too much of a hurdle. But the action is well implemented and manages to give this show a unique feel. Every fight is interesting, different and offers a delightfully cartoonish exuberance that has been sorely missing from the other Marvel television shows. If you sat through Daredevil wishing the fights had more weight, The Punisher has you covered.
Perhaps most importantly though, the series never loses sight of its emotional core. In particular, I found the finale truly engaging – with the show carefully building and executing its story threads to great enjoyment. Each episode is paced well enough that you’re never unsatisfied heading out – with enough detail and comic book nods to make fans happy. This is shown through the depth of the characters around Castle, which is nothing short of great.
You grow to like these characters, grow to enjoy seeing them on screen and how they interact. It’s this which hits home how well crafted this series is. Iron Fist failed to make me care about any of those characters or their wider stories – it seems that Marvel has learned from the mistakes of that series. Here you’re given reasons to like them – it’s not a hard feat.
Overall then, The Punisher is a very solid outing for the Marvel/Netflix crowd. Very rarely do I sit an enjoy a television series as much as this, from start to finish it is a very well rounded series that has highs and lows along the way.
It’s clearly not for everyone. It’s a show that wants to be seen as a different beast to its contemporaries and manages to stick the landing with great enthusiasm. Certainly, I hope there are more opportunities to revisit Frank Castle and this version of The Punisher character.
This review was contributed by guest writer Mark Kelly.