Do you not want to bite the bullet and watch JUSTICE LEAGUE? Do you not want to watch THOR: RAGNAROK for the umpteenth time? Then you are lucky that we have another option in the form of MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER.

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We have seen fantastic Marvel Netflix shows like DAREDEVIL and JESSICA JONES. We have also seen horrible ones like IRON FIST. It’s fantastic to say that MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER falls into the former camp and delivers an incredible 13 hours of television. It has its fair share of problems, but the show’s terrific acting, strong themes, and willingness to discuss controversial issues make it a show worth binging.

The Veterans Story

MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

It is fitting that Netflix released MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER a week after Veterans Day. PUNISHER, at its core, is a show about veterans. It’s a show about how men go to fight a war, and their superiors abuse them, they were returned to their country to find a war still raging inside of them, and they are abandoned by the country they once served and risked their life for.

Frank Castle was a man who joined the Marines to do the right thing. He did not let his country down; his country let him down. The violent acts he was forced to witness and commit in Candahar, Afghanistan would forever psychologically change him. Frank was only able to contain his fragile mental state with the help of his family. This all turned when his wife and children died in Central Park when rival gangs opened fire on each other.

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Since Punisher’s appearance in DAREDEVIL Season 2, he has gone around the country hunting down the remainder of people responsible for his family’s death. After he is finished, he retires as the Punisher and adopts a civilian life.

However, Castle finds himself brought back to his vigilantism when he discovers a conspiracy involving a military operation he took part in. With the help of computer hacker “Micro,” Frank decides to pursue vengeance on those responsible for this conspiracy. This is a conspiracy that may have contributed to the death of his family.

Frank Castle

MARVEL'S THE PUNISHER
Jon Bernthal as THE PUNISHER. Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

There is one reason that MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER works and it is because of Jon Bernthal. Jon Bernthal, the actor who portrays Frank Castle, does a fantastic job capturing the humanity of a man that could have been depicted merely as a cold-hearted killer.

Frank is a damaged man who suffers from severe PTSD. Jon Bernthal captures the vulnerabilities of this man who has trained almost his whole life to kill. When we watch Bernthal’s performance as Frank Castle, we do not see a man filled with hate, but one suffering from pain and loss.

While Punisher is an anti-hero, I found myself always liking him and wanting him to succeed in this show. There’s a kindness to Frank Castle, a side to him that shows empathy to other people. This makes it very easy to empathize with him as he struggles.

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Whereas DAREDEVIL’s Punisher was angry at the world for the wrongs it committed towards him, this Punisher’s rage is often directed towards himself. He blames himself for his family’s death going as far as saying “I killed my family.” Frank does not believe he has the right to live. He believes the only reason he is alive is to exact his sentence on the people who turned him into the killer he is today. That sentence is always death.

Micro

MARVEL'S THE PUNISHER
Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Micro. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

By far the best new character to be introduced in MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER is David Lieberman AKA Micro. In the comics, Micro is a computer genius that assists Punisher in his campaign against organized crime. The Netflix show could have easily taken the approach of depicting Micro as a stereotypical awkward, nerdy hacker. His origin story is in fact very typical; he seems very much stylized after Edward Snowden with Micro being an ex-NSA intelligence assessor and now a wanted man.

However, Ebon Moss-Bachrach plays Micro far from the NSA hacker stereotype. He imbues in Micro a sensitivity and humanity that is often lost in other similar characters. If anything, Micro is the beating heart of the show. His quest to reunite with his family is the one that the audience relates most to. Micro’s complex relationship with Frank is representative of how we perceive our protagonist.

On the one hand, Micro recognizes the good that Frank is trying to achieve by righting the wrongs committed by the CIA. However, Micro does not understand why Frank has such a stubborn willingness to kill everybody that he comes across. Micro and Punisher’s relationship is central to the show and so its lucky that Moss-Bacharach and Bernthal nail this part of the show.

Other Important Characters

What I find interesting about the characters in MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER is that almost all of them have suffered some form of trauma. There are Frank’s fellow veterans who must live with the things they saw and did at war. Then there is Micro’s family that believes that Micro was a traitor who they think the CIA killed.

Finally, there are characters like Karen Page (Deborah Ann-Woll) and Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) who have lost people close to them. The difference between the characters in the show is that some of them can move on despite their trauma while others find it consuming.

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Dinah Madani’s story throughout PUNISHER very much parallels that of Frank Castles. A Homeland Security agent, Madani’s primary goal is to get justice for her deceased former partner who died in Afghanistan. Like Frank, Madani wants to see those responsible for the vile acts in Afghanistan punished.

Unlike Frank, Madani believes in doing things by the book and the ability of the state to pass justice. This makes her relationship with Castle complicated since they both want the same thing in incompatible ways.

MARVEL'S THE PUNISHER
Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Then there is Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), two of Frank’s old war buddies. They are distinguished from Frank by seemingly finding ways to move on from their time at war emotionally.

For Curtis, this involves helping other veterans overcome their past traumas and return to a comfortable civilian life. Billy, on the other hand, uses his wartime experience to establish a private military corporation by the name of Anvil. These two characters serve as terrific contrasts and parallels to Jon Bernthal’s Punisher.

Rising Above Controversy

Punisher has always been a controversial figure. His embrace of guns, torture, kidnapping, and other forms of violence separate him from more heroic Marvel comics characters. However just because he’s controversial does not mean that Frank Castle isn’t a valuable, complex Marvel character. Most criticisms of MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER do not take into consideration who the Punisher is or what issues the show is addressing.

Take violence for example. PUNISHER is by far the most violent Marvel Netflix show. Especially towards the back-half of the season, there are some truly horrific and brutal moments. This isn’t gratuitous though since it has a very relevant purpose in the show.

Violence is a theme throughout MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER. Violence is a drug; people are addicted to it, reliant on it, but it can destroy one’s life. Whereas other TV shows glance over the violence enacted by our heroes, PUNISHER isn’t afraid to address the damage and pain the PUNISHER inflicts. The show definitively depicts how violence can ruin a man’s life.

MARVEL'S THE PUNISHER
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Secondly, there is the controversial subject of guns. Critics are criticizing the way PUNISHER glorifies gun violence. This is a fair criticism of Hollywood culture but not one that is specific to PUNISHER. If anything, PUNISHER uses guns more as a symbol than an actual weapon.

The guns that appear in the intro of the show are representations of how soldiers are perceived as weapons to be used by the leisure of their superiors. As Agent Orange, the head of Punisher’s operation declares,

“I’m the only authority you will need. I point, you shoot.”

Action

After DEFENDERS, a show filled with a lot of kung fu and brawling, it is refreshing to see a different style of fight choreography. MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER’s action sequences are distinct for their brutal, bloody nature.

The show shoots the fight’s in a way where it is evident that both fighters are aiming to kill one another. This makes these sequences even tenser than the ones in DAREDEVIL in which the Man without Fear holds back from using lethal force.

MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER
Sam Stein as Michael Nathanson (Left) and Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani (Center)

There is a lot of stabbing, shooting body parts, and beating people’s faces until they’re bloody to make any squeamish person run the other way. The show manages to raise the tension through its immersive battles.

Whether they use quick first-person shots, place the camera between the fighters, or merely using fantastic cinematography and sound design, the audience always feels a centimeter away from the violence going down. This is extremely effective in a show that intends to use action profoundly.

One Negative of MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER

The crucial flaw of PUNISHER is a flaw that every Marvel Netflix show besides THE DEFENDER’s possesses: too many episodes. PUNISHER further proves that 13 episodes are too long for this type of show.

The story’s length is not tight enough. Large chunks of some episodes seem dedicated to multiple characters arguing in a room. I love that Netflix gives its characters time to breathe and develop, but PUNISHER’s crawl pace sometimes makes the show’s better moments feel repetitive.

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While I did talk about the fantastic action sequences, I often found myself checking the clock for some awesome fights to come up. Then there’s the fact that Punisher uses his classic outfit and guns sparingly in this series. I would have gladly cut out some filler moments in this season to see more of Jon Bernthal mowing down criminals as the Punisher.

Final Thoughts

MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER Season 1 is one of the better seasons of Marvel’s Netflix shows. It probably ranks below DAREDEVIL Season 1 and JESSICA JONES Season 1 but over DAREDEVIL Season 2 and the others. This is because Marvel was able to create an intricate, thoughtful show with complex characters with PUNISHER.

It is a genuinely terrific 13 hour of television that will not disappoint the casual watcher or the hardcore Marvel fan. So, what are you waiting for? Start binging now!

One Comment

  1. […] he believes it is only God’s right to judge who’s worthy of justice. The crux of Matt’s argument with the Punisher is that he believes everyone is worthy of God’s forgiveness, even if they are not worthy of […]

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