After introducing the character in season 2 of Daredevil, Netflix was kind enough to give us a series dedicated to war veteran Frank Castle. The Punisher was my favourite part of Daredevil‘s second season, with the script and Jon Bernthal’s performance helping to humanize the character while also showing how deadly he is.
Before I can review the series itself I have to mention one aspect of this Punisher’s origin that I had a problem with when it was first explained in season 2 of Daredevil. Depending on the line of comics, Frank Castle’s family is either murdered by the mob because they happened to witness a mob hit (e.g. Year One) or because they were collateral damage from a shootout between rival gangs in Central Park (e.g 2004 Punisher Max).
Daredevil reimagined their deaths as collateral damage that was due to a shootout, but a shootout that was the result of a failed sting by District Attorney Samantha Reyes. Frank’s story then became tied to a government cover-up that dominated the plot.
This season continues with more government cover ups, making the plot line seem somewhat stale in comparison to all the material that myself and other comic readers were hoping to see on screen. There are references or nods to characters and arcs from the Max and Year One comics, and we even get a version of Agent William Rawlins from the comics as well. However, anyone hoping for more than that may be disappointed. This is another rendition of The Punisher where the villains are tied intimately to his past, instead of offering a new threat. Now, on with the show.
After killing all of the gang members tied to the Central Park Massacre, Castle fashions a simple new life as construction worker, Pete Castiglione. Frank burns his Punisher vest early in the first episode, symbolizing the end of his war, but it is obvious something will drag him back in. The Punisher’s re-emergence is a short, but bloody and glorious fight that is enhanced with the accompanying music. Speaking of music, Tyler Bates did a masterful job for the show’s soundtrack and the show’s opening is narrowly beaten out by Daredevil’s in my opinion.
Like the first season, this season further explores Frank’s mental state and his view on the world. Like the comics, I am happy to see the show didn’t shy away from being political at times. Some people on YouTube, the bastion of online intellectual discourse, are complaining that the show should “stick to entertainment”. Firstly, these people don’t realize that all shows aren’t obligated to be mindless entertainment. Secondly, the “stay away from politics” talk is usually code for “don’t express views I disagree with”. Final point, people who complain about The Punisher being too political have clearly not read any of the comics.
Frank was a former soldier and the military does play a part in many of the 2004 Max comics. While Frank respects veterans as a whole for their service and sacrifice, he does not respect the institution of the military.
“Fighting for the people who run the world gets you stabbed in the back. You fight the wars they start and feed. You kill the monsters they create…. I’m not going back to war so colt can sell another million M-16s.”
Frank Castle- Punisher Max, Issue #4.
If you think this is a “liberal talking point” as someone else put it, then the character isn’t for you.
The season deals with issues ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the US involvement in Afghanistan, just like some of the comics do. While Frank re-emerges as the Punisher, Homeland Agent Dinah Madani also begins digging into Frank Castle’s past as a way to investigate the death of a policeman she worked with while stationed in Afghanistan. “Agent Orange” also develops an interest in Castle since Castle was involved in an illegal military operation that a mysterious hacker named “Micro” has video evidence of.
Jon Bernthal joins the Marvel stable of actors who excel in their character’s skin. He is joined by a capable cast, with Micro (Ebon-Moss-Bachrach) being the standout since the relationship between the two forms the backbone of the story. In this continuity, Micro’s family is still alive but Micro was forced to fake his own death after being framed by Homeland Security. When Micro attempts to reach out to Frank, Frank finds Micro’s family as a way to gain leverage on him. The interactions between Frank and Micro’s wife, Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman) were interesting at first, since they both lost loved ones and bonded over that. Then the interactions continued, and included more screen-time from Sarah’s bratty son who is also one of the weakest actors in the show. A love triangle quickly developed and this entire subplot was one of my biggest gripes about the show. The chemistry on display between Frank and Karen Page was far better and didn’t leave me wanting to skip certain scenes.
Fortunately, this season also gives us some more memorable villians such as Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber). Barnes’s role in Westworld showed that he can play a smug douche pretty well but he gets to do more with the script here, playing a friend turned foe who has profited off his evils.
The action itself integrates good hand-to-hand choreography (looking at you Iron Fist), gunfights and stealth kills that would make Batman proud. The fights weren’t actually that plentiful but the show does a great job of building the tension between the bursts of action (minus the Lieberman house visits).
Overall, I will rank the punisher third among all the Marvel Netfix seasons, behind Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 1.
- Jessica Jones
- The Punisher
- Daredevil Season 2
- The Defenders
- Luke Cage
- Iron Fist