by Mike Lunsford
When I give my recommendations for shows to watch, I try to find things that are a little different than the typical things most people watch. When I watched Marvel's The Punisher I knew it would be different than the other Marvel/Netflix collaborations that preceded it. For those who weren't familiar with our pal Frank Castle and his war on crime they probably thought "I've seen Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist beat up some bad guys. I'm ready for The Punisher. Same thing, right?" I'm warning you now, if you're one of those people who thinks that, be prepared. What you knew about violence, gore, nudity, and sex in regards to the Marvel/Netflix team-ups you can essentially throw out the window after The Punisher.
The series is "extra," as the kids would say, to the uninitiated. However, comic fans get it. It's Frank Castle, the Punisher! This is how he SHOULD be portrayed! But for the love of God, don't walk into this thinking it's going to be CW's Flash or Arrow. Those might as well be Muppets compared to The Punisher.
Now, don't get me wrong when I say The Punisher is "extra." That typically denotes overkill or it's unnecessary. This is exactly as it should be, which we often don't see as projects on the big screen tend to dilute the essence of a character. As this Marvel/Netflix format continues, I think these 13 episode series give us a chance to really see the depth of the characters, which was definitely needed for a character that is complex like Frank Castle.
The series excels in every way possible in showing us who Frank Castle was and how he became the Punisher. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) is incredible as the former-Marine-turned-vigilante. Bernthal manages to balance the near impossible feat of showing both the brutality and sheer determination of the Punisher in conjunction with the gentle and caring side of Frank Castle.
We've always known the Punisher as a man who was pushed to extreme measures after the murder of his family (this time around, via CIA black-ops). In previous movies, we had never seen much of his military history or his ties to his former comrades. The series has the time to show us this past. We get an introduction to Frank's best friend and former battle-buddy Billy Russo (Ben Barnes, Westworld), a new direction for a classic Punisher character. Billy has an integral part as the series progresses and...well...you need to see what happens. As promised, no spoilers.
Another classic character with a new twist is Micro ( Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Girls) who portrays a NSA analyst with a strong moral compass. There are new characters added to this series that have not been part of the Punisher's pantheon such as Homeland Security Agent Dinah Midani (Amber Rose Revah, From Paris With Love) and CIA Deputy Director William Rawlins (Paul Schulze, Rambo) who both bring context to Frank's past with the modern aesthetic of the conflict in Afghanistan. As the story unfolds, we see how these three characters are intertwined with Frank's past, present and future. And to tie the series to the rest of the Marvel/Netflix Universe, Matt Murdock's former secretary-turned-investigative-reporter Karen Page (Deborah Ann Wohl, Daredevil) continues her assistance to Frank as he tries to unravel the mysteries of his family's death.
An unexpected bright spot in the series is the portrayal of another troubled veteran, Lewis Wilson by Daniel Webber. Webber had impressed me when he played Lee Harvey Oswald in the Hulu series 11.22.63. I was pleased to see him in The Punisher thinking that he would be just a small bit player, but as his role grew, I was shown that this actor can hold his own.
With the exception of a bit of a slow, stereotypical "I'm a man and I'm sad and angry so I'm going to smash things with a sledgehammer" introduction to this series, the entire production of The Punisher is great. They manage to bring to life the real life struggles of many of today's veterans in their post-war lives. The writing and dialog are realistic and emotional as is the acting. The show, as previously mentioned, is incredibly violent but it is not gratuitous. Unlike many of it's comic counterparts, the violence is realistic and makes sense. There are parts that are brutal and guttural yet somehow beautiful. So often when it comes to violent media, it is senseless, more meant to satiate the stereotypical male action flick crowd.
There's a reason for it all with The Punisher, and you see that these soldiers are often not the perpetrators of the violence, but the ones tasked with the execution. The truly depraved, uncaring, evil side of war is in the hands of those pulling the strings, orchestrating the entire ordeal. We see that in great detail in this series. There is no political bias shown in the execution of this series, showrunner Steve Lightfoot (Hannibal, Narcos) instead takes the side of the veteran. He and the writing team showed this understanding and compassion for the military service member who fight the wars for politicians. They bring home the scars, both physical and mental and this series gives that level of service a great deal of respect. It is easily one of my favorite series of all time and one you should take the time to watch.
I give Marvel's The Punisher 5 stars. It's violent, it's intense but more so it is an incredible story that does not follow the typical story path. It is worth your time...just make sure the kids aren't around.