I had written off The Punisher Netflix series since the day it was announced. I was never a fan of The Punisher showing up in my Spidey or Captain America comics as a kid and I couldn’t imagine a 13 episode series centered around him. That’s because I didn’t understand his character or what he represented. Marvel’s The Punisher changes that.
Sure, I liked Joe Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle in Daredevil Season 2 but I felt he overstayed his welcome. Even Daredevil, my favorite character in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) couldn’t keep me entertained for 13 episodes. Every MCU Netflix show has suffered from too much filler and not enough killer. It’s usually the 8th episode before things start dragging only to pick up again on the final episode. Iron Fist finally got good around episode 8 but let’s be honest, you probably didn’t stick around that long. The Punisher, on the other hand, has made every one of its 13 episodes count. At no time did I want to skip an episode or check my phone while I watched. This is solid television. It’s the best Marvel Netflix show out there. It’s honest, its raw, it’s incredibly well acted and above all else it’s very, very good.
I’ve been bursting to let people know how much I like this show since the end of the first episode.
Unlike the other MCU Netflix shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, you don’t need to have seen the rest them to understand The Punisher. The Punisher works very well in its own part of the MCU and very well on its own. It feels like the Marvel universe and it’s in line with the other Netflix shows but it’s truly its own thing. Some prior knowledge of Daredevil season 2 is helpful but it’s not imperative. It’s refreshing to see it not shoehorned into the other shows.
The beauty of The Punisher being a series is we get to understand the full Frank Castle. At his core, he’s a sympathetic character. Unlike the less than memorable movies that have come before, we have only seen him portrayed as a killing machine. In Daredevil we saw him vulnerable but we never got a deeper understanding of his character. We see him as a parent but not a loving and caring family man. With his own series, we get a better look at the method to his madness and that he’s far from a psychopath. The show had to toe a fine line to not depict him as an off the rails killer and to not show violence lightly or for shock value. Fans of the comics will be very happy with this portrayal.
The Punisher comic book series was created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru in 1974. He’s considered an anti-hero and is both a vigilante and a protagonist. He’s a man dead set on vengeance on a quest for revenge against the criminals who killed his family. The Punisher Netflix series starts with Frank Castle burning his Punisher outfit in the opening scene after getting revenge and he’s all but set to retire and live a life of silence. This is an all-new take on Punisher and showrunners Jeph Loeb, James Chory, and Steve Lightfoot handle this masterfully.
Of course he can’t be put down for long and eventually, a CIA cover-up, an NSA investigation and a whole lot of friends and enemies from his past will stop at nothing to haunt him. The Punisher does not rely on superhuman powers, nor his superhuman friends. He’s not a lone wolf either as he relies on the help of Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Micro is a legendary hacker who faked his own death to hide from his former agency and continue his work of exposure of the government’s secret affairs in private. His name was printed on a CD that Frank Castle received in Daredevil season 2 and was name-dropped in Agents of Shield.
Micro was introduced in The Punisher #4 back in 1987 as an ally to Frank. He would help build weapons and provide eyes and ears during missions. Think of him as “the man in the chair”. Ned, from Spider-Man: Homecoming could take a few pointers from Micro. And just like Ned and Peter, Micro and The Punisher have electric chemistry. Ebon’s performance makes for one of the best new MCU characters on the small screen in a while. He plays a big role in the series and steals every scene. Both Micro and Frank argue and bicker like a couple of old married folks and it’s a delight to see. It also serves as the shows rare lighter side, which helps break up all the bleakness.
Besides from making friends and opening up to others, Frank must come to terms with his military background. his post-traumatic stress, and his loss of his wife and kids. While we’ve seen other MCU shows touch on heavy themes – Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in particular – The Punisher goes in much harder and I applaud Netflix for the decision to really capture PTSD, losing loved ones, and a few more spoilery themes. This is a very grounded show; there’s no costumes, aliens, or superpowers, and that’s what makes the character’s journeys and violence that much more real. The show resonants a lot more than I would have ever expected and has a heavy focus on political questions that are currently part of our everyday discourse.
I might praise the show but The Punisher isn’t for everyone. These heavy themes and grotesque scenes of violence are sure to turn people off. This isn’t an easy show to binge. I found myself watching two to three episodes max at a time before flipping to something else for a break. I loved what I was witnessing, but its very hard to sit through. I’m not a huge action fan and prefer my comic book adaptations a bit more light-hearted but I couldn’t turn away. If you can’t handle intense scenes of violence and copious amounts of blood you best look for something a little more joyous. The Punisher plot points and storylines aren’t too far off from what’s happening in the news on a week to week basis.
For such a bleak show the characters are some of the best we’ve seen so far on the MCU small screen. Everyone’s dealing with some heavy shit. Where I’ve found there’s always a weak link, each character really brings something to the table and has a purpose in the overall storyline. Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) is an all-new character created for the show and is hot on the trail of Frank’s whereabouts and motivation. She’s a badass and gets a really strong story arc and I’d love to see her interact and aide Jessica Jones in the future. Or go whoop Iron Fist’s whiny ass into shape. Karen Page is back from Daredevil to drop in and out of the series and provide someone for Frank to talk to. A number of other recurring characters from the Netflix MCU also stop by for the ride but I don’t want to spoil any of the fun surprises.
Marvel’s The Punisher is by far not only one of the most gripping Netflix MCU shows of all time, but it’s also one of the best shows of the year. Think of it like a mix of Sons of Anarchy (early seasons) and Hannibal. I never thought I’d like it as much as I did and I’m sad its over. Frank Castle, you took me on one hell of a long ride and I hope you come back for more. You weren’t always my hero, but you are now. See you at the Emmys.
Marvel’s The Punisher debuts Friday, November 17th on Netflix
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a screener copy of the show provided by Netflix.