[Pre-Review Note:] Before I start the review, unlike most online review site and publications I am not going to politicize this review, I am not going to turn this review into pro-gun or anti-gun propaganda. I am not going to turn it into a debate about whether or not the violence in the show is justified or not. Because if your review contained any of the above then clearly you have no idea what and who The Punisher is and what he represents as a character. This review will come from someone who has read Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX run of comics. Which by the way was some of the best Punisher stories ever told, I would highly recommend you read them if you haven’t yet.
“After exacting revenge on the people responsible for the deaths of his wife and children, Frank Castle uncovers a conspiracy that runs deeper than New York’s criminal underworld. Now known as the Punisher, he must dig deep into the conspiracy to discover the truth about injustices that affect more than just him and his family. Assisting the vigilante in his quest to fight criminals are best friend Billy Russo, who runs private military corporation Anvil, and former NSA analyst Micro, who shares common enemies with Castle and helps him as part of a so-called.” The premise of The Punisher is nothing new in the world of storytelling. The Count of Monte Cristo written by Alexandre Dumas pretty much set the standard for an anti-hero revenge story.
But what Punisher does differently than any other comic book character is vengeance taken to its ultimate extreme. None of this stupid Batman and Superman shit. None of this revolving door of justice crap we see in Spider-Man or Captain America. You fuck up, Frank Castle ends you simple as that. That’s it. No discussion. He’s not a superhero, even though he’s categorized as one. And as such, he appeals to us on both a visceral level and on a narrative level. There is only black and white for Castle no grey or in between. Think about it for a moment. He was a loyal soldier who killed for his country at a drop of a hat. And then became a vigilante hunted by the same country he fought for in the war. He was a family man only to become a lone assassin.
The man who was a massive patriot for his country is now a criminal vilified by the media and his own country. These are all paradoxes which make the story and character of Punisher and Frank Castle so interesting and makes him more than just an uncompromising “death dealer”. We live in an increasingly complex world where we can easily become a victim of a crime, and where the law discounts our anger and pain, and many victims of crime feel as though the guilty are treated better than the actual victims. We don’t want to be the victim we want to control our own lives, Frank decided not to be a victim, and he takes control of his life. Killing all those who were responsible for the death of his family, and then stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Jon Bernthal absolutely nailed Frank Castle in The Punisher, I would even go as far as to say he deserves an Emmy for his performance in the show. I honestly don’t think I have ever felt so much empathy for a single character in a TV show, I was a bit worried when they first cast him that I wouldn’t be able to separate him from his other great character that he played in the Walking Dead (Shane). But he ended up playing one of the best adaptions of Punisher, which easily overshadows those performances by Ray Stevenson, Thomas Jane and Dolph Lundgren. He is THE Punisher now. I was extremely surprised by how well the writers portrayed Frank Castle’s PTSD, and the loss of his family was, it felt extremely real from a writing perspective and perfectly portrayed by Jon Bernthal.
Another actor in Punisher who really stole the show for me was Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, hands down one of the best Marvel TV villains, he had a reason for existing beyond simply being an obstacle for Frank to overcome. From the beginning scene with his mom where we get to see his absolute vindictiveness towards his own mother for giving him up for adoption until the last scene where we see him slowly bleeding out hostages before fighting Frank in their last showdown. I hated him so much by the end of the show, but I also felt pity for him because he and Frank aren’t all that different from each other. And the former friendship creates a much deeper and darker connection between the two by the end of the show.
They just chose different moral paths when they returned from war. And the brutal fight scene at the end actually made me feel sorry for him. And is a showcase of just how amazing the writing really is. Honourable mentions go to Ebon Moss-Bachrach as “Micro” it was incredibly satisfying to see Bernthal and Moss-Bachrach playing the Castle-Micro dynamic and bouncing their characters from each other. And Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, who maintains an excellent persona of someone who is continually fighting through their own boundaries in an effort to unveil the truth. I don’t think Netflix has really delivered a show with so many well-rounded and defined characters since the first season of Daredevil.
“Sic semper tyrannis,” or “thus always (death) to tyrants” is the recurring theme throughout the show. And sets up most of the big storylines and confrontations in the show. Punisher also handles pretty heavy subject matter, and goes were not a lot of other shows has gone before, how the system has failed war veterans, PTSD, and stolen valour. It is heavy and hard to watch at times. But due to the skilful writing, it is incorporated very well into the script and story without feeling too preachy or heavy-handed. Many reviewers have criticized Punisher for being dull and slow in the first few episodes, and I can’t deny the fact that the pace wasn’t the quickest in the beginning. But it really does pick up after the first 3 episodes.
I have seen a lot of negativity towards the violence in the story, which is clearly a symptom of reviewers not knowing the character or story of The Punisher. The nature of The Punisher character means the show will obviously feature violence. Frank has no superpowers he has to rely on man-made weapons to battle against those he perceives as being evil. He is one of the few comic book characters who is more grounded in reality, and because of his status as an anti-hero means he’s not the most moral or righteous of characters. It is intense, graphic, brutal, and honest all at once. It hits far closer to home merely by portraying veterans as they exist today, and how we as a society tend to interact with them. This is one of Marvel’s best show yet, and it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here.