by CJ Wilson
There is always something exciting coming from Marvel Studios. After releasing many movies that as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many video games on the horizon like Marvel’s Spider-Man or The Avengers from Square Enix, and even TV shows like Agents of Shield and some of Netflix’s other Marvel shows like Daredevil and Luke Cage, comic book fans and fans of Marvel are always looking for the next big thing. But not every superhero had been featured in such prominent fashion until The Punisher had premiered on Netflix. While there have already been several movies depicting this classic anti-hero, none have reached the astonishing heights that many fans of the comic can appreciate. But Marvel’s The Punisher does something that most Marvel productions haven’t: telling an emotional and psychological story with a hero that performs their own brand of justice that others may find immoral.
A political narrative that’s much better at being personal
Marvel’s The Punisher revolves around Frank Castle (played by Jon Bernthal), a former US soldier who is suffering from the tragic loss of his family, who decides to hunt down criminals who deserve to be “punished.” Now, 6 months later, Frank decides to lay low for a while and re-adjust to society until he discovers someone else has been looking for him and provides Frank Castle with information that will make him discover a government conspiracy that might have some connection to the death of his family.
Marvel’s The Punisher shouldn’t have been an easy story to tell, considering the current political climate. But what I admire about this show is that it’s not about senseless acts of violence. It instead focuses the political issues that surround the difficult subject matter. Some of the most interesting aspects of the show deal with real-world issues like gun control and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While the show does overdo it with some of its political overtones, it handles the issue of PTSD perfectly. The way in which the writers explore Frank’s mind as a result of his violent outlook on life makes for an excellent character study and perfectly explores the human psyche. While it can be brutal, it’s one well-worth taking a stab at.
A lot of the action taking place in the show provides some of the best fight scenes in the Marvel Netflix universe. One episode in particular is episode 11 which showcases the flowing combat choreography. In this episode, Frank is taking out mercenaries that are sent after him in a hidden hideout. This showcases Jon Bernthal’s military training in action as he takes these enemies out with quick precision and unique characteristics from twisting his arms when holding a rifle, to setting up explosives attached as light bulbs, and even concealing weapons above pipes like a shotgun. His character, Frank Castle, is such a believable person when fighting that it’s clear he gives his best in every fight. Those with weak stomachs or who are sensitive to blood and gore might struggle to get through this onslaught towards the end of the season, but know that there is a purpose behind all the slaughter. The writers do a wonderful job of making sure it’s clear that killing has consequences.
The perfect blend of strong performances and stellar writing
Jon Bernthal gives an amazing performance as Frank Castle, one that shows his ability to headline his own series. His character provides a nice range of emotions. When he is getting ready to kill his enemies, he becomes the scariest being imaginable, but when he is speaking to characters that he cares for like Karen, he becomes a different person with a wisecracking personality.
Many of his supporting characters give a unique perspective on the story being told throughout the season.
Like Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s portrayal of David Lieberman (aka Micro), who provides a relationship with Frank Castle that seems genuine as he wants to protect his family. Jason R. Moore, playing Curtis, gives advice to Frank as a former soldier who lost a leg in the war. Ben Barnes, as Billy Russo, is also battling personal demons like Frank after his return from fighting in the war. But I thought that one surprising performance came from Daniel Webber playing Louis Wilson, a young war veteran who is suffering heavily from PTSD and decides to fight back against the US government with his own hands. Webber’s character struggling to live his life outside of the military is a difficult reminder that many of the problems showcased in The Punisher are very real. All of this is enhanced greatly by the grounded writing of the show.
Some characters depicted, like the members of Homeland Security, don’t get as much screen time with their arcs not fully realized in the case of Agent Dinah Madani and her partner Sam Stein. While the actors playing those characters worked well enough in the story, I felt like they didn’t have any dramatic character changes like some of the other major supporting characters. But with the case of Karen Page, played by Deborah Ann Woll, she was a character who was already supporting Frank Castle back in Season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil. While she only appears in a few episodes, her arc gives a greater background to the story at hand as it plays out over this first season of Marvel’s The Punisher.
I found the writing both thought-provoking and engaging. Much of the story goes over themes like loss, vengeance, friendship, and struggling with a mental illness, which makes Marvel’s The Punisher one of the most grounded shows you can watch right now. Many of the lines given provide some social context on the current issues at hand, with gun control and veterans going through PTSD as the focus over building this world that is completely separate from the other Marvel Netflix shows. I find this quite fascinating as I was expecting a typical show about an anti-hero going on a bloody killing spree taking out bad guys, but instead got a story of said anti-hero finding closure.
Powerful music accompanies this show to amazing heights
The soundtrack provides some country tunes that I didn’t expect as I watched each episode. This can even be heard in the theme, which gives a No Country for Old Men vibe to the series. Most of the music isn’t memorable though, especially considering some of the songs don’t have lyrics. It still remains consistent and fitting for each episode. The best part about the sound design, however, are the sound beats that punctuate each fight scene or action in the show. Aside from the writing, these sound beats become one of the best parts of the show. For example, when Frank Castle (as the Punisher) takes out an enemy, you get to hear every blistering gunshot, different bones breaking, and necks getting snapped in brutal fashion, which brings a certain charm to the show as a whole.
Featured image from Geeks of Doom
Marvel's The Punisher
Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix is a smart addition to all of the other Marvel shows on the streaming service. The show is elevated by strong performances from both Bernthal and the supporting cast. While its approach to tackling political issues might get heavy-handed at times, it deserves a pat on the back for trying. Also, while some of the supporting characters don’t get as much development as they needed like some of the other characters, the show never completely goes off the road into absurdity. It succeeds with a stellar first season that manages to feel standalone from the other Marvel shows on Netflix.