Two Dead Men
The Judas Goat
Front Toward Enemy
Virtue of the Vicious
The Punisher has all the ingredients to be the best marvel TV show since Daredevil’s first season. The visceral, brutal depiction of violence is at points cringeworthy and other times so full on its hard to look away. Much of this is accomplished through the effortless performance of Jon Bernthal who plays anti hero Frank Castle to perfection. His portrayal is incredibly well realized with touches of vulnerability mixed in with the rage and anger really coming through perfectly. Whilst the violence and action is as brutal as its ever been in Marvel shows, its diluted by unnecessary filler episodes and a bizarre pro-gun political agenda that feels tacked on and unnatural.
The story picks up where we left Frank back at the middle portion of Daredevil Season 2. With Frank crossing off the last names on his list of people responsible for killing his family, he tries to settle back into a normal life. The series starts well, with an excellent opening few episodes that show Frank’s reluctance to go back to the blood-soaked world of crime whilst simultaneously being unable and unwilling to fit in. As the story starts to slow down we’re introduced to Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who anchor Frank’s moral compass and work well within the confines of the story. However, the issues affecting other marvel series creeps in and hangs over the show like a black cloud. The plot line is certainly intriguing, with some good twist and turns along the way dotted with violent fist and gun fights but this is a story fit for 7 or 8 episodes not 13. Consequently, the middle portion of the series drags on unnecessarily, ruining the early work put into building the characters and plot line.
There are times where the show is actually boring and its a real shame because the last 3 episodes manage to rectify this with a quickened pace and an excellent climax, arguably better than almost all the other Marvel shows. It makes it even more frustrating as this issue seems to be a recurring problem with Netflix’s Marvel properties. Daredevil Season 2, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and even The Defenders all suffer from this and it has become difficult to ignore given that this is the fifth time its occurred. Do we really need 4 sex scenes? Frank helping with chores around the house on more than one occasion? Do we really need half the expository heavy dialogue sections here? Probably not and that’s what makes this such a bitter pill to swallow. The Punisher loses the ferocious venom it begins with, the sting softened due to unnecessary episodes that go on for far too long and outstay their welcome. The issues here could have been rectified with some heavy cutting and if The Punisher had done this, we could be looking at Marvel’s best adaptation yet.
Much like the other Marvel superhero shows, The Punisher’s cinematography is outstanding. A clever use of imaginative flashbacks are used throughout and whether it be a sledgehammer repeatedly striking a wall triggering a flash from the past or a near-unconscious Frank hallucinating about being with his wife under a spotlight, the way this is woven throughout the series is really well done. The eye watering portrayal of violence has had a lot of attention from other critics who have labelled this as a negative but if I’m honest, I think it enhances the show. Especially when you take into consideration the comics. Despite the morally confused tone The Punisher adopts through vast periods of the run time, the shocking way violence is depicted actually does a great job of accentuating the consequential actions it can have on these characters. Its clear that The Punisher is an antihero of the highest degree and the action scenes, camera work and lighting really help to achieve this effect, even if it is hard to watch at times as buckets of blood and gunfire accompany the fights.
There’s a recurring theme about gun violence and the 2nd amendment here and its something that crops up a lot this season. Whilst its not necessarily a bad thing, the politically charged narrative about fighting against gun regulation actually undoes some of the good work put into building characters up as it overpowers a lot of the dramatic tension. Whilst we won’t get into that debate here, its important to bring up because the one vocal minority that tries to argue in favour of stricter gun control quickly changes their mind in light of a tense gun battle. Its understandable that a show as violent and visceral as The Punisher is a good platform to showcase thoughts around this but the unbalanced nature to which this is explored overpowers the potential discussion this could have provoked and as such, feels politically charged. Its hard to escape it too, with multiple dialogues about this topic ending almost every time that bad people shouldn’t have guns but good people most certainly should. It juxtaposes horribly with the other theme running here, the devastating affect stress and grief can have on a human being after dealing with the aftermath of violent actions.
Its a shame that The Punisher falters when it matters because there really is a great show here but its mixed in with a lot of issues that are hard to ignore. The beginning and end of the season are as good as anything that’s come out of Marvel Studios but the bulk of this season is bogged down by unnecessary padding. This is an 8 episode season dragged out to 13 and The Punisher really suffers for it. As this isn’t the first time its occurred (this is the fifth) it makes it even more inexcusable as The Punisher could and should be Marvel’s best show by a long mile. Some of the most violent, visceral action depicted on screen this year is shown in The Punisher and Jon Bernthal’s masterful portrayal of Frank Castle really elevates the show. Having said all of that, The Punisher is a missed opportunity. A great opening and end do help but with such a slow moving, borderline boring middle section, its hard to ignore how flawed this season is and that is the biggest travesty here as we should be looking at Marvel’s best show.