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Review: Marvel's THE PUNISHER (2017)

A former Marine out to punish the criminals responsible for his family’s murder finds himself ensnared in a military conspiracy. [Netflix]

In the past, Marvel’s Punisher was adapted to live action three times. Dolph Lundgren played Frank Castle in the 1989 film, Thomas Jane played him in the 2004 movie (and reprised the role for the “Dirty Laundry” short), and Ray Stevenson played him in 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. Following the latter film’s failure, the Punisher rights returned to Marvel Studios.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been largely family-friendly on film, the studio found a way to tell adult-oriented stories through Netflix, beginning with Daredevil. Frank Castle was introduced as an antagonist on Daredevil‘s second season, with Jon Bernthal’s performance earning critical acclaim. Due to this success, Netflix quickly greenlit a spinoff series starring Punisher. And now, here we are.
What makes Netflix’s series stand out from past Punisher stories is that it goes beyond the “Frank Castle goes out and kills criminals” plot. Instead, the show primarily focuses on a government conspiracy surrounding Operation Cerberus, which Castle was part of. Castle teams up with David Lieberman, aka Micro, and others to publicly expose the truth. It’s a pretty fascinating plot, and while it takes a bit of time to get used to, it’s executed very well. It also puts more focus on Castle’s military past, while it explores PTSD and the treatment of modern-day veterans after they return home.
As said earlier, Netflix’s Marvel shows are much more geared towards adults than the rest of the MCU. This includes no hesitation to depict graphic violence, and The Punisher is no exception. Simply put, Frank Castle has always been a brutal character, and the show is very faithful to that. The blood and gore is unsettling, primarily in the second half of the season. This is on par with Daredevil‘s first season in that regard, if not higher. The action scenes all around are well done.
The Punisher also boasts an exceptional cast. Jon Bernthal is phenomenal again as Frank Castle, perfectly portraying each layer of the character and making him more interesting. Bernthal as Castle is without a doubt one of Marvel’s best casting choices ever. As for the supporting cast, Ebon Moss-Bachrach is great as Micro, and his chemistry with Castle is on point. Ben Barnes is fantastic as Billy Russo. Easily one of the best Marvel Netflix villains to date. Amber Rose Revah is great as Dinah Madani, Paul Schulze is intimidating as William Rawlins, and Jason R. Moore is wonderful as Curtis Hoyle. But really, the entire cast is great.
Another thing that makes The Punisher stand out is how standalone it is. It’s not at all tied to the main Defenders arc like all the other shows. Daredevil‘s Karen Page is in a few episodes, while a couple minor recurring characters show up. But otherwise, it’s very much its own thing, which is refreshing. Instead, Punisher is focused on developing its own characters and its own story. Hopefully, future Marvel Netflix shows will adopt this approach. Also, Punisher hardly feels like a comic book show. Remove the Marvel logo and change the names of a few characters, and it’d look like an original conspiracy thriller series. Yes, it’s that good.
Any flaws in The Punisher are minor. Like most of the other shows, this series runs for 13 episodes. While it still works, sometimes it does feel like it’d be even better if condensed to, say, 8 episodes. That was my favorite thing about The Defenders, to be honest. Any other issues (like Castle not spending much time wearing the Punisher skull) are just nitpicky.
In summary, The Punisher is easily one of Netflix’s best Marvel shows to date. I would put it up there with Daredevil at the top of the list. After the letdown of Iron Fist and mild disappointment of The Defenders, it feels good to have a genuinely great series again. Its complex storytelling, multi-layered characters, and brutal action make it a recommended watch. It’s the best that Punisher has ever been in live action. I’m very much interested in seeing where a second season could go.
Welcome back, Frank.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WOBAM! Entertainment.

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