To Be Frank… – The Punisher (TV Review)

Netflix’s Frank Castle might not be the hero we imagined, but he’s certainly the one we needed.

Everyone has their own opinion on the Punisher, similar to how the neanderthals amongst us meet down the pub to pointlessly micromanage the latest footy results, you can see the slightly more insular nerd community doing the same across your various social media feeds. Frank Castle is an anti-hero who may seem fairly straightforward; a vengeful badass with an armory that would make a warring country blush, but the subtleties are what make or break him. No matter what you imagined this series might be, blow by blow it dismantles expectations, a never tiring sledgehammer swung with precision and purpose. 

As with the rest of the Netflix Marvel series you should expect to give the series a couple of episodes leighway. It starts a little slow but more than any of the series that came before, the payoff for the setup is truly explosive. It dedicates the first two episodes to setting the scene and establishing the various characters, something that is to be expected, however it’s Frank’s backstory and constant memory montages that really hamstring the pacing. Jon Bernthal plays a killer Castle and I mean that in both senses, he is an accomplished enough actor that we don’t need to actually see the memory to know he’s thinking about his wife and kids. The show is constantly replaying the same memories over and over and it may be for effect, perhaps it’s a conscious choice but it really is annoying and it’s never more frequent than it is in the first two episodes. Frank Castle is a man haunted by his past and apparently the only way we as an audience could possibly understand this is by having those same visions repeatedly forced upon us.

The casting for the series is superb and every role is not only well written and fleshed out, but convincingly portrayed by the human beings upon whose job it is to do just that. The Punisher quickly introduces us to Micro, who evolves a little on his transmutation from comic page to screen, and is charismatically played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Locked in a basement complex together and with only shared enemies in common, the developing relationship and constant bickering between Micro and Castle is perhaps one of the highlights of the series. We also have Agent Madani, played by Amber Rose Revah, who is arguably the main focus of the narrative. We watch her try to work the justice system from within to put right heinous mistakes made by the American forces in Afghanistan. Driven and stubborn, watching Madani tenaciously going after the same people as Castle, but through different methods, provides wonderful contrast and it could be argued that it is Madani, not Castle, who provides the audience with proper intrigue and impetus. The final mentions have to go to Ben Barnes and Jason R Moore who play Castle’s old squadmates and provide two completely different perspectives on how life after war can be. Russo, ever the opportunist, uses his sleazy charms and military know-how to carve himself out a lucrative career, whilst Hoyle runs a support group helping others put themselves back together now they’re back in the real world.

Never timid, The Punisher isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with a heavily-armed enemy, and the themes tackled by the show range from gun control to PTSD. The topics are treated with due care and attention, and instead of feeling forced or mandatory, they instead provide a nuanced and balanced look at the issues at hand. The show allows for a great deal of different viewpoints and standings to be examined simultaneously through the various different leanings and backgrounds of the characters within.

With each and every Netflix show that has come out, I’ve been waiting for the one that provides that truly comic like feel and The Punisher has provided that more than any other. With episodes like ‘Gunner’ and ‘Virtue Of The Vicious’ fully capable of standing on their own as one shots, whilst the narrative weaves them into something larger, the arc within the episode itself would be sufficiently enjoyable and it’s something that separates from the usual binge fuel.

A final thing to note is that The Punisher is gross. Like, ridiculously graphic and horribly realistically gross. As a fan of films such as Tokyo Gore Police, Ichi The Killer, and other slasher blood fests, I consider myself almost immune to blood at this point, but The Punisher works with the less is more method to incredible effect. Nothing is glorified and every single encounter leaves Castle more bloodied and bruised. Whilst the rest of the Marvel Netflix franchise has boasted some incredibly choreographed and beautiful to watch fight sequences, what The Punisher provides is more like a junkyard dog let loose. It’s simple, it’s gritty, it’s painful to watch and at no point does Frank Castle seem larger than life or invulnerable; death lurks in every scene.

It’s not perfect, but it’s an engaging watch with a good story, witty writing and a strong cast. Whilst I always envisioned Frank Castle as a reluctant anti-hero stepping in because the law let the city down, the Netflix Punisher is more of a man with a death wish, a mercenary out for revenge, willing to go through anything and anyone in his way. It works up to a climax that is worth the wait and the big bad reveal/origin, whilst not wholly unforeseen, has me even more excited for season 2.

Created by: Steve Lightfoot

Prd: Regis Kimble, Erik Holmberg, Craig Yahata, Brian Leslie Parker

Scr: Ross Andru, Ken Kristensen, Angela LaManna

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Amber Rose Revah, Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Ben Barnes

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Episode Run Time: 50mins

No. of Episodes: 13