Limited By Vengeance?
♦ Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS reviews Netflix’s The Punisher…
Produced by: Jim Chory, Laura Delahaye and others
Stars: Jon Bernthal, Amber Rose Revah, Ebon Moss Bachrach, Ben Barnes
The Punisher was introduced to Netflix’s Marvel TV universe in Daredevil season 2 last year but the genesis of the comic character goes back to his first appearance as a villainous foil for Spider-man in the 1970s. Riding the wave of popularity for vigilantes that began with Death Wish at the cinema and The Executioner in the same decade, The Punisher hit its stratospheric high in the 1980s with a number of comic series which were among some of Marvel’s biggest selling books of that decade.
Daredevil season 2 was weaker than the first but the interplay between the Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Bernthal’s Punisher proved to be the stronger of the two plot strands in the season. So it was inevitable that the character would be receiving his own TV series at some point.
The Marvel Netflix TV shows have been very variable in quality since they launched. The first season of Daredevil was very strong, I admit I never finished Jessica Jones, Luke Cage felt padded out and Iron Fist, while not perfect, was fairly entertaining. This year’s Defenders felt flimsy and superficial. So how does The Punisher compare with its Marvel Netflix brethren?
Bernthal embodies the spirit of vengeance that is The Punisher. He was once Frank Castle before his family were brutally murdered. Castle is a former US army vet with all of the baggage that entails and the main plot of The Punisher deals with Billy Russo, a fellow former soldier played by Ben Barnes, who heads up private security firm Anvil, who sits at the heart of a sinister military conspiracy. The world believes that Frank Castle is dead and he falls in with another soldier, David Lieberman (Ebon Moss Bachrach) who is also believed to be dead by the world at large. So an unlikely alliance develops between the pair as they try to unravel the horrors that Castle’s former compatriot Russo has unleashed on New York. Amber Rose Revah plays Iranian Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani, who gets sucked into the world of The Punisher. Additionally there is a connection between The Punisher season one and Daredevil thanks to the regular appearance of Karen Page (Deborah Anne Woll) who sees Castle as a damaged but intrinsically decent figure.
The Punisher is a brutal and violent series and despite some stand-out performances from the likes of Bernthal and Woll, the real problem here is that he was created as a supporting character so trying to flesh him out so he can support a story in his own right doesn’t quite work. He is a callous and psychopathic killer and you just can’t get away from that. Comparisons can be made with something like the Bourne movies but he was always a far more sympathetic character. Also, some of the episodes feel padded out and the whole thing would have been a better series if it were only six rather than 13 episodes long.
So The Punisher isn’t quite as good as Daredevil but it is a superior series when compared with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. A second series is inevitable but the programme makers will never be able to quite get away from the character’s origins. Trapped by the intentions of its creators, The Punisher is a decent but very flawed Netflix Marvel show.
The Punisher is available to watch now on Netflix