Just when things were starting to look pretty bleak for Netflix’s Marvel shows (Marvel Streaming Universe? Daredevilverse? Defendersverse?), Frank Castle arrived on the scene to single handedly put things back on track. After an unfortunate spring and summer that saw both Iron Fist and Defenders widely panned (I thought both were merely fine), there were legitimate questions about whether or not the universe had lost its magic. But The Punisher, released this past Friday on the streaming service, returned to not only prove that there were good stories yet to be told in this world, but that the best might still be yet to come. After Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the brutal vigilante became the breakout character of Daredevil’s sophomore season, fans were pleased to hear that Netflix granted the anti-hero his own show. Recent deficiencies in storytelling had me apprehensive about the quick turnaround from breakout character to main player. Those fears proved to be unfounded. Not only did creator Steve Lightfoot create an intense and compelling season of television, they managed to find a cure to some of the ills that have plagued all of the other Netflix Marvel series.
The story is pretty straight forward. Just when Frank Castle believes his quest to avenge the death of his wife and children has ended, as he’s settled in to live a life of anonymity, he discovers that the plot that ended with the destruction of his world goes deeper than he imagined. Along with a few allies that he picks up along the way, Frank sets out on a mission to finish the job. There are two things that really set this simple revenge story apart, the themes and the performances.
The Punisher is brutal. The combat is up close and personal. But the story doesn’t revel in the violence (mostly). It uses the violence to speak to issues like gun control, PTSD and the difficulties our veterans face when they return home from war. It doesn’t simply pay these issues lip service nor does it provide easy answers. No punches are pulled in the series’ attempts to show the miserable care that our soldiers receive when they return home from our country’s perpetual overseas conflicts. The effects of PTSD are seen in the lives of Frank and others in heartbreaking detail. It refuses to provide simple solutions to the issues of gun violence and gun control, but weighs both sides without being didactic.
Jon Bernthal leads a stellar cast that slide into their roles with ease. Castle is the role that Bernthal was born to play. He’s believable in his intensity in focus but also in his portrayal of Frank’s special brand of compassion. Ben Barnes is an actor I’ve never been very impressed with, but he’s outstanding as Castle’s old military buddy Billy Russo. Barnes plays Russo in such a way that you’re never quite sure if he’s friend or foe. He’s charming and slimy all in one. Ebon Moss-Bachrach portrays Castle’s ally Micro (the comic’s Microchip) with an exasperated desperation as he helps Frank to settle a score of his own. Amber Rose Revah mirrors Castle’s driven and obsessed personality as Department of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani. Deborah Ann Woll returns to the universe as Karen Page and is probably as good as she’s ever been. The breakout performance in my opinion belonged to Daniel Webber, a young vet struggling to readjust to life after war. His story exists outside of the main conflict, but it helps the show avoid the midseason lull that fans of this world are used to at this point. Almost every other season could have afforded to have 2-3 fewer episodes to cut the fat and make their stories tighter, but I never felt that way with The Punisher and a lot of that is due to Webber’s solid performance. He was one of the brightest spots of Hulu’s 2016 series 11.22.63 as Lee Harvey Oswald, and I’m hoping that this role will give him bigger opportunities in the future because he’s really great.
To reiterate, The Punisher is not for the faint of heart. It’s absolutely brutal. But if you can stomach it, you’ll find a surprisingly thoughtful and poignant show that entertains while also having some thoughtful reflection on issues ripped straight from current headlines. If you’re a fan of the character or the universe he exists in, I can’t imagine you won’t enjoy The Punisher. The Punisher is currently streaming on Netflix.
- I’d like to take some space and talk about the Arrowverse, but I really can’t even remember what happened this week. Slade Wilson came back to Arrow, but it was a pretty bland story that didn’t really go anywhere. The door is open for his return, so maybe there’s more to come with Deathstroke. And Diggle finally came clean with Team Arrow about his shoulder issues. I’m guessing Curtis will have a microchip that fixes the issue installed in his armpit by the end of the next episode.
- I don’t normally give up on TV shows. Sometimes if I do, I end up catching up anyway (looking at you Gotham) but I’ve got two shows that are on life support. I’ve never hidden my disdain for The Walking Dead in this space, and I’ve decided to give it until the mid-season finale to do something interesting before I quit altogether. I’m not holding my breath. The other show I’m about done with is Riverdale. The first season was outstanding but season 2 has been a total slog. I’m struggling to care about any of the characters and the story is an absolute bore. It’s saving grace at this point is that it’s on Wednesday nights and I have very little to watch on Wednesdays.
- The Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg penned Future Man starring Josh Hutcherson dropped this week on Hulu and I thought it was pretty good. It’s really funny and has a lot of fun easter eggs for the lover of sci-fi movies. It’s not a show for kids. But you should’ve guessed that when I told you who the creators are.
- I’m hearing good things about Netflix’s Alias Grace. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ll try to catch up with it over the holidays.
That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Next week we’ll get a chance to talk about Marvel’s The Runaways! Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for all of you who read this every week!
Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.