The Punisher is the sixth individual Netflix series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, about an ex-Marine named Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) whose family was murdered by the government after he returned from a deployment. After this happens, he dedicates his life to killing everyone involved with their deaths. Castle is a beloved comic book character who has not been done justice in the box office due to bad films about him, so this show had quite a bit of hype to live up to.
Castle was introduced in Daredevil, the first Netflix Marvel series, as a ruthless, emotionless killer who wanted nothing but the downfall of the people responsible for the death of his family. The Punisher delves deeper into the events that made him the man he became after his family was murdered. The show does a very good job of organizing the obligatory origin story of the main character, but some of the flashbacks appear out of nowhere and are hard to distinguish because they are set in a different time than the main narrative. Aside from those shortcomings, the narrative is well-managed and mostly succeeds in not being confusing.
The characters are good in this show, but the supporting cast is lacking significantly in comparison to Bernthal and Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who plays Frank’s sidekick David Lieberman. Those two carry the show forward, and are so good together that it often takes away from the scenes without them. Those scenes are fine on their own but in comparison to those with just Bernthal and Moss-Bachrach they are of vastly inferior quality. The chemistry between the two main stars is quite evident and that bond between characters is something most of the other actors unfortunately do not seem to possess. Luckily, the script makes up for some of the unconvincing performances, as the writers did a great job of creating dialogue that seems genuine.
The tone of this series is quite dark, and that is certainly a good thing. Throughout its short history on the big screen, The Punisher has always had dark overtones and very little humor. Although these films were in no way good, they captured the vibe the character is meant to give off quite well. The television series is no different, as the visuals and the score create the patented dark atmosphere with which The Punisher is normally associated.
The villains in this first season are interesting but not well-developed or well-explained in terms of their motives. It takes until almost halfway through the 13-episode runtime for the show to pinpoint who the bad guys actually are, and while it is a nice reveal in the moment, it feels ham-fisted into the narrative. It feels this way especially because there has not been any distinguishable threat from these enemies up until they are revealed in the first place. Once they are established and developed, they are entertaining and threatening adversaries for Castle and Lieberman to deal with.
One of the staples of a show like The Punisher is the action that comes with a character like Castle. The one thing that every film about him did well was make gruesome and graphic violence, and the show follows suit with the big screen adaptations. The action is bloody and no-holds-barred with detailed bone-breaking and an obnoxious amount of stabbing, and it is a ton of fun to watch. Bernthal is fantastic in the action scenes, just as he was in his two seasons on The Walking Dead and in Season 2 of Daredevil. The choreography for the fights is awesome and the camera work is great, as the show utilizes long, continuous action shots rather than a ridiculous amount of post-production editing like many blockbuster films do. This and everything else make for a fun viewing experience. To put it frankly, watching The Punisher is far from a punishment.
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