The Punisher has been adapted into three feature films since the character’s debut in 1974. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
Marvel’s brooding, skull-ornamented vigilante is back for his fourth chance at a proper screen adaptation in Marvel’s Netflix exclusive series “The Punisher.” And this 13 episode master class is just about as misunderstood as the titular antihero.
The series follows the story of Frank Castle. A retired U.S. military veteran, Frank witnesses the deaths of his family in a mob hit gone awry. Unable to reconcile the deaths and find justice through legal means, Frank takes to the underbelly of New York City playing judge, jury and executioner to those who wronged him in ultra-violent comic book fashion.
The thing is, this is not the story. In fact, if audiences are expecting a gore-filled, high-octane revenge trip they may just find themselves disappointed. From reboot to reboot, and throughout “Daredevil” season two, this story has been told on screen. This is not it.
In actuality, “The Punisher” is not even about “the punisher” in the classic sense. This is the story of Frank, a broken man plagued by demons from his past that he cannot seem to overcome. It is the story of what happens after the smoke clears and the Punisher has gotten his revenge, or so he thinks.
Does the Punisher do what he does best? Of course. When the time comes, Frank dawns the white skull and guns down anyone in his way. It is dark, bloody and satisfying. But it only occurs for a handful of times. It is just not that story.
The main plot is straightforward enough. As it turns out, Frank did not achieve his revenge. In fact, his first punishing spree was just the beginning. As knots become untied, Frank uncovers a government conspiracy surrounding the deaths of his family, and he must come out of hiding to uncover the dark secrets of his past military service and find out who must truly be made to answer for the deaths of his wife and children.
On the surface, “The Punisher” is a slow-burn thriller with twists and turns that will leave the viewer on the edge of their seat, and keep them guessing to the end. A handful of characters crossover from other Marvel properties along the way, but despite being a part of Marvel’s Netflix Universe, the series is not inaccessible to new viewers.
This new take on the classic punisher story is as fresh as it gets, and it is brought to life by the writers, directors and cast alike.
For starters, the show is an audiovisual masterpiece. From the simple black-and-white introduction sequence with its blues-inspired theme to how the violence is filmed in such a way that it echoes the pages of a comic book, everything is fitting.
Every scene was filmed beautifully. The show makes great use of varied, and unorthodox, angles and cuts. The combat is never jarring or jumpy, and even the simple brooding glances and moments of dialogue are filmed in such a way that intensity and tension are preserved throughout every last moment. This show is not for the anxious or faint of heart.
The acting cannot go unmentioned either. Performances from main characters and the supporting cast alike were positively stellar. Everyone plays their part as if they were the main character of their own story because the writing supports the fact that they are. Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Amber Rose Revah’s respective performances as ex-NSA whistleblower Micro and Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani stand out in particular for the way that their characters perfectly flank Frank’s character arc.
The hands down best performance was, however, Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank. Bernthal brought weight to every word of the misunderstood antihero, giving him a multi-dimensional personality that is rarely attributed to the character; even in his comic book appearances.
The writing is not to be overlooked. Every sequence and conversation is written in such a way that it preserves the themes and character of the source material whilst being nuanced enough to allow for character growth and development never before seen with this specific Marvel property. Every subplot works to advance the main plot and none of them feel clunky or out of place.
The dialogue strengthens each and every relationship and moment. Each character is given a distinct personality and motive, and the classic Marvel comedy is not forgotten. However, the comedic moments and one-liners are layered in much more carefully than in any other Marvel property. Never do these moments cut the tension or break up a conversation. They merely add to the flow of conversation, and each character has their own brand of comedy.
The writing truly shines, however, in the way it brilliantly and realistically addresses modern social and political issues. “The Punisher” is not just a mindlessly violent comic book show, but a moderately true-to-life reflection on the American social and political climate. With the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel, the creative team managed to address issues of homegrown terror, the morality of vigilantism, the second amendment, PTSD and other forgotten veteran’s issues with great care. Nuanced dialogues on the topics nailed both sides of every issue without ever feeling heavy-handed or one-sided.
The majority of reviews have been negative in this respect, several claiming that “The Punisher” did not know what it wanted to say about firearm control or veteran’s issues in the U.S. But these reviews misunderstand the point. The beauty of “The Punisher” is its ability to thoughtfully and honestly address such controversial topics without attempting to push an agenda or specific solution. The story addresses these issues in a thought provoking way and attempts to open an honest dialogue. It is food for thought as much as it is a “superhero” story.
Some might find an ultra-violent vigilante story distasteful in the modern political climate, but disregard the politically motivated reviews. “The Punisher” is not only the best Netflix original Marvel property, it may well be the most entertaining addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past few years.