When Netflix started their side of the MCU, everyone was on board. Readers, if you have read my review of Thor Ragnarok then you know my mixed feelings about Marvel movies in general. For these Netflix shows, I am like everyone else and I love the first few shows they put out. Daredevil is compelling, dramatic, and way more brutal than anyone would have thought, with an overly chaotic second season, I still loved the show. Jessica Jones took an even less known character to make a compelling drama and an intense superhero show that was different enough from Daredevil to make itself unique. Luke Cage who was introduced in Jessica, was a great addition to having his stand-alone show. The audience already knew him from a previous show and was easy to introduce him in his own show to anyone who had seen Jessica. Luke Cage had style, brutality (of course), and the perfect mix of drama. These shows did an excellent job of making a drama with a superhero mix for an adult to love. Sadly, Iron Fist fell flat in many areas and The Defenders was better but fell flat too. I like those last two, but they did not manage like the first three shows. Now we are delivered The Punisher. This character was introduced a while back in season 2 of Daredevil, who was the best new addition to that show. When Netflix announced his own show, I was excited, to say the least.
The story has many lairs. For Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal), he has killed everyone involved with his family’s death, so he thinks. It is revealed to him as an unknown man named “Micro” (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). After their encounter Frank realizes that the death of his family is bigger than some organized crime thugs in New York. It goes back to when he was in the Marines. On the other side of the story is a Homeland Security Agent named Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) investigating the death of an informant when she was set in the Middle East for a special mission. Her information leads back to Frank Castle and the secret operations that he was a part of during his time in the Marines.
The story is well layered and is interesting. The show does suffer from some pacing issues. The first episode has a high body count with a lot of action. This gives the viewer a certain tone for the whole season, but that is not true at all. The story itself moves at a decent pace but gets stopped in ways that should not be present. A soldier struggling with PTSD named Lewis (Daniel Webber) who plays an entertaining storyline on the side, but is used as a plot device to tie together certain major characters to move along the main story. It was fun for a lot of it, but I feel they could have been more productive in order to get the same result.
Characters are inconsistent. There are plenty of great protagonists, antagonists, and just supporting characters that play significant roles, but some fall flat. To start off, Frank Castle is shown to have a lot more depth. He is still broken by the death of his family and the horrors of war. A lot more depth is put into his military background and done excellently. Jon Bernthal does an incredible job on so many levels regarding emotion, silence, and being as brutal as he can possibly be. Madani is annoying and gets a little better later on, but I could not like her character. I understand what she stands for and how she is, but was not likable. Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson) was unbearable the entire time he was on screen. A sarcastic character who left me feeling more annoyed than laughing. I felt confused on what tone and progress he would bring to the show in its entirety but left with not a whole lot. You get to know more about “Micro” and people in his life. Avoiding spoilers is why I am vague, but that side felt good for the most part. Some times felt like a waste of time or fell flat in execution to that character’s arc. The show still had some great characters. Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) is an old friend of Frank back when they served together in the Marines. He is charismatic and is able to be lethal in some entertaining action scenes. His storyline is intriguing throughout. Curtis (Jason R. Moore) is another friend of Castle back when they served together. He plays a supporting character who is not seen much but has some impactful moments. His kindness, loyalty, and genuine personality make it hard to not enjoy him in every scene. The main villain is quite excellent, Rawlins (Paul Schulze) who is menacing and plays a wide variety of emotions that brings his character to life. I wish there were more of him overall. Netflix’s Marvel shows have had some good villains, but I still feel they have peaked too early with the villain from Jessica Jones Kilgrave (David Tennant) and from Daredevil Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) who were both unbelievably great. Out of returning characters, the only was is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) who I always have liked, so sorry to anyone who hated her from Daredevil, but she is in a right amount of the show. Despite the lacking in some great characters, the ones who are enjoyable keep the show alive and well.
Visually the show has some great cinematography with some really interesting shots that were made. I wish they could have placed more of an emphasis on their camera work to really make everything shine, or just looked darker and more brutal. A couple of times the special effects looked off, with a scene early on that involved fire that just looked terrible. Besides this, the rest of the show is pretty much dark throughout but manages to handle its lighting really well. Make up for dead bodies that Frank leaves behind are done in great detail, but I wish to see some more brutality in the show.
Something that must be discussed is the tone and messages. Some critics complain about the lack of humor, to me that is fine. You do not need to laugh at every show you see. Having a gritty, dark show is for a particular audience, which is what Netflix is aiming with their Marvel shows. Thankful Disney allows them to do so much that in normal situations, Disney would shut down. Still, the show has characters that give a weird vibe and it is hard to tell what they were going for in certain supporting character. There is a message throughout the show about gun violence and PTSD. The gun violence and control part is hard to tell if the show was being serious and wanted a message. It felt disjointed and was confusing as to what side they were taking on the issue. Giving sound reasons for gun control, then insulting those ideas. It did not feel the middle of the road to give both arguments, but something else that felt off in this show. However, tackling PTSD was well done in my opinion. Showing the terror people are going through when they close their eyes all because of war or losing their loved ones. Showing the human side of people like Frank Castle is important for the story, the character and for the audience. Talking to people who care can really help people and the show gives that message. They did not handle everything right in tone or in what the show felt it needed to say, but the things that were said well made up for some of the poor choices in tone.
I still love this show, despite its flaws. A lot of the Netflix Marvel shows tend to get lost in dealing with too much in story or characters. Tighten things up and they can all be like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. As the quality went down in the last two shows, The Punisher was able to lift everything back up. A story in which you are rooting harder and harder for Frank to get his revenge. Some annoying characters, but they are overshadowed by some excellent villains and supporting characters. Pacing has its issues. Each episode ends in a way that gives you satisfaction to the progress but still takes some missteps on the journey. Special effects could have been better, especially a show with this type of budget. Thankfully those mistakes in special effects are few and far between. The tone and what the show wants to say can be so off. Weird mix messages and tone that can throw the audience off. This is a show that is so close to being excellent, but some silly mistakes and some major ones too let it down. Still a recommended show for anyone who has liked the Netflix Marvel shows and anyone who wants to see Jon Bernthal kill a lot of people in really brutal ways.
Image via Netflix and Marvel Studios