The Punisher is quite possibly Marvel’s best TV show yet, not just for its unique, new story, but because it makes up for the failures of Iron Fist and The Defenders.
Jon Bernthal’s performance as Frank Castle, the titular vigilante, is riveting. His acting is gripping from the very first, action-packed, opening sequence. Castle clearly suffers himself, after the loss of his family and the stress and pain of being a veteran returning home from war.
The beginning of the show finds Castle supposedly dead and in hiding after he killed the people responsible for the murder of his wife and children. Despite getting his revenge, Castle can’t move on and the losses still torture him. Soon, he finds himself returning to action when a mysterious spook implies his work may not be done.
Castle’s loss seems to be overplayed and a little heavy-handed at times. A scene of Castle’s wife waking him up replays multiple times, but only occasionally provides new insights. The scene is still gut-wrenchingly tragic every time, but early on, there seems to be little gained from its repetition. Regardless, Bernthal still shows his suffering in a way that’s palpable and profound, even if it is redundant.
The show is exceedingly violent, but it does not glorify violence. Castle is a veteran and many characters are his fellow vets. They still struggle with coming to terms with war and finding their place back home after their tours. The show makes it clear the gruesome combat Castle initiates isn’t something that comes without a massive cost.
That said, the action scenes are impressive and intense. Though story-wise, the show feels very different from other Marvel shows such as Jessica Jones or Daredevil, Castle did appear in the latter of the two shows, and his character was portrayed in the same way.
Also, for the first time since Logan and Deadpool, The Punisher proves Marvel can in fact make something violent and intense but still offer both a message and sheer entertainment.
A wide supporting cast adds to the show as a whole, but Ebon Moss-Bachrach shines brightest as David Lieberman. His character — a former NSA agent who, like Castle, is presumed dead — provides a perfect foil to Castle. One uses words, while the other prefers guns, but both are family men who care deeply for their wives and children and would do anything for them — or would’ve done, in Castle’s case. Castle develops a relationship with Lieberman that shows viewers Castle is a much deeper character and is not just seeking revenge.
While Luke Cage, The Defenders, Iron Fist and the second season of Daredevil all seemed to fall apart halfway through the season when the protagonists found a new cause or enemy, The Punisher seems to establish its direction. Castle’s code of retaliation and violence toward evildoers would feel appropriate in any number of situations, even if they were to abruptly interrupt his main story.
If Netflix is smart, they’ll invest more in The Punisher and perhaps other subject matter like it.