Review - The Punisher (Netflix), Season 1
The Punisher, TV-MA, 13 Episodes - The Punisher is the latest Marvel/Netflix collaboration, adding another chapter to the street level corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Jon Bernthal returns to the role of Frank Castle that he so perfectly inhabited in season two of Daredevil, and takes full advantage of the opportunity the spotlight of this series provides to really flesh out a character that is oftentimes incorrectly perceived as being an emotionless killing machine. This series is a bit of a slow burn compared to many of the earlier Marvel/Netflix installments, but this really benefits the themes that the slower pace allows the show to explore: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), veteran affairs, gun control, and corrupt government agencies. Make no mistakes, The Punisher may be a comic-based vehicle, but it is a political drama/thriller through and through.
This series takes place after the events of Daredevil season two, and around the same time as the events of this past summer's The Defenders. Frank has assumed a new identity and is keeping to himself while working construction after having hunted down those he believed to have been behind the deaths of his wife and children. Meanwhile, Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) is looking into the torture and execution of her former partner Ahmed Zubair (Shez Sardar) while he had been investigating a clandestine American military unit in Afghanistan. A source known only as 'Micro' - actually former NSA analyst David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) - is the connective tissue between Agent Madani and Frank Castle, as he has figured out that Frank was a part of the unit behind not only Zubair's death, but also the smuggling of heroin into the United States. Micro approaches Frank about his involvement, feeling that he can add legitimacy to the whistle-blowing and the two begin working together towards eliminating those behind the clandestine unit known as Cerberus. As they do so, Frank discovers that his family was not killed by mob war crossfire as he originally believed, but by those in charge of Cerberus who were trying o keep him under their thumb. Their quest becomes not only the exposure of Cerberus, but also their elimination as revenge for the deaths of Frank's family.
Along the way we see some wonderful subplots revolving around life after service for veterans, which all spin out of the discussions of a PTSD support group run by Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore), one of Frank's old military associates. Topics from the difficulties of acclimating to civilian life, gun control, lying about one's service record, and even domestic terrorism are explored through Curtis' group and disgruntled members Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber) and O'Connor (Delaney Williams). This also pulls Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), Frank's best friend and fellow Cerberus unit member into the story. Billy has made quite the life for himself post-service, having started the private military/security firm ANVIL, through which he employs many veterans.
The entire cast is very strong, led by Bernthal of course, who continues to perfectly embody Frank Castle. Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Amber Rose Revah, and Ben Barnes also gave very nuanced performances. As does Deborah Ann Woll in her limited time on screen as Karen Page, one of the few people that Frank trusts. Also returning are Rob Morgan's small-time crook Turk Barrett, Royce Johnson's Detective Sergeant Mahoney, and Geoffrey Cantor's Editor Ellison. Clancy Brown reprises his role as Major Schoonover, presiding over Cerberus in flashbacks. All of these MCU characters carry over from the Daredevil series. Other familiar faces playing new characters introduced throughout the series include: Paul Shulze (Rawlins), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Farah Madani), Tony Plana (Rafael Hernandez), and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Marion James).
The Punisher may be slower paced than you might expect, but when the action hits, it doesn't pull any punches. This series is every bit as violent as one who knows anything about The Punisher would guess. If you don't like politics in your tv, this may not be the show for you but otherwise The Punisher is an excellently made political drama/thriller that digs deep into many important issues, shows Frank Castle is a much deeper character than he is often given credit for, and that ranks with the best from the Marvel/Netflix collaboration along with Daredevil Season One and Jessica Jones.
- The Punisher was created by Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr., and Ross Andru and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 in 1974.
- I am not as familiar with The Punisher's comic book history as I am with other characters, so there may have been other nods or references that I didn't catch, but what I was able to pick out follows:
- In the first episode Frank takes out the Gnucci crime family. This is a crime family that he encountered in the comics during Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Marvel Knights Punisher series from 2000.
- At the end of the first episode Micro says "Welcome Back Frank" while watching surveillance footage. This is the title of collected edition of that Marvel Knights series.
- At the start of the series, Frank has grown out a beard and is living under an assumed name. This is a very similar look to the one he had in the 2011 series of The Punisher by Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto.
- In the comics, Billy Russo is the villain known as Jigsaw (because his face had been horrifically scarred). His comic book origins differ, but the basics of the character are kept intact here: he's known as a vain 'pretty boy' whose face is disfigured. I have little doubt that he will be a recurring villain for Frank to deal with in future seasons.
- As the series opens, Frank is shown running down a couple of motorcycle gang members. They are members of the Dogs of Hell, previously seen in both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil.
- We learn that the events of this series take place about the time of the events of The Defenders when we see the headline of the paper that Ellison is holding in Karen's office that says "Chaos Under The Streets" - referring to the events at the end of that series.
- There was no obligatory Stan Lee cameo that I saw. The Netflix series have been slipping these in in a much less conspicuous way than in the Marvel Studios films which I prefer, but I didn't catch one here. I have no problem with this as Lee had nothing to do with the character's creation and the cameos are beginning to feel forced and are no longer cute.
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