With Netflix, and other services, TV series have never been so widely available, and the temptation to binge watch a whole season of Breaking Bad in one night can be overwhelming. May contain spoilers.
The latest in the long list of additions to both Netflix’s library and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is The Punisher. It opens with said Punisher killing some bad guy, getting in a fight, then killing some more bad guys. The rest of the series pretty much follows in the same vein.
Frank Castle served in Afghanistan as a marine and, upon returning to New York, his family is murdered by a criminal gang. Unsurprisingly, this breaks Castle, and he becomes the Punisher, using his skills to kill each and every individual associated with his family’s death. The series starts up as Castle completes this task and fakes his death to avoid prosecution. Now keeping a low profile, and sporting the mandatory Beard of Sorrow, which lasts for almost a whole episode, he deals with his grief by hitting a wall with a big hammer all day. Soon enough he’s thrown back into a world of violence, deceit and death, which is where he’s right at home.
It turns out that the Punisher has some more people to kill and a conspiracy to uncover, dating back to his time in Afghanistan and relating to his family’s death. Throw in a Homeland security investigation into the mix, add a reclusive tech genius and we’re away.
That’s not to say that The Punisher is a stereotypical superhero show; there’s nobody flying around saving the day and the traditional Punisher garb makes only fleeting appearances. What this show is is brutal. Absolutely brutal. Barely an episode goes by without at least one shoot out or torture scene, making it most definitely not for the faint hearted. We are treated to ever more overwhelming odds for Castle to overcome as he fights to avenge his family and expose those higher up the food chain that have done evil. The frequency of violent confrontations makes it hard to look away, but what makes you want to watch the next episode is the evolution of the plot and characters, rather than just a hunger for action.
Jon Bernthal is absolutely terrific as Frank Castle, managing to steer well clear of portraying the character as just another angry-man-after-vengeance, but also doing very well to incorporate a strict moral code and complicated relationships with just about everybody else in the show. In a career highlight for Bernthal, we see Castle as a wounded dog, hurt to his very core and lashing out at the world because it’s all he knows how to do. Indeed, it’s all he has wanted to do, and Bernthal does terrifically to explore the place of violence and being a soldier in Castle’s character. The series as a whole does a tremendous job of looking at the problems faced by soldiers returning from war, with Castle being far from the only one with a struggle. Amber Rose Revah is also very good as Dinah Madani, the Homeland agent chasing Castle, so it’s a shame that the two share the screen for only brief moments.
Yeah sure there are the usual issues with this genre, like Castle seeming to recover from serious wounds in a matter of hours with no ill effects, but that’s what willing suspension of disbelief is for. Morality forms the basis of the main problem with the show; can a character who uses extreme violence really be a good guy? And is the near glorification of guns, present elsewhere, but particularly prevalent here, a good thing? (The Punisher’s release was reportedly delayed after the Las Vegas shootings last year). These are the only places the series tiptoes, though there is a brief gun debate and a significant subplot that revolves around a sort gun obsessed nutjob.
The Punisher is an edge of the seat ride that delivers incessant thrills, and will continue to do so, as a second series has been confirmed. It’s well worth a watch, especially at only 13 episodes, all of which fly by in a blur of bullets and Bernthal.