The Punisher Problem


Clark English, Social Media

Following the success of Daredevil Season 2, fans clamored for more of the Punisher. Marvel’s parent company, Disney, trying to get rid of the family-unfriendly Punisher IP, happily gave it away to the darker and more grounded Netflix shows. It was also a bonus that Jon Bernthal, who portrayed the Punisher in season 2 of Daredevil, enjoyed playing the role and voiced his own support for a Punisher solo series.

The Punisher has been a controversial character, originally written as an Anti-Vietnam strawman, he has connections to the modern day thanks to other areas of contention. The show doesn’t stray away and ignore them either. It brings topics like gun violence, government corruption, PTSD and the poor treatment of veterans to its forefront. We’re not going to talk about those though, let’s talk about if the show is fundamentally good or not instead.

Season 2 of Daredevil is great. Its high point is the interactions between the Punisher (Frank Castle) and Daredevil (Matthew Murdock) whether it be on a roof arguing about who has the right form of justice or in the courtroom debating the ethics of the Punisher. It is worth a watch. A quick recap of Season 2 ends with people believing the Punisher to be long gone and dead.

So this is where the problem of writing yourself into a corner comes in. A character who’s supposed to be portrayed as a force of nature is left to hide in an underground basement for about the two-thirds of the entire season because no one can know that he’s alive. It wasn’t all that bad though. The few action scenes that are sprinkled into the season are beautifully choreographed. Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle is honestly impressive, it might honestly be one of the best casting choices for the MCU since Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. Lastly, the relationship between Micro and Frank Castle is handled extremely well, and that seriously helped the series hide one of its biggest flaws: Frank Castle is just an honest to goodness boring character.

Let’s make some comparisons between Netflix’s Punisher, and a movie that follows a similar premise – John Wick. Both characters have their family killed. Both are extremely skilled killers and everyone in their respective series is legit terrified of them. And both are boring characters. The difference is that John Wick never gave you time to notice. A two-hour action movie is significantly different from a 13 episode series. The Punisher has a lot of downtime, and aside from the PTSD flashbacks that Frank experiences, he doesn’t have a lot of characterization going for him. He needs to have a foil, and that’s why he was so good in Season 2 of Daredevil; he was able to contrast with Daredevil in how far their vigilantism has gone. When they both storm an area full of bad guys, Daredevils game plan changed from “Beat everyone up in a hallway,” to, “Minimize the Punishers collateral damage,”. This paradigm shift in the storytelling benefited both characters because they had someone conflicting their own views. The Punisher doesn’t have this kind of relationship in his solo series and the show does suffer because of that.

Episode 1 of the Punisher is the perfect example of what the series should have been. I won’t spoil this episode because it is basically a one shot. The only thing I’m going to say about is that in one of the fight scenes, Frank breaks a guys arm so he can make the guy shoot himself with his own gun. It’s grotesque and terrifying and everything the Punisher should be. Not the “Frank and Micro chill in a basement for 10 episodes and we’ll follow this FBI agent around instead” show. The last few episodes are great as well. Excellent final fight scene and conclusion.

Should you watch the Punisher? Give the first episode a watch. Then stop and wait for Netflix to announce The Punisher season 2. The way this season was written was to build up to a better Punisher story arc. I’m willing to bet that season 2 will be great thanks to the introduction of the main antagonist and the Punisher not having to keep it on the down low anymore. Sadly, until then, I can not recommend watching the Punisher. Watch John Wick instead. It’s pretty much the same thing but done better.