The Punisher Season 1 – Netflix Review

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Birth Of The Punisher

Cast your mind back to the 70s. Surrounded by a universe of flying superheroes, super strength vigilantes and cosmic villains Gerry Conway with the help of John Romita Sr and Ross Andru came up with the idea of The Punisher.

A vigilante who has no powers, a horrible personality and will kill without a second thought to get the job done. Introduced as a bad guy with the plan to turn good over time. Over the years this character of

has developed just as much of a fan base as your

or Iron Man’s. Fast forward to 2015 where Jon Bernthal has been cast as the 4th live action version of the character for the second series of Netflix’s Daredevil.

This was so fantastically portrayed and the origin story was so well woven into the series that they decide to give Mr Bernthal his very own series.

So here we are, ****** (to those that have less spare time on their hands as I and may still be working through the series) Watching Daredevil series 2 is or at least the first half of it is highly advised before delving into this story. Bernthal developed the character so much in his appearances of that and seeing the grief he went through offers gravitas to the character going into his solo outing.

Sporting the famous vest

I’ll first of all break down a few of the highlights throughout the 13 episodes. The opening sequence is perhaps the 2nd best in the whole series. This is .

Frank working his way through the list of people associated with the murder of his family sporting the famous vest and cruising around in his black van. Also a nice bit of dark comedy featured here during a misunderstanding whilst Castle chokes someone to death in a toilet cubicle. Unfortunately that is the last we get to see of the skull for some time…and also the humour.

The series does start slow and it’s hard to follow the various politics of homeland security and police. But in the 2nd episode we get a glimpse of that reluctant hero. This moment on the building site which is so typical of Frank’s character and really what defines The Punisher. Also it’s brutal in all the best kinds of way.

It’s then that the series however climbs an uphill struggle and struggles to kick off in the way you want but in episode 5 we get a great sequence worthy of the other

action scenes where Frank teams up with an old colleague to take out a number of hit men in the woods.

The image of Castle emerging from a pile of leaves is a particular highlight. Episode 6 offers the twist of Russ (Franks old besty) having an alliance with the big bad, Agent Orange. But it never felt like a twist and didn’t hold as much of a punch as I would’ve liked but maybe this is because as a fan of the comics you already know the path Russo is going to take. Sometimes it can disadvantage you being a fan of the source material for these things.

Diving into Punisher’s Story

As well as the dirty government officials and his old BFF.

introduces a character called Lewis whose tale brews throughout coming to a head in episode 9. This war torn soldier finally snaps and a standout exchange in this whole piece is between Lewis and Frank as he tries to talk him down from making another bad decision.

Lewis then becomes the main adversary for a few episodes with Orange and Billy taking a backseat. This tends to be the pattern in these Netflix/Marvel shows, breaking the stories in two. But why not have 3 episodes left and one story ark to save those flashes of boredom mid-season (or throughout if your Iron Fist)

Episode 10 seemed to be in the style of Christopher Nolan’s Memento which really grabs your attention all over again and forces you to be gripped for this episode over any of the ones that went before. Episode 11 finally gives us the return of the skull and all the trimmings that come with it. If I told you a Marvel Comics superhero removes somebodies head to attach a grenade to, would you believe me? The sequence on a par with the likes of Daredevils corridor scene. From then on in the series is 100 miles an hour and wraps up everything in a bow for the finale whilst still offering a tease to the future of Russo and Frank.

Micro & Frank

A highlight that runs throughout is Micro’s relationship with our lead. The two men resist the friendship for as long as possible but inevitably form the bond over time. The early days see some great underline tension and jealousy with Frank’s involvement with his family but overall an appreciating for the care he has been offering them.

It takes until episode 8 for Frank to start opening up to Micro momentarily anyway before he knocks him out and by the end Frank has made a friend thus transforming him from the estranged angry loner we met in episode 1 to someone who at the end of episode 13 is ultimately more human.

The Punisher TV Series Cast

Jon Bernthal as the Punisher – I loved him as Punisher even before we saw him in action. Jon looks perfect. With the other projects I had seen him in I knew the ruggedness and torment would be easy for him to pull off and boy was I right. By the end of Daredevil Frank was just starting his mission and by the start of this he thinks he’s just finished it but the discovery of another layer and the new player in his head in the form of ‘guilt’ this is executed perfectly.

Bernthal continues to play his emotional suffering with such a raw intensity especially during the dream sequences and fight scenes. When interacting with the family of Micro, Bernthal is so tender and father like that at one point, even I longed for him to be playing catch with me out on the drive. Dolph played the action hero, Jane played the family man and Steveneson played the embodiment of vengeance. Bernthal does all of the above.

Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Micro – As mentioned earlier the back and fourth interaction between Ebon and Jon is wonderfully timed and full of undertones. Ebon’s humour is so subtle and these fleeting comic moments are well placed in his part of a vulnerable man in hiding.

Amber Rose Revah as detective Madani – Flying the British flag and probably her biggest role to date Amber gets everything right as the scorned and determined agent. The coldness of the character was hard to get behind initially but the ice thaws over time as the plot progresses almost reflecting her slow realisation that Frank and her are actually on the same page. Her relationship with colleague Stein played by Michael Nathanson is a refreshing change to the usual male/female cop drama dynamics.

The pattern of strong females in the various Netflix/Marvel projects continues with Madani flying the flag. I for one would love to see a group led by Misty Night, Karen Page, Madani, Elekrta, Jessica Jones, Patsy Walker, Colleen Wing and Claire Temple

Ben Barnes as Billy Russo – Creators of the tv show went for a very different take on the character to the most recent onscreen interpretation from Domic West and strayed very far from comic book origins too. Domic West played a flamboyant gangster and it seemed polar opposite to the soldier turned business man we get here from Barnes. I don’t mind the liberties in changing his comic book crime family origins etc if those brash and cocky personality traits were at least still there.

Barnes isn’t a believable killing machine like Bernthal and takes a long time to show his true character. I’m hoping his transformation in Jigsaw is handled well following what is a great set up in the finale.

Paul Schulze makes your skin crawl as Rawlins/Agent Orange but I would’ve liked the big bad to have a henchman or number two to offer a physical threat to Frank earlier on in the journey. Maybe we’ll get to see comic book favourite ‘The Russian’ in season 2? Jason Moore is the pretty standard good egg of the piece but slots into the Micro, Castle back and forth exchanges well. I did almost feel like he’s used as a damsel in distress for a lot of this. As usual Deborah Ann Woll does a good innings for Karen who seems to really love damaged goods.

PTSD

Some sobering PTSD issues explored throughout which some credit has to be given to a haunting portrayal of the damaged solider Lewis, by Daniel Webber. I think the series was shy to explore the ethics of gun usage as much as it could’ve but The Punisher should never be used as a political tool so it would’ve been wrong of Netflix to have used the series in this way.

This is after all a fantasy story about a man who exists in the same world as Spiderman and the Hulk, he’s usually wearing black spandex and a skull to kill bad guys. Any link to people killing innocent people IN THE REAL WORLD doesn’t even bare mentioning. Episode 9 does touch on the debate somewhat though in some text explaining why what the Punisher does is different to that of a terrorist.

Violence

The series does not hold back. Some steamy sex scenes, colourful language and Violence that whilst not as ridiculous as the exploding heads of War Zone is unapologetic and gives you those bad ass Frank Castle moments fans crave. If people were worried about Disney overseeing Marvel characters like Punisher then they won’t be now.

Fight choreography is rooted in reality and you feel every punch that people endure which is refreshing these days as you become desensitised to them in what are now common cgi fests. These gritty Netflix series sometimes forget that these are stories from comic books though and I wouldn’t have minded a little more fun in the fights and maybe a shot or two of Punisher with his back to an explosion which that being said does happen but the privilege went to Russo and not our hero…well anti-hero.

A lot of comic book elements were shied away from as well as its links to the greater Netflix/Marvel ark. We get the standard Turk cameo but I would’ve liked Turk to mention he was done with it all and name dropped the Defenders? Or even funnier would have been for Frank to kill him after all these guys before have spared him. That and Karen seemed to be the only links to other Marvel productions. Could Falcon be named dropped as serving alongside Frank at one point or even a jive at Captain America? Just one or two nods would’ve added a little fun to a show that only dares to flirt with the word ‘fun’

Verdict

I can only hope that something is going to be sorted for Marvel’s Netflix future during the changeover to Disney streaming services in 2019. These are some of the best interpretations of beloved characters to date and Punisher can be another one to tick off. I’d say that overall this was better than Iron First and Defenders.

BUT…

…not as good as Daredevil Series 2 or Jessica Jones. Bernthal has now completely metamorphosed himself into the role and the series seemed to encapsulate the grim tone of Frank Castle’s journey into The Punisher. A well rounded off story but one with a page or two still left open ready to explore. Violent, sexy, darkly funny in parts and moving. Punisher finally being told the way fans wanted.

Final Rating

8 bullets out of 10 for Ben Outta Ten

Release date: 17 November 2017

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