The Punisher is the sixth Marvel Netflix series (Following Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Defenders) and it’s probably the most controversial, since it deals not only with PTSD and the treatment of war veterans, it also touches on the gun control debate. Beyond all that, this is an action shoot-em-up. It’s surprisingly dark and violent for a Marvel comics adaptation, but the Netflix shows are quite different from what you’ll see in Thor: Ragnarok.
The Punisher is once again seeking answers to day of the shooting that led to the death of his family. This was dealt with in Daredevil season 2, but it’s expanded upon here, with new layers of the conspiracy, and a new mastermind behind the whole scheme. This leads to a renewed vendetta that involves some old comrades from his days in the military.
The story begins with Castle (Jon Bernthal) trying to put his old life as a vigilante behind him, working in construction, since the world thinks he’s dead after the events of Daredevil. He gets caught up in the world of crime again, when another man-in-hiding, going by the name Micro (Ebon Moss Bachrach) contacts Castle, because he needs the Punisher’s help unraveling the conspiracy that has forced them both to go on the run. The trail leads to Castle’s former commander William Rawlins (Paul Schulze) and another old war pal. Meanwhile, homeland security agent Dina Madani (Amber Rose Revah) is investigating a related situation that leads her to believe the Punisher is still alive, and may have information she needs.
Bernthal carries the show very well with his intense performance as the Punisher, alternating between being a stone-cold killer and a sympathetic figure. The character is somehow reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, who tries to put his gunslinging life behind him but finds that it’s not easy to leave violence behind when it’s become a part of you for so long. This motif is done especially well here in a subplot concerning a volatile young veteran named Lewis Walcott (well played by Daniel Webber) suffering from PTSD, who goes off the deep end. His extreme actions become a mirror for Castle to see how his own actions look from the perspective of others.
The main villain, Rawlings, is very generic and Schulze plays him with an ‘I’m so evil’ style that makes him uninvolving. Fortunately, as we often see in these Netflix shows, there is a second bad guy, and this one is done a lot better. Ben Barnes plays Billy Russo, who comics fans will know as Jigsaw, except he’s not yet scarred. The relationship and interactions between Castle and his friend-turned-foe Russo are the best parts of the story.
Deborah Ann Woll is back as Karen Page, from Daredevil and the Defenders. Woll has a nice chemistry with Bernthal and their scenes together work well, even hinting at a more-than-friends vibe between them. A lot of screen time is devoted to agent Madani and her sidekick Stein (Michael Nathanson) trying to solve the mystery. Adani is a decent character, played pretty well by Revah, but her scenes are not as interesting as the Punisher scenes, and her sex-scenes with Barnes seem like an unnecessary diversion from the main story.
Jamie Ray Newman appears as Micro’s wife. When Castle begins to interact with her and her two kids, he begins to feel the familiarity of being in a family again, after having lost his own. One note…this is the first-ever Marvel Netflix series that does not have Rosario Dawson appear as Clair Temple, so if you’re expecting to see her, tough luck.
The Punisher is an interesting addition to the MCU because it doesn’t seem like a Marvel property. The conspiracy story and street-level action are a far cry from the bullet proof heroes or the mystic stuff we got from the Hand in the previous Netflix shows. In fact, if this show were not called The Punisher, it could easily work on its own as an action/crime drama.
While not the best of the Netflix shows (that honor still goes to Daredevil) this isn’t bad. It’s much better than Iron Fist, and with a stronger lead. There are some lulls, and this might have been improved by being shorter (maybe 8 episodes, as done with the Defenders, would have been better, instead of the 13 we get here) but it holds up well overall. I’d recommend it for comic fans and people who like shoot-‘em-up action flicks.