TV Review: Marvel's The Punisher, Season 1, Episode 1

SYNOPSIS: After exacting revenge on those responsible for the death of his wife and children, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) uncovers a conspiracy that runs far deeper than New York’s criminal underworld. Now known throughout the city as The Punisher, he must discover the truth about injustices that affect more than his family alone.

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REVIEW: When he debuted as The Punisher in last year's second season of Daredevil, Jon Bernthal finally embodied the Marvel Comics antihero in a way that had never been done before. Big screen iterations of Frank Castle have failed to truly present him as a three-dimensional character but Netflix's dedicated series finally gets it mostly right. Having watched the first five episodes of the debut season of Marvel's The Punisher, I can say that fans of Bernthal's take on Castle will be pleased while hardcore faithful to the comic book character will be somewhat disappointed by what takes place over a full season of episodes. Overall, this is definitely one of the best Marvel/Netflix collaborations to date but it does come with some issues that need to be worked out.

Let's start with what works in this show. Just like in Daredevil, Jon Bernthal is stellar as Frank Castle. From the opening scenes showing Frank continuing his rampage of vengeance and executing his enemies using superhuman precision to the smaller and quieter scenes of Frank wrestling with loss and depression, Bernthal balances the nuances of a man split in two. On one hand, Castle is a soldier who does anything from his fellow warriors and obeys the chain of command. On the other, he is a family man who has a heart and tortured soul. The Punisher has always been a clash between those two halves and this show does a great job of handling both sides. There definitely is a lot of time on this show leaning on the effects of war on those who serve and the supporting cast paints a very stark look at what PTSD can do. Never having served in the military, I cannot speak as to how accurately this show deals with the lives of veteran's after their discharge, but if offers more than a flat look at what combat can do to the human psyche.

The action is also very well done. After a pretty violent opening sequence, the series settles down. There is a lot more talking on this show than fighting, but when the action kicks into gear, it is pretty intense. There are both combat sequences taking place during Frank's military days as well as current scenes set during his quest for revenge, but nothing truly stands out to set this show apart from the other Marvel series on Netflix. In fact, aside from the appearance of Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, The Punisher is isolated from the other elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This season clearly is designed to deliver a striking Punisher story that does not need shout-outs to Iron Man or shots of The Battle of New York. But, what this show lacks is some of the pulpy punch that is the trademark of the illustrated Castle. By sacrificing what made The Punisher iconic as an unstoppable killing machine akin to the Terminator, we instead are watching a cross between RAMBO and DEATH WISH. The timing of this show's release has caused a stir due to recent tragedies involving gun violence, but The Punisher never glorifies what we are seeing and makes a concerted effort to show that Frank wants to punish the guilty and not the innocent.

The supporting cast here is also excellent, especially Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Ben Barnes. Moss-Bachrach, best known for his recurring role on HBO's Girls, pays a version of comic book character David Lieberman, aka Micro, who is in many ways the hacker equivalent of Frank. Their relationship is central to this show and the pair play off of each other very well. Bernthal represents one side of the spectrum in regards to the military, duty, and service while Lieberman is more about freedom of expression and the right to free press. Barnes, who recently played a villain on HBO's Westworld, has the tough job of playing Billy Russo. In the comics, Russo was the alter ego of supervillain Jigsaw. Here, Russo is a former soldier who fought alongside Frank. Barnes is great at playing characters whose true nature may not be all that it seems on the surface and he does a great job of playing this version of Russo but comic fans may disagree. Amber Rose Revah plays Dinah Medani, an original character who is out to solve a murder that is integral to Frank's mission. Revah is solid but even halfway through the first season it is tough to see what the end game will be for her character and how it truly ties in to the main storyline.

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Now, for the bad news. The Punisher, like the other Marvel/Netflix series, has a thirteen episode run. After binging the first five made available for review, I can honestly say that there is zero momentum to this show. The story plods along with the characters doing the same thing over and over again in multiple episodes. There is a lot of time spent with subplots involving Lieberman's family as well as one involving one of Frank Castle's friends who runs a veteran's group that are clearly designed to lead to something this season, but they generate minimal interest. There are a lot of great scenes and moments in this show, but they lose some of their impact when spread out over so many chapters. Over every Marvel/Netflix series to date, I can think of at least 2-3 episode from each show that could have been excised in order to tell a tighter and better paced story. I wish that had been the case with The Punisher.

In hindsight, The Punisher may be a character who works best in small bursts, like Mark Ruffalo's Hulk. In his limited scenes during Daredevil, we easily got the entirety of Frank's plight and quest which feels like it is being rehashed ad nauseum for this series. But, there is a lot to enjoy here even if it is not quite The Punisher series we were all hoping for. Not basing the series on a particular comic book storyline and delivering a timely tale about veterans and the cost of war was a risky move that partially pays off. But, once you watch the first episodes and realize that the writers decided to spend as much time as they do on sideplots involving home repair and hidden security cameras, you may feel like fastforwarding to the next episode to see some fight scenes. I will reserve my full judgement on where this show stands compared to other Marvel/Netflix series since the plot seems to just be picking up at the end of the fifth episode. But based on what I have seen, The Punisher is not a show for everyone and that may include fans of the comic book.

Marvel's The Punisher premieres November 17th on Netflix.

Source: JoBlo.com



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