REVIEW: THE PUNISHER
As I am only five episodes in at the time of writing rather than do an out and out review I wanted to look more at the evolution of The Punisher in the comics to the silver screen and now to Netflix.
Rightly or wrongly Punisher will always be defined by the Marvel MAX series by Garth Ennis and a selection of talented artists. I’m not saying there haven’t been good 616 Punisher stories but he is the perfect match for the MAX line. When he was created in 1974 he was a homage to the anti hero/vigilante movies of the time. There are only so many of those types of stories you can tell before it becomes exhaustive. In the MAX universe it all becomes more real world thus expanding the types of stories and becomes a much more character driven piece. With this in mind it makes it interesting to see how the Netflix series will pan out. Do they try and make thirteen episodes of The Raid starring Frank Castle? Or do they break it down and make it about what makes the man?
In the Marvel/Netflix universe Frank Castle perhaps rather aptly exists in a grey area. He was introduced in the second season of Daredevil. While the portrayal of Frank Castle was very realistic the world he was inhabiting was perhaps not. This goes against the MAX series which famously had a ‘No Capes’ rule. Then Punisher wasn’t part of the Netflix team up series ‘The Defenders’. Many expected him to turn up at least in a gun toting cameo. Zilch. This perhaps could have been seen as an indication that his forthcoming solo series would try and replicate the MAX series by not having him interact with the larger universe. Frank Miller has penned some brilliant Punisher/Daredevil stories it feels like a disservice to both characters to not have them appear together again. It seems highly unlikely but I would love to have a Daredevil episode of the Punisher.
I can confirm and therefore spoil we get Turk in an early episode. It seems you can’t have a street level crime story without that guy. We know from early press that Karen Page will be returning in a recurring role and while Deborah Ann Wohl is brilliant it raises a few questions with me. Can Frank ever love again? Is it out of character? I can’t even begin to imagine what Frank has gone through. Of course it is a very extreme example of losing and reacting to the loss of a love one. There is a great scene in the first story arc in the MAX series. It is between the loss of his family and becoming The Punisher. He is grieving at home when a neighbour comes in. the neighbour confides in Frank he is having an affair. Essentially what we are witnessing is Franks first punishment. This neighbour has taken his marriage for granted and in the eyes of Frank who has lost everything this is a sin. He proceeds to throw him through the window. For me this scene is a beautiful example of Frank Castle in a real world setting. The first episode of The Netflix series which fills in the gaps of what Frank has been up to since we last saw him. Then it does a great job establishing Frank in the real world. He is working in construction (as Pete Castiglione). Living day to day and enduring sleepless nights. Of course things don’t stay like this for long and it is time for The Punisher to walk the streets of NYC again.
Frank Castle is a character who walks between worlds. No I’m not talking about the time he was an actual guardian angel or the time he was a living corpse. I suggest Netflix stays well clear of these. There are a variety of story tropes that come under the umbrella of Frank Castle, particularly in the MAX series. There is the street level stuff, war stories, black ops work, government cover ups and police procedural stories. In the first three episodes the story lays down foundations for all of these elements and by the fourth episode most of them start tying together. Talking of walking between worlds I get a feel that the creators are trying to blend the best of 616 Punisher with the MAX stuff. The presence of Micro is the best example of this. Now I haven’t read a whole lot of 616 Punisher but the idea of a techy sidekick seems far removed from the MAX series.
The Netflix series works on taking 616 characters and putting them through the MAX filter. Micropchip has been shortened to Micro and he is part of a government cover up running through the series. Early on their relationship seems strained and you feel if they spend too much screen time together it could grate on the viewers. By the fourth episode they click and eventually we even get all the 616 gloriousness of the battle van! As with the other Marvel Netflix series we are treated to all the names we remember from the comics but perhaps with different characterization. Billy Russo is far removed from his comic book counterpart but he is still an interesting character with plenty of room to grow and hopefully become Jigsaw for season two. Other characters who we have previously seen in the Netflix universe like Kingpin and Frank Simpson would fit perfectly into the world set up in this series.
I said in my Thor Ragnarok review it is hard to imagine anyone else as other than Chris Hemsworth as Thor. The same goes for Hugh Jackman as Logan. Now we can add Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle to that list. Unlike Hemsworth and Jackman, Bernthal had three previous incarnations to measure up against. Well two because Dolph Lundgren was awful. Thomas Jane gathered a bit of a cult following despite a lacklustre movie in 2004. Part of this following came from the unofficial short Punisher movie ‘Dirty Laundry’. For some reason I have never seen ‘Punisher: War Zone’ though I have heard nothing but good, especially about Ray Stevenson performance. Bernthals casting as Frank Castle was actually the reason I decided to get Netflix.
I had just planned to wait out and get Daredevil season one on DVD. Then the news broke about season two and I couldn’t wait that long! Here’s a way to look at it Thomas Jane is the 616 Punisher while Jon Bernthal is a younger version of the MAX Punisher. I say younger because he realistically aged in the series and was closer to Clint Eastwood by the end. So he is a young Eastwood with a dash of The Man in Black Johnny Cash thrown in. I don’t know whos choice it was to occasionally have Frank strumming away on a guitar but it strangely works.
From what I have watched so far I’m really enjoying whats on offer. I would put it on a par with both series of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It is better than Iron Fist, but then again it doesn’t have to set up the history of The Hand ready for a team up series. Luke Cage I still haven’t finished so I guess I would have to say it is better than that too. The balance between looking at what makes Frank Frank and the action is perfect. The creators do a great job on having a slow but interesting build with plenty of ground work laid and then they give you an adrenaline fuelled last fifteen minutes. I’m looking forward to seeing how this series wraps up and what seeds are planted for season two. Then of course I’ll be counting down the days to season two!
About Ian Wells
Ian currently runs the THEBLOGOFCOMICSHOTTOPICS blog. Check him out on Twitter @IanWells87.
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Together Richard and Shawn formed the podcast The Language of Bromance and from there it has been nothing but fun. The duo laugh about things they go through, stories in the news and even getting serious discussing net neutrality along with other issues. Every so often their friendship turns to a bitter rivalry with their nerdiest creation the draft episodes. An original take on a best of or a top 10 list. The draft episodes are done like an NFL Draft 7 rounds where Richard and Shawn flip-flop picks on various topics.
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