If you watched Netflix’s Daredevil season two, you would have been introduced to Frank Castle, aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal). You’d also know that, if you’re not into violence on-screen, then you probably shouldn’t watch The Punisher, which premiers on Netflix today.
This new series opens, presumably, after the events of Daredevil S2, which saw Castle escape from prison and go underground. While he himself may be keeping a low profile, his fury and plans to avenge his late wife and children are not, and the first five minutes of the first episode sees him hunting down the remaining men responsible for his family’s death, and sending them off to their afterlife. It’s violent, it’s bloody, it’s remorseless, and it leaves Castle dead on the inside.
Revenge taken, Castle still has to live a life, but all he has left is a quietly simmering rage from missing his old life with those he loves, and no one left to take it out on. So he grows a beard, goes all lumberjack, and takes a job at a construction site using a new name. (He is a fugitive, after all.)
As the saying goes, though, there’s no rest for the wicked.
A new kid on the construction site, in his eagerness to fit in with his new work buddies, gets involved in a dangerous quest - robbing gangsters at gunpoint on their own turf - with two unsavoury colleagues and messes up along the way. His “buddies” then decide the solution to the mess is to kill the new kid. Of course, Castle was nearby and turns the tables around, saving the kid and killing the two to-be murderers instead. Then he goes and kills the gangsters, too. This leads to Castle being unwittingly caught up in a whole new web of mystery that involves the underground criminals of New York and the death of his family.
In the US, where gun-related deaths make headlines seemingly every week, The Punisher has been criticised for its violence, and perhaps there is an issue of sensitivity. But, to its credit, The Punisher also explores themes such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the military, and the dark side of that line of work, one that’s held in high esteem. And it is this emotional heartbeat of the show that adds layers and dimension to what could have been a senselessly violent plot.
Bernthal reprises his role as Frank Castle wonderfully, and convincingly portrays a man for whom tenderness and maniacal tendencies are but a blink of the eye apart. For an anti-hero you simultanously root for and feel disturbed by, Castle is your man.
Familiar faces like Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and her editor Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor) help root this series in the world of MCU’s small-screen franchises, and the former provides Castle with a link to his humanity that can be so easily forgotten in his mission to uncover the truth.
There are likable new characters, too; Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), a war veteran recently returned from Afghanistan, adds colour to the story, as well as a satisfying measure of sass. Her dynamics with her new work partner, Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson), offer a spark of fun to an otherwise dark series, and her relationship with her mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) will have anyone with a love-hate relationship with their parents go, "yep, I get it."
With so many characters and objectives involved, The Punisher runs the risk of being incredibly messy and forgettable. However, it does boast a strong cast with dependable acting talent portraying a range of characters with distinctly different personalities and intentions. That alone makes it interesting and bingeable.
Besides, it can’t be worse than Iron Fist. Not much can be.