This war has breed a saying oft-repeated. “Payback is a motherfucker”. At Valley Forge we have another. “If you think Paybacks bad — You haven’t met Frank Castle” – Marvel MAX: Punisher Born #2
I remember when I was a young teenager and my friend recommended me Garth Ennis’ Punisher: Born comic. It told the origin story of the Marvel vigilante; Frank Castle aka The Punisher, during the Vietnam War. Already being a huge fan of the video game Max Payne, which has a similar story of family death and vengeance against the criminal underworld, The Punisher soon became my next obsession. The entire run of Marvel MAX’s Punisher series by Garth Ennis (including the Nick Fury set in the same universe) are just fantastic. They were hard hitting and gritty with very powerful themes. Sometimes you came away feeling depressed, other times you felt justice had been served. It was something that the Punisher films never seemed to get right.
Frank Castle is a soldier. He is a normal man who uses tactics and his special training to wreck havoc on criminals. He does not hang upside down from a chandelier spinning around with two assault rifles. It is not something that you see a soldier do when fighting a war.
Frank Castle, scopes the area out, lays a few claymores at exits, and lays down some serious fire with a light machine gun. He is outnumbered, but never outgunned. It was something that was never portrayed correctly in the Punisher films, so after 3 attempts (and a short with Thomas Jane which is actually quite good), Punisher fans, like me, were left thinking that this character is best left for the pages of a graphic novel.
That was until Netflix announced that season 2 of their hit show; Daredevil, would feature the harbinger of death would be joining the show with The Walking Dead’s; Jon Bernthal playing the role. He looked good in the promos and even though I was not 100% on Daredevil (as I found the story of Wilson Fisk more interesting than Daredevil’s), I decided to check out this version of the character, and you know what… I like it. While Jon Bernthal was not my exact envision of The Punisher (having been brain washed with the idea that he is this old Vietnam Vet, which wouldn’t work as he would be in his 70s if it was set today), the changes that they did make to him and his backstory were only to make it more modern. They didn’t dramatically change anything too much, and the Punisher storyline in Daredevil season 2 was really good (once again better than Daredevil’s actual story arc). It focused heavily on how he became the Punisher and getting revenge for those involved in his family death.
With that in mind, Netflix announced that The Punisher would be getting his own series, continuing on from where we saw him in season 2 of Daredevil. I was excited, but curious as the main story of the Punisher had already been told, so I was worried they would try and retell it, but thankfully the show jumps you in at the deep end for everyone, even if you have seen the second season of Daredevil.
I was worried as I have not watched Jessica Jones, Nick Cage, Iron Fist, or the Defenders, and since all of those were interlinked, and with the Punisher being linked to Daredevil, I thought I would have had to seen all of those before hand (as with all the MCU, you have to see it in the correct order other wise certain bits do not make sense), but thankfully this was NOT the case.
It does help if you have seen season 2 of Daredevil, as it does tell you what exactly happen to his family (as this is only touched on briefly in the show), as well as a character from Daredevil does come along for the ride for part of the season. A villain who was killed in Daredevil makes an appearer in a flashback and helps bring it all together, but the good thing about this show is that you do not need to have seen it or any other Netflix Marvel show. As I have had people say to me that they will watch it, just after they’ve finished Luke Cage, watched Iron Fist and then the Defenders. Ah mate… that is going to be ages away!
Anyway, if you don’t know it, Frank Castle was (in the TV show version) a special forces marine who was assigned to a covert CIA death squad during the war in Afghanistan. Him and his team preformed black operations involving kidnapping and assassination of high value Taliban targets.
When his war was over, he returned to New York and to his wife and two children. One day in central park, at the merry-go-round, they are all gunned down and killed. Frank then does on a mission of vengeance to find and kill everyone responsible. I won’t spoil Daredevil season 2 for you, as the Punisher side of things there are really enjoyable.
This season picks up a few months later with Frank giving up his punishing ways and trying to live a solitary and quiet life, following his apparent death in Daredevil leaving the world thinking that Frank Castle is dead, but trouble always seems to find him. In fact a disc he acquired from a mysterious “Micro” contains evidence of Frank and his unit’s actions in Afghanistan which unleashed a huge shit storm onto the world. The CIA operative responsible; Agent Orange, attempts to stop the word from spreading, and it throws Frank back into the world of putting bullets into people. What with Frank’s link to all of this, who is better than The Punisher to deal with everything.
He is eventually contacted by Micro (who anyone who has any knowledge of the comic book version of The Punisher knows that Micro is his ally. He is a hacker who helps The Punisher gather intel and prepare him for his war against crime), the two join forces to try and bring down their enemies.
Micro’s story is really interesting and done well. He has left his family, faking his own death in order to protect them from the evidence he had acquired against the government. He has hidden cameras set up all over his house to keep an eye on them, but mainly to watch as his family change and break apart with him powerless to do anything.
When Frank joins him, he uses Frank as a way of helping his family without him actually being involved, but you can see a love triangle forming the second Frank and Mirco’s wife meet. Thankfully Frank is portrayed exactly as he should be, and this is all very one sided, as he is still hanging on to the love he felt for his late wife.
This storyline does tend to fizzle in the middle, but comes back more towards the end, which appears to be a running theme of the show, as a story involving a character named Lewis, has really great potential, but ultimately fails to deliver and does nothing but serves to assist the main storyline of the season.
Lewis is an ex-vet who has returned home and is suffering PTSD. He has tried group therapy with another veteran named Curtis (who is one of the few people that knows that Frank Castle is still alive and remains good friends with him), but Lewis suffers adjusting to the harsh realities of civilian life and eventually becomes what he had previously fought against; a terrorist, who naturally believes that he is a freedom fighter, using the Punisher’s memory as a type of a martyr or justifications for his actions.
This storyline has some really great moments, but sadly the end of it is a bit of a let down. A really good episode where Frank and Lewis meet with another character strapped up to a load of explosives, is really intense, but then the next episode the story is resolved shoddily and the Punisher continues on with the main plot. It would have been nice for Lewis to have his own finale, rather than piggy backing on the main storyline, as he was built up entirely on his own, but ultimately only served to bulk another story.
Homeland Security Agent Madani is another main character for the show. She was previously involved with the people the CIA assassinated in Afghanistan and is the first to suspect that the Punisher might still be alive. Eventually their path’s cross and she begins to uncover the dirty agents in the government who are involved in everything. She also develops a relationship with Billy Russo, who we will get to in a moment.
Her and her partner; Stein, try to bring down the corruptions, and an episode involving a fake tactical operation to draw out those who are spying on her has a fantastic end, had me gripped throughout. Eventually they must go against the agency and face the conflict of whether they help Frank or bring him in.
Finally we have Billy Russo. He is another former member of Frank’s unit who is working for a private military company. He becomes involved with Madani as a love interest, but there is always something untrustworthy about him. It doesn’t help that the actor mainly plays bad guys in stuff, as well as anyone who knows the Punisher comic books knows that Billy Russo eventually becomes Frank’s arch nemesis know as Jigsaw, for his disfigured face.
One thing I didn’t like was that nearly every character was some how related to one another. Not through blood, but I mean like served with them, worked for them, had a relationship with them, and it felt like the writers went out of their way to link everyone to everyone else.
As for the show itself, the story does take a few dips here and there, and I think that if it was written badly, then it would not very enjoyable at all, but thankfully The Punisher is incredibly gratifying in nearly every episode and so we do not even notice this inconsistency in the overall plot of the show.
Sometimes it feels like a bit of a slow burn, which is not always a bad thing because when the action gets going, it is really well done. Frank Castle is as brutal as you’d expect him to be, and the show does not hold back. One of the main villains is killed horrifically, which is a good thing.
I found a couple of episodes were a little it of a drag in places. Strangely one heavily action orientated episode, which also involves major reveals for the characters, was a little misleading as they decided to time jump all over the place, as well as having the same story told from different people’s perspectives, which might sound good and interesting on paper, but the delivery made me feel like I had missed an episode and on two separate occasions during the episode, I had to turn it off and go to the previous episode to double check I hadn’t. By the end of the episode I knew exactly what was going on, but I think this combined with the disappointment of the ending of Lewis’ storyline made the episode not as enjoyable as it could have been. The action sequences of it were really enjoyable and well done, but there were points that let it down which greatly affected my opinion of the episode.
Like most TV shows nowadays, the penultimate episode is the one to watch, and the Punisher continues this trend. The second from last episode was a clear 9 or 10 out of 10 (or 5 Robots here at Bearded Robot). It was brutal, savage, and felt like it was out of the pages of a Garth Ennis graphic novel (which is all I ever want).
However, the last episode, which at first felt like a bit of an afterthought living in the shadow of the episode previously, dealt with the aftermath of episode 12, was a little disappointing, but then by the midway point the episode takes a turn and the fight at the merry-go-round (aye! If you have been reading then you know what this relates to, making the story come full-circle, which is a classic Punisher comic book theme) is really well done. Especially the way that the antagonist is dealt with. BRUTAL. SAVAGE. GRITTY. These are the words to best describe the anti-hero The Punisher, and the last few episodes of the season do just that.
Overall, while it was not perfect, I thought Netflix’s The Punisher was a brilliant show to watch. I personally really enjoyed it and was eager to watch the next episode. I think the season does a good job of building it up for the next one, and I am excited for when that comes out.
Of course I am a Punisher fanboy, so be sure to take what I say with a pinch of salt. Although fanboys are harder to please than most, so maybe take that as a sign that The Punisher is worth devoting a bit of time to.
“The black iron pig in his hands falls silent. Try as it might, the world cannot exhale”.