Said to be the darkest and most violent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Netflix’s “The Punisher” lived up to this reputation and more following its premiere on Friday Nov. 17.
The series follows the ex-marine turned vigilante Frank Castle, also known as the Punisher. Jon Bernthal depicts the anti-hero on screen through his vengeful mission to kill anyone and everyone responsible for the senseless murder of his wife and two children.
Bernthal made his first appearance as the Punisher on screen in season two of “Daredevil” as a broken, ruthless foil to the show’s title character. Many viewers and fans of the comics feared that without morally grounded heroes to contrast his character, Castle would simply be another “angry white dude” hell bent on serving up his own brand of justice.
However, this is not the case. Bernthal’s performance nears perfection throughout the entire thirteen hours of the series, developing an interesting and vastly complex character. Throughout the series, Bernthal demonstrates his ability to execute both scenes in which he roars with rage as he mows down his targets and ones in which he makes rhymes lovingly with his daughter. It’s in this expert balance between brutal action scenes and quiet moments that Castle’s humanity emerges and Bernthal’s performance shines.
It is impossible to talk about “The Punisher” without highlighting the show’s intense fight scenes. Even from the initial, brief teaser after the credits of “The Defenders,” it was clear that “The Punisher” would be the bloodiest Marvel series to date. What those glimpses didn’t convey, however, was the sheer force of the action scenes.
The fight at the end of the first episode alone was so gruesome and intense that it had me cringing away from the screen. Even more impressive in its unflinching brutality was the final fight scene between Castle and the last, unlikely man on his hit list. I watched the scene without sound as Castle scrapes his face across a broken mirror.
The graphic nature of these instances, however, does not take away from the show’s sincerity, but rather, it adds to it. It is in the quieter moments between these blood ridden action sequences that Castle develops his humanity. He struggles to not only figure out what it means to find happiness in life wracked by grief and to continue to love his wife while starting to love someone else, but to understand if what he’s doing is actually about justice or if killing is the only thing he still knows how to do.
Like most heroes, Castle questions his morality as he breaks the law to take justice into his own hands. Unlike most heroes, Castle is seriously broken and he repeatedly violates the most sacred code of heroism: thou shalt not kill. Only in the most extreme situations do heroes like Iron Man and Captain America end people’s lives.
Worse still, Castle has knowingly killed innocent people. It’s easier to ignore his ruthlessness when it’s directed towards criminals and murderers, but the fact that his moral code lets him kill people who didn’t do anything but get in his way may seem inexcusable to many. His code becomes all the more problematic considering that he murders people because they killed his wife and children who were also nameless innocents caught in the line of fire.
Through this complexity and moral ambiguity, the minds behind “The Punisher” establish a compelling theme in the show. It is through society’s failures such as covering up illegitimate acts of unjust violence in war and not supporting its veterans at home among others that create lost souls like Castle, Micro and others in the show.
No, this negligence does not justify acts of domestic terrorism, even those on a screen, in any way, but it is something that needs more attention and that is one thing that “The Punisher” subtly and respectfully does.
Overall, I would give “The Punisher” a 5/5 rating.
Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.