14 December 2017

REVIEW: The Punisher, Marvel's best non-superhero superhero series

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As the hype for the first season of The Punisher has calmed down a little bit (not much), I thought it would be a good time to sit down and discuss the show. The violent, damaged, somewhat misunderstood character Frank Castle first introduced in Daredevil's 2nd season stole the show and was soon awarded his very own spin-off. I was a little apprehensive when I first heard about it. The recent Marvel x Netflix shows haven't done so well, a disappointment for loyal Marvel fans such as myself who want to see these characters come to life. The writing has been the biggest let-down, with interesting characters not reaching their potential and the production not up to standard with Daredevil. The MCU is pretty busy already, is it necessary to add another show to the mix? And what if it still isn't up to standard with Daredevil's first season? This is a spoiler free review!

"After the murder of his family, Marine veteran Frank Castle became a vigilante known as "The Punisher" with only one goal in mind, to avenge them."

Well, yes, I believe this show was necessary because quite frankly The Punisher has been more successful than many of the previous Netflix projects and I for one am very impressed indeed. The main ingredient of this successful mix is of course Jon Bernthal, who plays our favourite anti-hero. 

Bernthal successfully portrays a character who is both vicious and emotional, strong and vulnerable. Castle speaks with his eyes and the true depth of his character is revealed when those he cares about are at risk. It's a pleasure to watch his performance. Castle isn't one-dimensional nor is he by any means the 'perfect hero'. You can't look at his actions and see them as 'good' or 'bad', you simply need to search for his reasoning behind them. Luckily, thanks to the team behind The Punisher we don't have any loose ends, any visible plot-holes or any out-of-character moments. Even the violent nature of this character isn't romanticised or dramatised as we might expect (notice how there was no background music during the shootouts?). Frank's mind remains black or white and this thinking is transposed onto the screen: can his actions be justified? The show lets the audience decide that for themselves.

On top of the wonderful Jon Bernthal The Punisher also gives us a good variety of characters whose social positions create interesting dynamics with Frank Castle, leading us away from the constant doom and gloom the show could well be if the sole focus was on this intense anti-hero. David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) brings some much needed lightheartedness to the show, bringing out a whole other side to the Punisher which we had yet to see. Sarah Lieberman (Jaime Ray Newman) develops an interesting relationship with Frank, reminding him of what he has lost whilst unknowingly contributing to the Frank/David dynamic. We are also introduced to some pretty bad-ass women such as Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), and we also have an appearance from favourite Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) the journalist who won't stop despite her life being at stake. Billy Russo, a friend of Frank's who shares the same military background is played by Ben Barnes who also delivers an intriguing performance which leaves us wanting more: more about his character, his mind-set, his past. We also have Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber), a struggling veteran trying to adjust to normal life.

The show is very violent but it isn't glorified: unlike Daredevil the fighting is tactical and precise, a reflection of Frank's military background. This means that we have very little hand-to-hand combat, the exception being the climactic fight in the finale which is easily one of the most violent & well choreographed fights in Marvel cinematic history (possibly rivaling Cap vs The Winter Soldier in CATWS). Instead, we have mainly gun shoot-outs. The fact that the climactic fight in the finale is hand-to-hand combat (instead of a shoot-out like we had become accustomed to) makes it more poignant and frankly difficult to watch.

The Punisher is very well paced with events unfolding in a timely, exciting procession. We have a true sense of progression and a proper build-up which usually tends to be lost after episode 4 or 5, but instead continues to build-up until the explosive final 3 episodes where we see all the plot threads being tied up in a rather bloody bow.
The show intertwines a number of different, somewhat simple plot lines. All of these threads are interwoven into the overall plot in a coherent way, neither one feeling worthless or unnecessary. With well established characters and well developed (surprising) character arcs which come into completion in a satisfying manner in the final 3 episodes, it's hard to find anything to criticise. Punisher sets itself apart from the rest of the MCU with it's approach to a more basic form of invested story-telling, in a format which values well-paced conversations and just enough action scenes. You don't need to be into Superheroes to see it, it could simply be classed in the action/drama genre. 

Oh, and we also have an on-going debate about gun-control, so the show doesn't ignore the social and political conversations taking place in our time which of course are at risk of romanticization and glorification in something as violent AND popular as The Punisher. We see how various characters use guns and their reasoning behind it (Karen's perspective vs the young veteran Lewis). The show leaves certain topics open for discussion such as the aforementioned gun control but also certain aspects of the military: PTSD and the re-integration of veterans into civilisation. 

So in conclusion: The Punisher delivers a well paced, action-packed thrilling season which leaves difficult topics open for discussion: the viewers are left to make up their own mind about them. Having already successfully established it's own aesthetic within in MCU not only by it's violent nature but also thanks to it's multi-dimensional lead, we can look forward to more good, bloody story-telling in it's second season.

What were your thoughts on this non-superhero superhero series? What do you hope to see in the future of the MCU? (maybe some more Avenger Easter-Eggs for one?)

Holly & Summer x


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