The Punisher review: Marvel Netflix’s latest is No. 1 with a bullet

For Marvel Netflix fans picking a favorite show came down to preference. Daredevil Season 2 provided a fun comic book action ride. Jessica Jones was an exhilarating psychological thriller and Luke Cage was the long overdue unapologetically black superhero experience. And Iron Fist was everyone’s favorite show to bash. But with the release of The Punisher, Netflix has its clear undisputed champion.

It helps showrunner Steve Lightfoot and his talented ensemble of directors including Andy Goddard, Tom Shankland and Kari Skogland that Punisher is an easier Marvel character to translate to a series. Unlike the other Marvel Netflix series, The Punisher is the most grounded vigilante. There’s no bulletproof skin, hyper senses, fists like metal or vaguely described powers to cause logistical headaches.

Having one of Marvel’s best casting choices doesn’t hurt either. Marvel hit the casting jackpot with Jon Bernthal’s take on Frank Castle. Bernthal stole every scene he was in during Daredevil Season 2. He doesn’t shrink away with the spotlight firmly on him either. From Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson, there’s never been a poorly cast Punisher.

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Bernthal simply inhabits the character in a way no one has before. His Frank Castle is haunted by the death of his family and obsessed with taking down everyone responsible. That doesn’t mean he’s unable to share a laugh in a quiet moment, bond over beers or play a surrogate father figure. This is the most fully rounded take we’ve seen on The Punisher and Bernthal makes all of it feel completely within character for the same guy who unleashes savage mayhem on those who cross him.

These Netflix shows have proven a hero is only as good as his supporting cast. There’s not a weak link among the bunch but the standouts are Ben Barnes as Frank’s old military buddy now running an armed security service, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as a brilliant tech whiz and the fantastic Amber Rose Revah as a homeland security agent investigating a long-buried case.

The writing team does a terrific job taking advantage of the 13-episode format. Subplots are given just the right amount of time to develop before overstaying their welcome. One features Daniel Webber as a young soldier trying to readjust to life in the real world and Jason R. Moore as a support group leader. This subplot is powerful and speaks to the need for better post-war assistance for veterans. Another features a family Frank is drawn to that deftly avoids any attempt to fall into cliché territory.

These characters are so engaging the episodes don’t have to feature wall to wall action. That helps make the sudden, brutal and violent action scenes have more impact. It’s violent, but never feels gratuitous. The Punisher invites some smart dialogue on gun control, veteran assistance, the military and the media. Nothing comes across as preachy and the audience isn’t even asked to pick a side.

While the obvious temptation with Netflix shows is to binge as fast as possible, The Punisher is best enjoyed in smaller doses. I welcomed the chance to reflect on character motivations and to try and predict what would happen next. I almost always guessed incorrectly.

With some of the bloom fading on the Marvel Netflix shows, The Punisher comes at exactly the right time to reinvigorate the brand and kill some time before the 2018 cinematic offerings. Fun Fact: If you were patient and watched one episode a week, The Punisher would leave a one week gap until Black Panther.

I’ll be posting the episode reviews starting Friday so you can check out my thoughts on each episode.

Photo Credit: Netflix

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