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The Punisher: Netflix’s Marvel redeemer?

I was already quite fascinated by Jon Bernthal’s Punisher in the second Daredevil, in fact I actually thought that was the best feature and most noteworthy character of the second season of the Netflix take on the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.  So when I heard they were making a spin-off with him, followed by an interesting trailer (a great match for the tunes of “One”), I was cautiously optimistic, notwithstanding the absolute fuck ups Iron Fist and The Defenders were (no I am not being harsh).

So was the stand-alone series going to build up and not disappoint on the gripping Frank Castle we saw in Daredevil? Yes it did, and more.

Offhand I admit I have not read The Punisher graphic novels, so please do not judge this review and thoughts in regards to the original style and work of Gerry Conway and the following graphic novel growth of Frank Castle and its canon. In fact, I would be very curious from those of you that have indeed followed the comic books, how the two correlate? From what I have read or heard, one of the key aspects of the graphic novel Punisher is that he is not actually the ‘good guy’, but rather a truly fucked up individual on his own path of nightmares, PTSD, inner and outer demons and revenge, which rather contrasts with the usual take on Marvel’s superheroes. From what I can tell this show comes as close as it ever has to this, but I will leave this aspect out for now as I don’t feel competent discussing it further.

Back to the Netflix show. Big thumbs up from me. The show was captivating, fresh and brutally honest. Its style and tone come in boldly stripped of superficial flare and superhero methodology. It is ruthless and contemporary. It is just real. And I don’t mean the dark kind of real that DC introduced with Nolan’s Batman’s, I mean just real.

Here a couple further reasons why I think you should check it out.

There is no good and evil…..finally

One of the best things about this show for me was the real-life take on its characters, including the ones re-introduced from previous shows. The dichotomy which we usually see in series/movies of this genre is replaced by a very sober take on the constant inner battle within all of us to follow our instincts, define bad and do good, or at least that which we consider to be good. Just as Frank Castle is by no means a hero or a good guy, torn with his endless lust for revenge blood, purposeless without it, driven by hate as much as love, the “anti-hero” of the story (Ben Barnes does not disappoint) has a story of just as much loneliness and abuse and self-preservation that you would almost package them together and debate who is truly more evil (… or fucked up). Frank Castle’s violence is at moments definitely too much to handle, on par with the cruelty of the people he is hurting. The female lead character Dinah Madani, portrayed by Amber Rose Revah, also offers a fresh take on females in the genre. Fascinatingly vulnerable in her strength, driven by what should be construed as “good motives”, during her own actual journey of justice and revenge makes very human and naïve mistakes and by no means shows the usual fluff or savior complex female characters have in this genre. She fits like a glove in this “men’s world” of rage, violence and inner trauma. Her quick and brutal dismissal in the final “battle” scene was as striking as it was true and brought her character arc to an almost mysterious conclusion of her persona and fate in possible future series.  Even more peculiar to add, her character does not exist in the graphic novels (ain’t that some good writing?).

There is nothing inhuman about any of the characters, which is why the impact of their actions is more striking than lifting a building or flying. This is a story of how much love & hate, good & evil as the ever-present partners inside all of us drive people to do “extraordinary” things in the most brutal, real and primal way possible.

The setting you might have missed

While not painted by striking colors, rich orchestral music or well, the usual “magic” and “surrealism” the genre brings, The Punisher engulfs you in its world in such a subtle way that you almost don’t realize it? Why? Because it paints a more real picture of the real world than you are perhaps used to seeing on screen, let alone from Marvel content. And its context and ambiance, while attempted at Jessica Jones, more successfully appealing in Luke Cage and completely abandoned in Iron Fist, comes ringing at you like an extra character in the show with its soberness. From the captivating titles and song, to the “lacking” of costumes and set up, the somber soundtrack, toned flashbacks and especially the actual side-stories and story background, you are on episode 5 before you even realized you blinked. The side-characters and background storylines – that is something I would like to further draw your attention to. The side-stories and real-world political and military context while maybe critiqued by some as forceful or unnecessary to the main story, I find to be a very masterful tool in explaining the world of The Punisher. Is Lewis Walcott’s tragedy and inner struggle that much different than Castle’s? Isn’t the context of losing a part of you and living with the consequences as Curtis Hoyle does, not what Frank Castle has to face? Isn’t the context of political games and war in its essence the very world he lives in? In this sense, the take the show creators and team make on the side story arches and context for me contributed immensely to the character growth and ambiance of the show, something often omitted in the rest of the Marvel produce and beyond.

Before I leave you to your thoughts, I wanted to make one small note. Yes, this is definitely the most violent and graphic of the Marvel-Netflix (and maybe even not only Netflix) series/movies so far. In my appreciation for the realism of the show I by no means condone or think the show glorifies violence, gun use or vigilantism. As I tried to illustrate above, I think the show is so successful in its storytelling due to how honest it is about the disturbing, menacing and scary nature of violence and its effect on everyone scarred by it. The Punisher is nothing but a story of war and violence and their heavy impact on humanity, from beginning to end.

And so, these are some arguments I thought might peak your curiosity to check these series out if you haven’t yet. Yes there might have been a few plot twists I don’t agree with, or a few moments that dragged and seemed dull, but overall, for me, this has been the best Marvel-Netflix yet and a truly different experience than what we have seen so far. I recommend you check it out (unless you are you know, somewhat squeamish).

Total Score: 8

[Poster source: , owned by ABC Studios / Marvel Television for The Punisher (TV series), Trademarks & Copyright © 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.]

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