'The Punisher' Review: 5 Things To Know About Marvel's New Netflix Series

Marvel and Netflix are together again for The Punisher, the latest in their ever-expanding TV saga that exists on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time, the focus is on Jon Bernthal's heavily-armed vigilante Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, introduced in Daredevil season 2. While many films have tried to bring the Marvel comic book character to life, none of them have ever hit the mark. Can the Netflix Punisher succeed where the films failed? 

The Review

To be clear, there are commendable moments in all of the big screen Punisher adaptations: the Dolph Lundgren version from 1989 is enjoyably sleazy in a way only '80s action movies could be; the 2004 Punisher starring Tom Jane was mostly a wash, but Jane gave a very committed performance; 2008's Punisher: War Zone was just lurid enough to be entertaining.Yet as a whole, these films were more miss than hit. Daredevil season 2 apparently found the solution to fixing the character: it gave him a supporting role, rather than a lead. As a secondary character, Frank Castle shined, and Jon Bernthal's performance was full of raw fury; he seemed to be the first actor to play the part who understood that the Punisher is a man always on the brink of madness. But the key factor to making the Punisher work as a character, it seemed, was to present him in increments.But can Frank Castle carry his own series? The answer, to be blunt, is no. The Punisher is a drag, and while it's not the major disappointment Iron Fist was, it's a misfire for Marvel. Bernthal does the best he can with shoddy material, but he's unable to elevate The Punisher above its disappointing script. Worse than that, the series comes at the worst possible time, when gun violence is at an all-time high in America, and the last thing we need at the moment is a show that glorifies it.In the series, Frank Castle concludes (or at least believes he concludes) his killing-spree directed at the criminals responsible for the death of his family. This may sound like a spoiler, but it happens in the first two minutes of the first episode. From there, Frank hangs up his skull-embroidered uniform and drifts into the margins of society. As far as anyone else knows, Frank Castle is a dead man. However, events from his past draw Frank back into the light, and set him on a blood-drenched path as he comes up against a government conspiracy. Much death follows.  We'll go into more details with a spoiler review next week, but for now, here's what you need to know.The Punisher guitar

It’s Marvel’s Most R-Rated Netflix Show Yet

While Logan and Deadpool weren't sole Marvel Studios productions, their R-rated content seems to have opened the superhero world up to more adult-oriented fare. The Punisher is the first Marvel Netflix show to take advantage of that. While the previous Marvel shows on Netflix have all dabbled in heavier themes and content that the MCU films dare not touch, The Punisher takes it to the extreme.Since The Punisher's entire deal is murdering people, there's a high body count to the series – and it's not squeamish about showing the gory details. While a large amount of the blood splatter here is clearly added in post via CGI, thus blunting the impact, there's a lot of it, with an overwhelming amount of point-blank shootings.The Punisher also doesn't shy away from sex. While previous Marvel Netflix endeavors have had their share of sex scenes, they're usually handled in discrete ways, with careful editing cutting around anything that could be deemed too explicit. The Punisher doesn't take this path, however, and goes all-in on several sex scenes. In other words, this is the most "adult" Marvel show yet. Although curiously enough, the show does shy away from excessive vulgar language. So if you're a viewer fine with a high-body count and sexual situations, but find potty mouths to be a big no-no, The Punisher is for you!The Punisher Micro

The Punisher Doesn’t Work Alone

If you don't know a whole lot about The Punisher as a character, you may assume that he's a character who always works alone. A lone vigilante, prowling the mean streets on the lookout for criminals to kill. Sort of like Charles Bronson in Death Wish. This is mostly true, but the character has been known to work with others from time to time. One frequent compatriot Frank Castle finds himself working with frequently in the comics is David Lieberman, aka Microchip, aka Micro. Micro is a hacker and weapons expert who has assisted Frank from time to time. We've even seen him in a previous Punisher movie before: he was played by Wayne Knight in Punisher: War Zone.In Netflix's The Punisher, Micro is more or less the second main character. He's in the show almost as much as Frank, and even has more of an arc than Frank does. As played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Micro is a former NSA analyst who faked his death and is currently in hiding. After a terse introduction, Frank and Micro begin working together toward a common goal: to blow the lid off a conspiracy involving the military and government contractors. While it makes sense to give Bernthal's Frank Castle someone to bounce off of, giving him what amounts to a sidekick doesn't always work and there are times when The Punisher seems much more interested in Micro than it does Frank, almost as if the showrunners could sense that The Punisher isn't a strong enough character to carry the show on his own.The Punisher Karen Page

It’s the Most Secluded of the Marvel Netflix Shows

If you're hoping The Punisher will have a lot of cross-pollination with the other Marvel Netflix shows, think again. While the other Netflix shows dip into the Marvel pool frequently and cross-reference each other, The Punisher stands alone. The only real connection here – beyond the setting once again being New York City – is Daredevil's Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who has a bit of a supporting role. And to all you Frank Castle/Karen Page shippers out there (you know who you are), The Punisher does address their relationship a bit. Just don't go in expecting fireworks.Beyond Karen, The Punisher is about as far removed from the rest of the MCU as one can get. Besides one throwaway line about superheroes in the first episode, you could easily forget that The Punisher even exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some may not like this detail, but it's one of the few things The Punisher has going for it. The rest of the Netflix Marvel shows can too often feel like pieces of a bigger puzzle. The Punisher, in contrast, is trying to tell its own story. Of course, the story it's trying to tell isn't that great, but hey, at least it's trying.This also means The Punisher doesn't feature the most dependable character of the Marvel Netflix world: Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple. Sorry, Claire fans – she's MIA here. Claire must've been busy patching up some other superheroes during the events of The Punisher.The Punisher Frank

It Doesn’t Shy Away from Current Events

While The Punisher is dropping onto Netflix this week, it was originally planned for an earlier release. Then tragedy got in the way. Following the horrific Las Vegas shooting, Netflix and Marvel decided to push the show back. Marvel TV executive producer Jeph Loeb confirmed this in an interview with The Inverse:

"This was a decision that we made specifically because it was a week after a horrible, horrible incident. It hasn't changed the television series, the show is not predominantly about gun violence, and in fact it shows you the problems that occur in that world. But, to introduce that as close to what had happened. We made a very hard choice with Netflix, and our hearts still go out to the people of Las Vegas and the people around the world who still deal with that senseless violence."

The Las Vegas shooting was, of course, not the last recent shooting. There was yet another one in a Texas church a little over a week ago.To The Punisher's credit, it doesn't shy away from the highly-charged topic of gun violence, but I can't say it handles the topic in a sensible way. It would be near impossible for this show to present itself as anti-gun, since guns are a big part of what makes the Punisher the Punisher, but the show instead handles things in a muddled fashion. One of the series' antagonists is a right wing extremist, rallying against the "liberal media." Karen Page, who is part of that liberal media, is very pro-gun, but also anti-extremist. Then there's Frank himself, who thinks of the right wing extremist character as scum while also not above being judge jury and executioner himself, all rolled into one ultra-violent package. It's a bundle of conundrums, and while The Punisher doesn't handle them all perfectly, it at least makes some sort of effort to address the blood-soaked elephant in the room.

It’s Way Too Long

Please, Netflix, I beg of you: stop making your original shows so long. The first season of Stranger Things ran for 8 episodes, and that worked perfectly. Mindhunter spanned 10, and that also was a success. The Marvel shows, for some ungodly reason, all tend to run 13 episodes and it never works out for the better. So far, the only series to avoid this problem has been The Defenders, which ran for 8 episodes. While that series left much to be desired, it thankfully didn't drag its feet forever. I wish I could say the same thing about The Punisher.There is no conceivable reason to drag The Punisher out to 13 episodes, especially when there's so little going on here. The end result is a season loaded with filler – there are multiple episodes here that are little more than bottle episodes, where the characters sit in one room and kill time, waiting to get back to the action. It's painful and it's unnecessary.Part of the problem – and this is a problem most Netflix shows have – is that The Punisher isn't telling an episodic narrative. Rather, it's one long story stretched across 13 hours. That's taxing – no one honestly wants to sit through a 13 hour movie, yet that's what The Punisher is aiming for. Had the series been broken into more episodic moments, the 13-episode length might not seem so crushing. But as it is, the series drags on, spinning its wheels and rehashing material that's already been well established.There's a tight, concise narrative nestled in here somewhere, but it's lost beneath the filler. Most frustrating of all, the series is doubling as an origin story, even though we've already had the Punisher's origin story in Daredevil season 2. But since Frank hangs up his kevlar at the start of this season, the remaining episodes are devoted to him slowly working his way back up to being the Punisher again. It's maddening: we've already covered this. We don't need to do it again!In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that The Punisher could've worked even better with 5 episodes. We didn't even need 8 to tell this story. A 5-episode run would be concise, and exciting, and get across all the pertinent information. Best of all, it would leave us wanting more. The Punisher as it is here, feels entirely like a one-and-done season. There can't possibly be more of this story left to tell at this point.Overall, this seems to confirm what Daredevil season 2 suggested: The Punisher works much better as a supporting character instead of a lead. If Daredevil wants to bring Bernthal's character back into the fold, we'll all be a lot better off. For now, though, we have The Punisher, which will likely leave the viewer with one specific question: "Why bother?"The Punisher arrives on Netflix on November 17, 2017.