‘THE PUNISHER’ SEASON 1 (2017) – TV Review – “One Batch, Two Batch, Penny and Dime”
Marvel is back once again this year with yet another entry to their expanding Netflix ‘Defenders’ universe, this time giving Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle his own series where he can unleash all the bullets and spill all the blood he desires. And after getting through this 13 episode season I have to say this is an incredible entry in the Marvel TV universe beaten only by Jessica Jones S1 and Daredevil S2. If anyone deserved their own series it was The Punisher who was a major standout of Daredevil S2 and if you thought he was brutal there….. you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is the bloodiest and most ruthless Marvel series to date honouring the level of destructive content found in the Punisher comics to a tee. But where you get a tonne of bloody action there is also a massive focus on character development and emotion, more than I thought there’d be, and I love every second of it. The performances across the board are fantastic and the characters are very well written making them come across as strikingly authentic. The action is thrilling and the variety of the set-pieces means no single scene is repetitive in the slightest.
The Punisher is the most isolated of the Marvel series’ which is a very refreshing approach and works wonders for this incredible story. For the first time we aren’t dealing with any superpowers or super-senses, and there is no supernatural element in play at all which cements this as a very grounded story and by far the most human Marvel TV entry. Frank Castle’s story is one of pain and conflict and the death of his family plays a pivotal role in his character’s development and in driving the plot forward. As I mentioned, this is an emotion filled series where so much time is spent focusing on getting to know all these characters that you naturally grow attached to them so when shit goes down late in the season you have an emotional investment in their lives. This heavy focus on character, and emotion, and pain is due to the fact that for the first half of the season there isn’t really a clear-cut individual villain taking up much screen-time. So where there is a good amount of physical conflict still present, much of the conflict is very emotional as you have characters on various sides of the law clashing ideals making for a tonne of intense, heavy, and engaging sequences. So when a singular villain does come into play later on everyone has been established and explored to the point where you are invested in all of their stories.
The writing in this show is truly impeccable, there are so many moving parts throughout this entire season that it’s impressive how they all remain very balanced and engaging and important to the core story. Whether you are following Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber), Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), or David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) you are wholly invested in their stories, their characters and you see and understand their points of view on everything going on which helps flesh them all out. But despite all of these supporting characters being great and having intriguing journeys they all embark on they still don’t take away from Frank Castle’s own journey at all, rather they all enhance his story in their own way. The relationships that he has with everyone mentioned above amongst others shape his future actions and give incredible insight into his mindset. Castle really is a well crafted and well developed character who is a lot more than just a guy with a gun and a need to kill. There is real depth to him and Jon Bernthal illustrates every emotion from sadness to pure rage with such ease it really is a phenomenal performance, and I can’t see anyone else matching this role ever.
And now we get to what everyone watching this series has been waiting for….. the action, and it is glorious. There are a number of incredibly diverse and unique action sequences spread across the entire season that build in intensity with each passing episode. Every action sequence feels very fresh and new and 100% unique as each one has a different setting, is filmed differently, and they all have their own specific tones. The only constant with each of the action sequences is the brutality, it’s always present but it isn’t always the focus of the scene. One sequence for instance where Castle is wreaking absolute havoc at close range, the focus isn’t on the violence, the camera is locked on Castle the entire time and where you don’t see the bullets piercing heads it’s still invigorating watching how what he is doing is affecting him on a personal level. Some action set pieces I was holding my breath in suspense and others I was admiring the act of Castle delivering some much deserved justice. These scenes are all shot with a very claustrophobic feel to them and they’re just beautiful to watch.
I won’t go into anything else here to avoid a number of spoilers but my only negative isn’t really a negative it’s just how one specific side plot although entirely engaging for the character it revolves around is still a lot of setup for only like two major moments involving Frank. But otherwise I though this was a home run for Marvel and a return to absolute greatness following this year’s somewhat disappointing Iron Fist and The Defenders. The action is all there, the writing is phenomenal, performances are great across the board, characters and the various interactions are endlessly entertaining, the emotion is heartbreaking and heartwarming at times, and overall it’s a well rounded, well executed 13 episode event. I cannot wait to see more of Frank Castle whether that be first in a Season 2 or appearing once again in Daredevil whenever it is I will be there.