Due to various aspects in my personal life your Netflix Pick has been a bit scarce lately. In fear of the Wiz Kid’s queues being empty (as if that’s possible) I plan to make up for some lost time. Stay tuned and I’ll fill your weekend with plenty of viewing recommendations. Let’s start with The Punisher.
This time the Netflix Pick is the next in the Marvel/Netflix series. The anticipated Punisher series is here and is, hands down, the best of the series since Daredevil. A dangerous time for a show where the protagonist is a gun toting white guy killing in New York City. The Punisher manages to find its place without becoming preachy or insensitive.
Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) is a Marine veteran who lost his family. It’s well established that Castle is a force of furious vengeance. He doles out punishment to the scum of New York City without mercy. Trying to put his bloody path behind him Castle takes on a new identity. Of course, his past doesn’t stay in the past for long.
Leads on the murder of his family come to light through Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Micro becomes a very welcome and much needed addition to the Punisher story. Micro serves plot points, tone, and parallels. He also enables the writer’s some moments of levity the tense and brutal show uses expertly. Micro and Punisher hunt down those responsible for the death of Castle’s family. In doing so they uncover an ever deepening chasm of corruption and deceit.
Going into the Punisher it’s easy to assume the show will be a bloody shoot em up and not much more. I’m not even saying that as a bad thing. It doesn’t disappoint on the ultra-violence. Yet, it delivers so much more. The Punisher, at its heart, is a drama about loss.
The series doesn’t focus solely on Frank Castle. It looks at a whole group of ex-military and how civilian life is different for each. The therapy sessions put on by Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) serve many purposes. They serve as a grounding point, a plot point, story offshoots, parallels for Frank. They also provide the writer’s a way to deliver exposition without it ever sounding the least bit clunky. The realism explains characters actions in a sympathetic light without making them martyrs.
I’ve used the word parallels a few times by now. If you regularly read my reviews and write ups you’ve seen this a lot. Parallels have been a part of storytelling since the Greek tragedies; probably before. The Punisher character is front and center with many stories running adjacent. The side stories give Castle battles to face. The battles aren’t always physical. They are always Castle battling parts of himself.
A great example is ex-Marine, Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber). Walcott interprets the media’s portrayal of Castle as an inspiration. Walcott becomes a Unabomber type terrorist. A glimpse at what Castle could be without his own, arguably corrupt, moral code.
With side stories surrounding Castle and his pursuit for revenge the show evolves into something deep. It delves so much deeper than any of the Marvel series. It only crosses the line into overwhelming territory for a couple brief moments. The main focus is never lost and the offshoots never feel pointless. Everything has its place and the depth of the series is a refreshing surprise.
The gritty violence fans have been expecting doesn’t disappoint. Castle takes his hits and hits back a thousand times harder. Some minor suspension of disbelief gets you past how a human can take so much and keep coming. That’s part of the fun of the character. The Punisher walks through mayhem in as a ravenous wild animal mixed with an instrument of war. Not as stylized as John Wick. Cleaner in execution that many big budget action movies. The violence is easy to follow and never feels out of place. The bad guys get what’s coming to them and no viewer has a problem with that.
Bits of the main story feel typical when it comes to the corruption in different government agencies. What’s nice in this iteration is that the story isn’t in black and white. The writers used many shades of gray to fill in the good and the bad within all people so that ‘government bad’ isn’t the message of the story.
Even if you’re a comic fan who doesn’t like this level of anti-hero The Punisher tells a compelling story. He’s not a murderer. He’s a man who dedicated his life to service who’s reward is a murdered family and a bullet to the head. The story deals with PTSD, loss, and how to move forward.
If you feel these elements aren’t done in a way that the audience can directly relate to there’s enough emotion in the characters and realism in the storytelling that it works.