The Punisher franchise has been filled with more disappointment than praise. Since 1989, there have been three films with two being reboots. They are the result of the filmmakers approach to the project, which is that they cherry-pick from the multiple layers of Frank Castle. The Punisher is not made to be told in 90 minutes. It can’t be done, and that’s why we have three Punisher films that have failed, fell flat or missed the point entirely.
Netflix, has found the solution in the five Marvel series they have produced to this point. Instead of 90 minutes, we get 13 hours of getting to know these characters. You get to connect with them and root for them and not just their actions.
From El Paso with Love
Season one begins where season two of Daredevil left off: The Punisher waging his war upon those who murdered his wife and children. Castle wraps that shit up within the first five minutes. I must of proclaimed “DAMN” at least 5 times. There is a kill scene that I am going to call “From El Paso with Love” which had me fist pumping. Frank Castle’s relentlessness is on full display as he eliminates his remaining targets. What can I say? I’ve been a fan 25 years
So, what does a vigilante do when there is no one to kill? No vendetta? No mission? He does what many warriors do when they come home: they get a job and attempt to move forward in their life. Unfortunately, you can’t easily shake demons like those found in the mind of Frank Castle. He has endured too much trauma to just simply be. It won’t take much to set him off again; it’s just a matter of time.
Frank Castle; Meet Micro
Castle is pulled back into the shit by a hacker in hiding named David Lieberman, aka “Micro”. It turns out, the mission The Punisher thought he accomplished was only just the beginning. Lieberman informs Castle that they have mutual enemies who need to be put down. Lieberman believes The Punisher is the answer for him to be reunited with his wife and children. They believe David to be dead as he watches over them from afar.
Frank Castle now has a new mission, a new hit-list and a strong ally in Micro.
In 13 episodes, I enjoyed watching these two opposites build a solid friendship- a friendship which begins with Micro being interrogated while strapped naked to a chair. This is the start of a strong bond of brotherhood between this unlikely duo. The kind of bond acquired in a war zone.
Frank also forms a solid connection with David’s wife and children. When Frank is around this family in grief, you see some pain being lifted off the Liebermans as well as Frank. The Liebermans bring out a gentler side of The Punisher. I found myself forgetting this is the same man who has slaughtered platoons of criminals with extreme prejudice and rage.
A Revision of a Classic Villain
Ben Barnes plays Billy Russo, head of ANVIL, a private military contractor. If you believe that name sounds familiar, you would be correct. Billy Russo is the name of The Punisher’s longtime nemesis “Jigsaw”. Instead of being a hit-man for the mob, Russo is Frank’s best friend who he served with in the Marine Corps.
With that in mind, fans of the comic book know the fate of Billy Russo. It a fuels your imagination of how this transformation plays its part in the creation of The Punisher. We know what he does to scumbag criminals but what will Frank Castle do to a man he described as the only family he has left?
Season one features a score written by Tyler Bates, who has also written music for 300, Sucker Punch, Dawn of the Dead, John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy. He is also the lead guitarist for Marilyn Manson, who contributes to the series as well with the track “Fated, Faithful, Fatal”.
Formally known as “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”, the lyrics would have you believe it was written especially for Frank Castle’s journey through hell.
“Don’t know if I can open up, I been opened too much. Double-crossed glossed over in my pathos. Are we fated, faithful, or fatal? I’m feeling stoned and alone like a heretic and I’m ready to meet my maker” ~Mephistopheles of Los Angeles by Marilyn Manson
Underneath the surface of this season is a look at the effects of war on the soldiers who fight in them. This layer of the story shows us different perspectives of what today’s veterans are trying to cope with since returning home. Frank Castle’s service to his country alone didn’t create The Punisher. He wasn’t just created when his wife and children were murdered. His origin story is a series of nightmares and tragedies while being repeatedly kicked while he is down.
Favorite Moment from Season One
The Punisher is prepping for a tactical team, aimed at eliminating him. As he preps for battle in this boiler room and rigging it with exploding light bulbs and hidden weapons, I can’t help but think of Nancy preparing to fight Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
As the tactical team enters, their faces show that they are oblivious to the monster they are about to face; a monster who watches from the shadows. With the iconic logo on his chest, The Punisher stalks these mercenaries like he was the killer in his own slasher film. Quiet, cerebral and violently he dispatches his would-be attackers. The scene hits its climax with something out of Jason Voorhees‘ playbook. It’s a fitting scene to show you why the criminals of New York will come to fear him.
Throughout the season, I noticed there were themes from the previous three films. The things the film makers did well. These subtle similarities feel like a tribute to the failed incarnations of The Punisher film history. Keep those films in mind as you binge watch this series.
I believe the show’s creative team did not want to abandon the redeeming qualities of the previous films. Good or bad they are just as much a part of the franchise as the comics.
It seems fitting as a nod to those who came before. Marines never leave behind fallen brothers; even if they are dead, they will bring them home. It felt as if the writers and directors were going back to rescue Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevens from cinematic limbo.
The only gripes I have with the series is the changing of well-established details from the comics I grew up reading. Once again, Jon Bernthal delivers the goods. His performance shows how much he prepared for this role and fans appreciate that. He brought Frank Castle back to life.
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