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TV Brew: The Punisher – Vengeance and Relevance Combined

(WARNING: This review may contain some minor spoilers for the show.)

Netflix’s corner of the MCU is back! After the disappointing experience that was Iron Fist and the mild upswing that was Defenders, the Punisher was a breath of fresh air.

OK, maybe the air was filled the scent of gun smoke, blood, and gasoline, but it was well worth every minute I binged.

I want to be clear that Netflix’s The Punisher is nowhere the non-stop violence and gore you see in movies like Punisher: War Zone. In fact, you probably only get one good fight scene every couple of episodes. I’d wager there are more action sequences in Daredevil than this series.

Those scenes, however, are gritty, visceral, and everything you’d expect from one of the most violent antiheroes in the Marvel universe. The scenes ranged from Bourne-film style fights to chaotic battlefields and drove home the feel and confusion of combat.

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To be honest, this spacing of action interspersed with drama, intrigue, and introspection is a good thing. The Punisher continues Netflix’s trend in reflecting social issues through comic adaptations.

Daredevil focused on the problems of the working class and poor in the face of unethical (and criminal) developers. Jessica Jones explored psychological and sexual abuse and the effects on the victims.

Luke Cage unabashedly presented the problems faced by African-Americans. Iron Fist showed white privilege and appropriation, although that probably wasn’t on purpose.

The Punisher moves beyond pure revenge and vigilantism to discuss modern issues. The unethical (and illegal) actions during US-involved wars, the plight of American veterans, nationalism and homegrown terrorists, and the gun debate.

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There is no right or wrong, black-and-white, solution, either – everything is a gray area, complicated and muddled.

Government agents sign off on questionable actions for the greater good. An anti-gun senator presents valid points about firearms but then is confronted by equally sound arguments from a favorite protagonist who carries a gun because of genuine dangers she faces.

You feel sympathy for the treatment of soldiers coming back permanently changed and facing obstacles; much of that reminded me of movies like First Blood, Flags of our Fathers, and The Hurt Locker. You’re also angered by those who exploit and exaggerate their service, espousing radical ideologies, and see how these ideas can drive the mentally ill to extremism and terrorism.

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As for the acting? Unlike some of the other series, there is not an actor I didn’t think put on a fantastic performance.

Bernthal deserves accolades for making the Punisher a non-stop killing machine, but also a human being who believably ended up where he was. You experience the conflict, anguish, guilt, and anger that roils in his damaged psyche.

Seeing Castle continually skirting a “normal” life is a fascinating look at what vets and those with PTSD deal with daily. Besides, I appreciate that Frank can and does stop and talk with those he’s built trust.

Moss-Bachrach’s version of Micro, a Snowden-esque ex-analyst who needs Frank to do what he can’t, adds a level to the character we’ve missed on screen and in print. From the initial conflict with Castle to the addition of anguish over being separated from his wife and kids, Micro’s character adds a new perspective to the vengeance schtick.

Barnes puts on an excellent performance as Billy Russo, interpreted here as Frank’s previous comrade-in-arms from overseas. Given all the characters, agendas, etc. thrown at you, you really can’t tell which side of things he’ll fall on until about halfway through the series.

I also have high praise for Revah as Agent Dinah Madani, a character created solely for the television show. She’s strong, intelligent, no-nonsense, and has no problem doing whatever is necessary (even crossing higher-ups) to reach her goal. Add in her character’s Middle Eastern heritage, and she’s a walking commentary on sexism, racism, and anti-Muslim behavior.

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The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Woll’s return as Karen Page is welcome and she’s becoming as central to the Netflix series as Dawson’s Claire Temple. Moore’s Curtis Hoyle draws such support, his fate in a couple of episodes has us on edge. Even Schulze’s performance as Agent Orange makes us hate him in all the right ways.

If there were any critique for the show, it’s that it stands entirely apart from the MCU; if it weren’t for the Punisher name and a couple of characters from Daredevil, you wouldn’t even know this was part of the same universe.

At one point, Madani references how the US bounces back from incidents, but her reference point is Sept. 11th, 2001. Given all the other major MCU events that have occurred on American soil, you’d think they’d warrant some mention over 9/11.

You’ve had giant monsters trash Harlem, an entire town in New Mexico leveled utterly, and an alien invasion in downtown Manhattan (referenced in the other Netflix series).

Given the government-focused nature of Punisher, you’d also think there’d be some Easter Egg about terrorist attacks that culminated in the kidnapping of the President (and arrest of the VP) or the fall of a major US agency amidst a corruption scandal (and its return).

Still, this is a minor nerd gripe at worst, and the series does well for the topics it’s discussing.

The Punisher has returned my faith in Netflix’s Marvel programming. Between the excellent acting, interesting story, relevant material, and great action sequences, I solidly believe this series is almost on the level of Daredevil (Season 1) and Jessica Jones… if not equal to them.

I give Punisher 5 vicious knife fights out of 5.

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About Brook H. (92 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... what hasn't Brook studied. Knowledge is power, which is probably why he ended up with degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology, not to mention majoring in everything from computers to business while working in theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance his children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate (he's HoH himself), lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

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