Marvel’s The Punisher Review: War Is Hell And So Is This Show
At thirteen episodes long, Netflix’s The Punisher is pure punishment.
They say that war is long stretches of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. By either coincidence or by design, that also accurately describes Marvel’s The Punisher series as well. Netflix already fudged the delivery date on this follow up to the character first introduced in Daredevil Season 2. Leaks stated the show was possibly coming October 13th, but with the Las Vegas shooting, the streaming service got spooked, canceled their panel at NYCC and went underground about the show.
Until, that is, about the time Stranger Things 2 was dominating the entertainment landscape. A quick trailer and an even quicker announcement the show would arrive a month after fans originally anticipated (and lead actor Jon Berthanal admitted it was supposed to arrive), on the 17th of November. Then it was, oh let’s all go back to talking about Stranger Things, shall we? No acknowledgment they were dropping the 13 episode series on the same day that Justice League will be out, and taking up 99% of the entertainment world’s oxygen, no major fanfare. Just a drop and run.
Perhaps Netflix was hoping to make it to that date unscathed by more gun violence, but this is America. We’ve already had a nice 20 person casualty church shooting since then. So much for thoughts and prayers. Into this Netflix has now dropped what could have been the most controversial show that Marvel has attempted in any format to date: one where our anti-hero is a gun nut who loves to shoot people, preferably by surprise, in large numbers, when they’re having a good time.
If this were indeed that show, we might at least have something to talk about, a show worth breaking through the endless DC-vs-Marvel nonsense that will be all anyone can talk about this coming weekend. But sadly, this show isn’t that either. It’s worse. It’s boring.
I watched six episodes of the 13 so far, and honestly, if it wasn’t my job to watch the other seven, I wouldn’t. Peak TV is a cruel mistress and there are too many shows and not enough time, and this show shouldn’t rank as taking up any of it. Even if you’re the most pro-NRA gun worshipping whatever you want to call yourself, who are looking for someone to put your white cis male persona on screen. You deserve something at least interesting.
The worst part: There are interesting things this show could say about our state of endless war that’s been in place since 2001. And the show definitely would like the say them. Castle’s real meltdown in Afghanistan, for instance, didn’t come doing the straightforward things marines do. It came from being caught up in a Black Ops program, the kind that was caught torturing prisoners on-camera back in the mid-aughts, with videos that horrified people around the world with what America had allowed itself to become in the face of the same terrorism many other countries weather daily.
For many of these scenes though actor Jon Bernthal does his best to hold things together by being obsessively watchable, giving a command performance. But the problem is, for long stretches, he’s holding up dreck. Nothing about this is pleasant. Nothing about this is fun. The Punisher’s sidekick Micro (Girls‘ Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is as close as we get, and he’s as much the butt of jokes for being a computer nerd with no “manly” experience as he is the purveyor of them. The jokes are few and painfully far between anyway, and when the best of them is “Always Buy American,” that’s probably not enough. Little of what anyone, good or bad, is given to do is worth watching.
Instead, we have an opening episode full of characters who are all dead by the end of it — except Castle, who is off to start Punishing again after trying to pretend to be dead for a while. We then meet the bad guys. They’re either defined by being a shortsighted woman, Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) who doesn’t see what a hero Frank Castle actually is–because he’s not, who has to be told common sense by her mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo, who must be here for the paycheck.) We assume she’s pulling a Misty from Luke Cage by the end of the season and will come around to see Frank as the guy who can do things those in authority can’t. When our bad guys aren’t this cringe-worthy, they’re worse, defined by their ability to insult and sexually harass an underling in record time. (Another rather unfortunate moment, considering the terrain of the cultural landscape this last six weeks.)
But of course, this is Netflix Marvel show, and if there’s one thing that’s constant, it’s that the first Big Bads are never actually the true evil, they’re just prepping the stage for the “twist” that comes around episode 7 when the real “Big Bad” emerges. In this case, things start to pick up as they head into that twist in Episodes 5 and 6… if you even make it that far.
Even Marvel’s Iron Fist was more watchable than this — mostly because of Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing — even if it had far less to say and far less reason for existing. Our only tie back character to the other series is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) from Daredevil, because this is the sort of show that requires a blonde lady to need rescuing. Even our trusty nurse, Claire Temple, who turned up for everyone else’s show, seems to have decided she’d rather not deal with Frank Castle. I don’t blame her.
The Punisher arrives on Friday, November 17th, 2017 on Netflix.