‘Marvel’s The Punisher’ Review Roundup: Spin-Off Holds Its Own Among Marvel Netflix Shows
Marvel‘s The Punisher is the latest show from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be released on Netflix. After successes in Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, failures in Iron Fist and The Defenders, and mediocrity in Daredevil, Marvel has created another success in The Punisher. The show stars Jon Bernthal as comic book character Frank Castle, aka the Punisher. He is a dysfunctional antihero, as well as an army veteran trying to deal with what he saw at war. Castle, Dinah (Amber Rose Revah), Curtis (Jason R. Moore), and Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) make a stand-up team for the latest superhero/antihero show.
Despite good plot lines, the show may have come at an inopportune time, as it is about a man who loves guns in a country where gun violence is a hot button issue.
THE PUNISHER REVIEW ROUNDUP
“The Punisher transcends what it appears to be. Not completely, and not always; this is still a very violent show, saturated in tortured masculinity. But thanks to Jon Berthal’s seamless performance as the non-superpowered vigilante Frank Castle and showrunner Steve Lightfoot’s sharp, conscious storytelling, The Punisher approaches the high points of Marvel’s Jessica Jones by introducing a damaged, deadly character and telling his story as one piece of an unjust whole… Of course, the slightly cartoony Marvel Cinematic Universe is still a world where people named Carson Wolf show up and act as if they are not obviously villains. But The Punisher’s place in it is a welcome morass of thorny questions and unresolvable answers. At least in this part of the television landscape, there is room for another antihero.”
–Sonia Saraiya, Variety
Like all good noir stories, The Punisher can be very dense at times, but in a surprising twist for a Marvel show it does all come together in a way that makes sense. It keeps a handle on its various plot threads, paying all of them off — this is nothing like The Defenders, a show full of threads that don’t go anywhere, or Daredevil, which creates threads all over and never attempts to reconcile them. The Punisher actually holds itself together as a thematically cohesive unit… It’s the cast who really bring it home. Bernthal specifically is at his absolute best here — a lesser performance could have derailed this attempt at a sort of new-look Punisher. Those surrounding him hit just the right notes… The Punisher, somehow, is legitimately good.”
–Phil Owen, The Wrap
“Frank Castle’s classic image — a white guy with lots of guns who typically fires many of them into other people — has given his series an uncertain appeal in, shall we say, our current environment of current events. Star Jon Bernthal has talked about the show’s uncomfortable relatability in interviews… And The Punisher is certainly about a lone gunman — but in its first six episodes it’s much more about America’s intelligence ecosystem in the era of the War on Terror, and the lives of soldiers once they return to our shores. What I remember most from those episodes isn’t the blowout fights or the car chases, it’s the spycraft and intrigue of trained intelligence professionals who can’t afford to trust anyone figuring out how to work together toward common goals, and the clever positioning of Frank Castle and a government agent as opposing figures investigating the same corruption… Yes, The Punisher is our second story about Frank Castle taking revenge on the people who destroyed his family, but it obeys the canonical law of the sequel: If you’re going to have the same plot, at least make it bigger and more complicated. To that end, the show fills out Frank’s supporting cast with some real character gems.”
–Susana Polo, Polygon
“It’s the show’s relationship with guns that’s sure to cause the most unease for anybody who has sat in sadness in front of a news broadcast in recent years. Watching Frank Castle storming around in all black wearing the trademark Punisher skull while reports were breaking about a shooter in black killing 26 people in Texas was unsettling. Listening to pundits bemoan the lack of movement on sensible gun control while watching a show in which the opening credits are two minutes of loving close-ups of rifles forming into the Punisher skull made me flinch every time. I’m sure all involved would want to point out that The Punisher goes to great lengths to show the damage guns can do, but at the same time it’s a show that treats every expelled cartridge, every smoking gun barrel and every sniper sight as nearly sexual. Take it as you will that this is a show that makes strong Second Amendment arguments and that treats its one liberal politician as a spineless and oblivious stooge when he isn’t speaking in hollow platitudes about unenforceable policy. Having a show this turned-on about its firearms use in this particular moment is going to make The Punisher very popular in some circles and infuriating in others. Take that as knowledge, not as a pro or con. For me, it was a distraction, not a detraction per se; it wasn’t the thing that kept me from getting completely involved in The Punisher. The Punisher has moments of excitement, moments of bracing violence and a well-cast star at the center. It’s also tedious for long stretches, and when it comes to plot details, astoundingly forgettable. The gun stuff is just an unpleasant capper.”
–Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter