The Punisher: Season One Review

Season two of Netflix’s Daredevil brought everyone’s favorite gun toting vigilante to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this particular depiction of The Punisher was so well executed that he completely overshadowed the Elektra storyline. Once Frank Castle was presumed dead and left the plot I became a lot less interested. Thus when it was announced that Netflix was going to give The Punisher his own web television series I was thrilled at the news and eagerly awaited its arrival. Sadly my expectations may have been a tad too high.

The season opens with Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) hunting down and killing the last members of the criminals groups believed to be responsible for the death of his family, oh if only things could be so easy for dear ole Frank, turns out that the Castle family were actually victims of a conspiracy consisting of C.I.A. and Homeland Security members who used Federal resources to orchestrate the Castle family’s death because they wrongly believed that Frank had leaked information damaging to their torture assassination squad. Remember when The Punisher was this badass vigilante who killed criminals because the justice system failed to keep them locked up? Well that guy is gone and is now replaced by Black-Ops murderer who only comes after the main villains because they thought he’d ratted them out and then made the mistake of killing his family.

I miss the days of straight forward obsessed vigilantes.

Did we really need to have more people directly responsible for the death of Frank Castle’s family? What’s wrong with The Punisher going after random bad guys? There is certainly enough gangland activities across America to keep Castle busy for several season.  All this does is allow the writers toss in some more character angst as Castle blames himself for their deaths, and being he was one of those doing the murdering and torture the karmic blowback can’t be all that unexpected. Now the first episode did involve Frank saving some dude from being murdered by his fellow crooks when the robbery of a high stakes poker game went wrong, resulting in Castle brutally murdering at least a dozen people, but this kind of thing is abandoned for the season’s main arc of Castle finding the people responsible for ruining his life.

Look in the mirror Frank.

Joining him from the comic books is Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who here is an ex-NSA analyst on the run from the same guys that Castle is after. Turns out he was the one who leaked damaging Intel about the death squad to Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) who is now working for Homeland Security and is obsessed with the hunting down of this squad for their involvement in the death of her partner Ahmed Zubair (Shez Sardar) of the Afghan National Police. Micro teams up with Castle to hunt down the mysterious Agent Orange who ran the death squad, which was financed by smuggling heroin hidden inside the bodies of dead Americans, all the while Madani and her new partner Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson), whose life expectancy you could track with an egg timer, get caught in the crossfire between Castle and the bad guys.

You will wait about ten episodes to see him back in this costume.

I’m not saying the plotting of this show is overly convoluted but at times it becomes so forced and contrived that it has to routinely bend over backwards, with characters doing the dumbest things, just to propel the plot forward. And one of the strangest decisions the show made was in turning the comic book character of Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) from the gangster who would eventually become the villain Jigsaw into an ex-military friend of Frank Castle, and he’s so obviously a bad guy that one simply groans when Madani ends up in bed with him. But as bad as his character is the cartoonishly evil and clichéd Agent Orange, who is revealed to be a high ranking C.I.A. agent named Rawlins (Paul Schulze), is a clear victim of lazy writing.

If he had a moustache he’d twirl it.

But what about the action? The first episode does have some nice Punisher action but if you are to take into account all thirteen episodes the percentage of action versus people just yapping about conspiracy and stuff I’d say the series as a whole is only about 10% action. And an important note to comic book fans Frank Castle retires his iconic skull emblazoned costume in the first episode and doesn’t put it back on until episode eleven, so don’t be expecting a lot of “Punisher” action as to be honest the series feels more like a Lee Child’s Jack Reacher story than it does anything else. Seriously, I’ve read about every Jack Reacher novel and many of them consist of Reacher trying to uncover some government or military conspiracy, where he will then get the aid of a female from some form of law enforcement, and that is literally what this season of The Punisher is about.

“Do you think The Punisher will eventually show up?”

Though this review may seem fairly negative I must state that it’s certainly better than Iron Fist and I’d say it’s on par with The Defenders, and if this had been called anything other than The Punisher, like say something along the lines of Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, I’d be a lot more forgiving. Netflix introduced an excellent version of Frank Castle in the second season of Daredevil and then for some reason they took the character in a completely different direction. It’s a shame because Jon Bernthal leads a very talented cast here and when we do get action it’s pretty balls-to-the-wall great, but stretched out over thirteen hour long episodes it seems overly drawn out for the story it’s trying to tell. It’s clear that the Netflix model for their original shows is to make overlong movies that are “broken” up into chapters designed for binge watching, unfortunately it doesn’t work here as not only is the overarching storyline completely unoriginal, with clichéd moments flying in from all directions, but The Punisher character would probably work better in an episodic format.

Stray Thoughts:

• The season repeatedly cuts away from Frank Castle and friends to follow an ex-solider with PTSD who turns into a crazed Unabomber killer. If this vastly uninteresting subplot had been jettisoned they could have shaved off a couple of episodes easy.
• Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) shows up to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe connected and she is a welcome addition.
• The authorities in this series are so vastly incompetent that they make the Keystone Cops look good by comparison.
Netflix had the chance to make a strong character out of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani but instead she’s about as effective as a tissue in a hurricane.
• The second last episode is almost entirely “The Talking Killer” cliché.
• The last episode is basically an hour long epilogue and aside from the “surprise” villain reveal it was completely unnecessary.

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