Finally, Marvel has made something good. For as long as they have existed, Marvel films and TV series are typically plagued with boring moralist protagonists, cartoonishly absurd antagonists and cliche writing. But Netflix’s “The Punisher,” released Nov. 17, suffers from none of these ailments.
The show’s protagonist is Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), a former Marine Force Recon operator. After his family is gunned down in an explosive gang shoot-out, he dedicates himself to hunting down the criminals responsible. Unlike most comic protagonists, who incapacitate and imprison the criminals they come across, Frank uses his battle-hardened skill set and murders them. This brutal practice makes Frank a morally complex character and puts him at odds with law enforcement. Frank finds himself battling a corrupt CIA military unit he used to work for as a Marine.
The show repeatedly questions the morality of Frank’s practice, killing criminals without due process instead of incapacitating them. He fights and kills disgusting and vile men, and their actions are unforgivable. But who is Frank to serve as judge, jury and executioner? This internal conflict makes Frank stand out from many other Marvel protagonists because, unlike them, he is a flawed man. He is relatable.
Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Curtis Hoyle (Jason Moore) hold their own with Frank. Dinah is a homeland security agent who’s eager to catch the corrupt CIA and military officials. Throughout the show, she fights against an obtuse justice system, while at the same time, struggles to determine Frank’s role.
Curtis is a former navy corpsman who served with Frank overseas and now runs a group counseling center for struggling veterans. Curtis is the show’s all-around good person, someone whose mission is to help others regardless of the risk to himself.
It was a brilliant choice to make the antagonists be corrupt CIA and military operatives. It gives the show a closer connection to the real world, as there are many examples of times when the agency, while acting in America’s best interest, has done some truly awful and disgusting things.
However, the show refrains from making sweeping harsh judgments on all aspects of the U.S. military and intelligence apparatuses, something Hollywood loves to do. Instead, the show remains objective, keeping within the goal of entertaining and thrilling its audience.
The show truly succeeds in its sobering portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder and the horrifying struggles of veterans desperate to put the war behind them. This is depicted in the show’s tragic storyline of Lewis (Daniel Webber), a young man whose life slowly falls apart.
While this was a great first season, good enough to somewhat redeem Marvel, it should come with a disclaimer. It is extremely violent, making shows like “Game of Thrones” look like a Disney film in comparison. If you are someone who has problems with graphic portrayals of murder and torture, do not watch this. As a fan of “the Punisher” comics, which are notoriously graphic, even I was caught off guard a few times as to how far this show went.