Tonight marks the debut of the latest Marvel joint to make the jump to Netflix, The Punisher, starring Jon Bernthal as a vengeance-filled dude that loves him some punishin'! To be fair, I never enjoyed the Punisher comics, because it always played into that macho narrative about it taking yet another white dude to fix a broken system... and of course, violence is the only way. But maybe you enjoy such things! And after the Punisher's lackluster appearance in season two of Daredevil, I'm pretty surprised Netflix would think anyone is clamoring for a spinoff.. but again, maybe you enjoy such things! Season one of The Punisher debuts tonight at midnight on Netflix, and let's check in with the nation's critics to see what they thought!
Bernthal's Punisher is a perfect character for a four- to six-hour miniseries and then maybe to occasionally weave into other parts of Netflix's Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, whether the fault lies with Marvel or Netflix, this is a partnership that violates all of Netflix's "Tell your story the way it needs to be told" rules for other shows. With the exception of The Defenders, which was always announced as a miniseries, each and every one of the Marvel/Netflix shows has been 13 episodes and they've all had comparable lags in pacing and stumbles in storytelling to reach that number. But Marvel's The Punisher is the first one that feels at least twice the length it should be.
The action picks up as the season progresses, but “The Punisher” never quite gets in touch with the visceral roots of its material, something that all of the other Netflix-Marvel series do, no matter how much they distance themselves from their comic-book sources.
Bernthal’s Punisher was the best thing in season two of Daredevil, a sad and scary question mark. Putting him at the center of his own series almost immediately feels like a mistake. Frank is, to put it mildly, not a varied or exciting personality. During the first half of this series, he mostly has two modes, macho loneliness and methodical sadism. He doesn’t show new emotional colorations until fairly deep into the season, after hours of watching him putter and brood and insist that he isn’t going to get involved.
Perhaps the series’ biggest problem is that it doesn’t use its relentless violence, or its story of a moody vigilante, to make any larger point. Creator Steve Lightfoot also worked on the uber-violent Hannibal, which applied a more deft hand to graphic visuals. The Punisher feints at asking bigger questions — about whether you can trust authority, how soldiers handle re-entry into the civilian population, how people deal with trauma — but never really answers them, and ultimately returns to a more conventional narrative of a haunted man violently righting wrongs.
Less than two weeks ago, a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 dead and another 20 wounded. Five people were killed by a gunman in Northern California earlier this week, and the US has averaged about one mass shooting incident per day in 2017. All of which is to say, if it wasn't appropriate to promote Netflix's latest Marvel adaptation at a comic book convention because it was in the wake of a horrific incident of gun violence, is it right to release the show itself after another one? Moreover, if there are always mass shootings in America, will there ever be a suitable time to release The Punisher?
Still interested? No? Welp, here's the trailer anyway: