Arts & Culture

Review: ‘The Punisher’ grounds a larger-than-life antihero

Carson Hughes, A&E Editor

Jon Bernthal reprises his role as Frank Castle (AKA the titular Punisher) in a series that may signal a return to form for Marvel’s Netflix shows. The series follows the life of Frank Castle, a former Marine whose family was killed in front of his eyes. The incident drives Castle to take on the identity of the Punisher, a merciless vigilante who guns down criminals. In the course of the series, the Punisher teams up with David Lieberman (AKA Micro) played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, a former NSA analyst who also lost his family to the same people. The Punisher and Micro reluctantly team up in an effort to get revenge and learn the truth behind why their lives were destroyed.

From the summary, “The Punisher” may come across as a hackneyed, cliche action plot, but showrunner Steve Lightfoot adds some real depth to a story that could easily fall to common tropes. One of the most significant elements that the show reinforces is that the Punisher is not a man who viewers want to be or should idolize. Instead of being a guns-blazing, hero fantasy, the Punisher is simply a man trying to live his life but can’t escape being consumed by anger, trauma from the murder of his family, his service in Iraq and being forgotten by the country he served.

The show is much more grounded and slow-paced than most action shows, but this ultimately works in the favor of “The Punisher.” The slow pace and focus on human drama allow the full cast to feel fleshed out, and they make you care about what happens to them. These elements also allow the show to do a lot of introspection on issues such as gun control and the reintegration of veterans into civilian life, two topics that inevitably become tied to a character like the Punisher.

Another great strength in “The Punisher” is the casting. Bernthal proved once again that he is the perfect choice to play Frank Castle. Bernthal expertly portrays the brutish and obsessive nature of the Punisher while also being able to portray the softer family man that lies beneath the character’s cold shell. Another great performance is Moss-Bachrach as Micro. Moss-Bachrach acts as a perfect foil to the Punisher and has a lot of chemistry with Bernthal. Together, the duo brings a high-intensity odd-couple relationship to life that is really interesting to watch.

For all its strengths, “The Punisher” also contains plenty of flaws. One of the series’ greatest weaknesses is its focus on a Homeland Security investigation into the Punisher. Agents Dinah Madini (Amber Rose Revah) and Michael Nathanson (Sam Stein) simply don’t have that much to do in comparison to other characters. As a result, they aren’t that interesting to watch, and episodes consistently drag when focus is placed on these characters. The show is also lacking in subtlety. When “The Punisher” has a point to make, particularly a political one, it isn’t afraid to beat audiences over the head with it until it’s sure we understand.

Despite these flaws, “The Punisher” is worth watching. For Marvel fans, it’s a well-deserved break after the disappointing first seasons of “Iron Fist” and “The Defenders.” Action fans who may ordinarily be turned off by the superhero genre should have no fear, as “The Punisher” is far more grounded in its subject and portrayal than other superhero properties.

This article first appeared in the Friday, December 1, 2017, Edition of The Echo.