**This post contains some mild spoilers**
Marvel’s The Punisher is not screwing around. The pilot episode of this series opens up directly into the mind’s eye of Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) and it ain’t pretty. If you watched season 2 of Daredevil, then you already know a little bit about Frank Castle’s backstory. He’s a complicated man, an outlier, and someone who needs no one but his thoughts and memories of a past that was once filled with moments of his wife and kids. Those days have long since gone by as Frank is working in construction under the alias Pete Castiglione. He’s decided to take on a new identity and start all over. However, this proves to be difficult as his thoughts meander its way back to the past and pushes up to the surface which is filled with outrage and pain. Frank takes out his frustration on cinder blocks at his new job and finds himself incessantly waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night thinking about his slaughtered family. Obviously, without giving too much away in this review, we learn how Frank channels his anger and the pilot episode proves to us that Frank is not to be played with and he’s man that you best believe will exact his revenge if you cross him.
There’s an interesting b-story that develops in episode two where we get some backstory on Frank’s history in the military while serving in Afghanistan. Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) who works for the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the homicide Ahmad Zubair (Shez Sardar). He’s a member of the Afghan National Police who discovered some corruption among U.S. soldiers. Meanwhile, Midani’s boss Carson Wolf (played by actor C Thomas Howell) tells her to stay off the case. This piques Dinah’s interest even more as she begins to sniff around to investigate further what happened in Zubair’s case.
There’s also Curt Hoyle played by Jason R. Moore; who manages a support group of veterans going through post-traumatic stress. There’s more than meets the eye with Curt and he knows more about Frank than most and becomes a key asset for him. Then there is the quirky computer hacker known as Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) that has Frank under surveillance. Micro and Frank are playing a cat and mouse game to see who knows who in this tale of military espionage and coverups.
Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) shows up as well as a helper to Frank to gather intel on Micro and to use her journalistic skills to find out as much as she can about him. Karen manages to uncover an unpublished story about a computer programmer who goes by the name David Lieberman.
In Marvel’s The Punisher, we get to see some pretty real and super intense fight scenes between Frank and various adversaries. The story continues to build and the beat stays consistent in episode two. However, in future episodes with respect to pacing—that’s not always the case.
We learn a great deal about Micro’s backstory in future episodes and why and how he went underground in episode three. I also have to say episode three is super violent when we flashback to Frank’s stint during the war and one-by-one he takes down enemies in Afghanistan. Micro and Frank both have an agenda to exact revenge on the military authorities who betrayed their trust and ultimately are responsible for ruining their lives.
Seeing Frank and Micro interact and go toe-to-toe in each of their scenes were certainly fun to watch and these two have amazing chemistry. They also make for an interesting team, even if Frank himself doesn’t see it that way. We see a familiar face in episode four when Turk visits and his appearance is a reminder that The Punisher series is a part of the Marvel universe. This series sets itself apart from the other Marvel properties in which it is less superhero and more a tale of revenge.
There are some episodes that have a consistent pace and keeps you engaged from one scene to the next, and other episodes that slow down and you find yourself less attentive to the plot. You have to remind yourself, that this is not going to be a Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Daredevil kind of series. Its pacing is better than Iron Fist and The Defenders as well as its writing, but it does become a slow burn as the plot focuses heavily on exposition and character development. However, don’t let that turn you off because when the story pivots to flashbacks in the war or Frank Castle taking military spies the blood, guts and gore are super intense. I must admit, there were several moments throughout where I had to look away because it got too real. You could definitely tell the production crew got a little overzealous with their use of squibs on the set. I can’t imagine how much cleaning was required day after day of all that corn syrup.
Frank Castle’s story also deviates from the comics. In the comics, Frank is driven by the deaths of his wife and two children, as the result of them being killed by the mob for witnessing a killing in New York City’s Central Park. In the Netflix series, they went into a different direction which focuses on military espionage and government corruption.
Marvel’s The Punisher may be one of those shows that people will either enjoy it, dislike it or just won’t really care about it. I mention the latter because it doesn’t follow the same superhero formula as previous shows that have conditioned us in a way—I believe—to think that is the way a superhero story looks. Frank Castle isn’t your typical superhero, he’s a vigilante and an antihero. The performances in this series are solid. Jon Bernthal— who I knew the moment he was announced to play Frank Castle—nailed this character perfectly. My favorite Punisher used to be Thomas Jane, but now it’s Jon Bernthal and let me tell you why.
Jon Bernthal does something pretty significant with Frank; his facial expressions appear to be distant, cold and detached and yet through his eyes, we see Frank as a kind, warm and gentle soul. Actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Bernthal also share some strong on-screen chemistry and their scenes together are some of those most compelling and entertaining to watch.
Marvel’s The Punisher is definitely a show to watch with caution and I will say that this show is not for everybody. I expect to see some polarizing responses from critics and fans about this series. The variables of violence, slow-pacing, antiheroism and vigilante justice may not sit well with everyone. I for one personally think it ranks high on the Marvel Netflix superhero TV show roster and is far better than what we saw in both Iron Fist and The Defenders.
Marvel’s The Punisher premieres on Netflix on November 17th.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.