How Punishing Is The Punisher?
Comparatively, it's not as punishingly bad as the last few movie adaptions, but before I go into my short review of Netflix's Punisher, I'm compelled to mention that a major part of my yearning to see this series through was the fact that there's never been a very great on-screen version of the infamous hero. In 1989 we had the Dolph Lundgren version that was loosely based on the characters portrayal of a gun-toting man on a mission for revenge, but there are a few aspects about it that were less accurate to the source material. The main gripe being the painted skull isn't featured at all in the film on top of the Punisher working for the mob as a hitman, which is quite out of character for him. This version is gritty yet Lundgren's Frank Castle gives off more of a pained performance from his troubled past, rather than an unhinged one. Despite this, if you can just forget you're watching the Punisher, it passes as a great 80's action flick with plenty of over the top sequences involving ninjas, shootouts and nutty car stunts to behold.
Fast forward to 2004 when we got the Thomas Jane Punisher, which I had high hopes for after the on-screen super hero success of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man in 2002. This version seemed much more promising and at the time it didn't seem completely terrible aside from the glaring issue of clashing tones. On one hand there's Frank Castle's origin of his family slain by the mob which ignites his mission for revenge, but sparsed throughout are these goofy comic relief characters and dorky interactions with them and Castle that really had no place in this type of story at all. Even Thomas Jane's portrayal is more akin to an agent from a mission impossible movie rather than a man who deals death in droves to those against him. On top of all this, the film hasn't aged well, I mean, look at this trailer...ooof, sorry in advance.
Punisher: War Zone from 2008 gave us a more accurate portrayal of Frank Castle's stern and unapologetic demeanor which fans were more familiar with, not to mention over the top violence, which was no doubt inspired by Garth Ennis' Punisher Max series that went from 2004-2009. However, it was only just a cut above its predecessor in that aspect and the comic book vibe with hammy villains and unrealistic action sequences just didn't work for this on-screen adaption and instead, it came off as a low-budget comic book film reminiscent to those from years prior.
This brings us to the current Punisher, acted by Jon Bernthal, who's been popping up a lot lately and largely typecast as a depraved angry man, which actually works well for this character. We sort of got an origin for this version of Frank Castle out of Daredevil season 2 but he wasn't in it all that much, leaving fans clamoring for more, which thankfully they got after Iron Fist and the Defenders were met with such lukewarm reception. This version of the Punisher is more grounded than it's predecessors, bringing the weight of soldiers with PTSD to the forefront, which plays as one of the central themes bringing many of the supporting characters stories together with Castle's.
The story takes place after the events of Daredevil Season 2, which saw Frank Castle disappear from the radar, presumed dead by authorities. Frank is laying low working construction, after having exacted his revenge on those who murdered his family, though he's still tortured by the memories of his loss. Things take a turn when he saves a co-worker from some trouble with a mob and Frank gets his hands dirty once again, triggering a chain of events that leads him back to the life of the Punisher. Bernthal gives a great nuanced performance and nails the character's unhinged presence once again, building on what we'd seen of his version of the character before. The show does a good job at not overstating his welcome as his story is part of a larger puzzle that involves other key players which are central to the plot. One of which being Micro, an at first seemingly up to no good character, who is shrouded in mystery and who I even disliked upon being first introduced. Surprisingly, his arc ends up as a strong point in the series, giving a great amount of depth to his motives and helping the audience connect with him as a much more likable character.
Another frequently seen cast member includes agent Midani, who is trying to find those responsible for the death of her previous partner. This is where the pacing seems to slow down in a few hum ho conference room scenes and we don't see the Punisher doing enough Punishing, but once it gets to the second half of the series, things pick up quite a bit. Another drawback was the archetypical villain, Agent Orange, who we don't find much about other than he's just not the best person and is trying to cover some things up. He didn't get a ton of screen time though, so fortunately his presence doesn't detract from the rest of the narrative the show is built on. Oh yeah, Karen Page, the secretary turned investigator turned journalist from Daredevil is in here too (and not just as a guest spot) just in case you needed some connection to the other shows. I've always felt like her character conveniently can just do any job that takes a particular skill or merit in order for her to bring something to the table but she's fine in this and doesn't change jobs on a whim to fit the plot. Having not watched an entire season of anything for the past few months aside from Stranger Things, I'd say this version of the Punisher is mostly worth your time for, if anything, to finally see a more fitting adaption of a character who was starting to seem un-filmable after a string of disappointing movies. And just in case you were wondering, no, he doesn't ever use a mini-gun in this one, sorry.