TV Review: The Punisher (Season 1)

*This review may contain minor spoilers*

Season one of The Punisher is easily the least superhero-like Marvel Netflix show. It’s the most grounded, and that’s what makes it so much more compelling.

Aside from Frank Castle’s ability to take a beating and just keep coming, there’s no superhuman abilities on this show. The villains are all soldiers and former soldiers. There’s no mention of The Avengers, or the Battle of New York or even any of the heroes from the other Netflix shows. The Punisher has always been a bit of an outcast amongst the superhero community in the comics, and it works just as well here.

The plot is nothing groundbreaking, but it is well constructed. It builds on what we learned about Castle on “Daredevil” and expands it into a coherent story. The pace can be a bit slow at time, and some of the subplots either seem to be spinning their wheels or just going nowhere. Considering none of the characters are from the comic books, all the Homeland Security sequences rarely seem like they’re important to the main story. And the terrorist plotline seems a little out of place at first, and once it builds up to something strong, it ends and really had no effect on the big picture.

I complained about “The Inhumans” and the fact that we had a superhero show where nobody seemed to use their powers. The Punisher’s “power” is mowing down his enemies with big guns, and even though there’s surprisingly little of that, the drama is strong enough to compensate. Castle, along with Micro, use their brains to get the advantage over their foes. When the time is right, The Punisher does get to finally don the skull and unload on anybody standing in his way.

There is some strong acting throughout. Once again, Jon Bernthal brings so much depth to Castle. He transitions from rage to charming while never losing the despair or vulnerability just below the surface. Evan Moss-Bachrach brings much needed humor and heart as the desperate family man, Micro. His friendship that flourishes with Castle is the glue that holds the show together. Amber Rose Revah also has a strong performance, only to be somewhat wasted with her character’s seemingly unimportant role in the overall plot. Ben Barnes doesn’t shine as much as the other leads, but he is at his best when his conflicted nature bubbles to the surface.

Another of the show’s strengths is the real world issues it tackles. While the gun control debate is brief and fairly clichéd, the PTSD that plagues many of the veterans in the show is handled well and deals with the variety of ways it affects these men once they return home.

Like “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones,” “The Punisher” tackles real-life problems. While it’s an exaggerated reality, it’s much more grounded than any other superhero show. There’s a bit of a lack of action, but the characters are what drive the show. But when the big guns do come out, it’s about as brutal as you would expect.

Season’s best episode: “Danger Close” (Episode 11): Some powerful emotional reunions and Frank finally becoming The Punisher once again for a brutal action sequence.
Season’s worst episode: “Cold Steel” (Episode 8): An odd love triangle leads to some of Frank and Micro’s best moments being overshadowed by a strangely homoerotic night of drinking.

***1/2 out of *****

Movie Review: Justice League

An entertaining film that has all the pieces to become something great, but only manages to be better than average. “Justice League” builds on the best parts of the more recent DC films. Primarily, that means Ben Affleck’s Batman and anything they can cram in from “Wonder Woman.” While this works well for the most part, it makes it more difficult for the new characters to find their groove. Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman are fairly well known characters, but we know very little about these versions and the movie does its best to fill in some of the blanks. Because of this, the joining of these heroes feels less grand than The Avengers coming together, but more momentous than the Guardians of the Galaxy teaming up for the first time. The story is about what you would expect, and tears through a fair amount of cliché’s. For the most part, the action was fine, but lacked many memorable sequences. The villain, Steppenwolf is imposing, but the fully CGI characters looks a bit off at times. The breakout character is The Flash, who adds quite a bit of comedy and quirkiness. Even though he appears in very little of the films advertising, it was never a secret that Superman would return. He’s not in the movie all that much, but all his scenes have the biggest impact and provide the best emotional moments. There’s a mid-credit and a post-credit scene. Both are worth checking out.

*** out of *****

Marvel’s Inhumans (Season 1)

*This review may contain minor spoilers*

This show was almost a complete mess from start to finish. Anything with superheroes/comic book themes will always get the benefit of the doubt from me, but with the high quality of material out there now, this series just did not cut it.

Everything seemed low budget and amateurish. Most of the costumes were underwhelming. The sets looked cheap and the designs were uninspired. Attilan is supposed to be an exotic locale, but the exterior just looks like an unassuming warehouse district on Earth. Even the main title sequence looks unprofessional and silly. There’s not a huge amount of special effects, but for the most part it looks pretty solid for a television show. In particular, the all CGI Lockjaw looks great, even though he becomes more of a plot device than a character.

What makes or breaks a show is the characters. If you’re invested in them, you can ignore a lot of the subpar aspects of the show. Unfortunately, most of the characters just don’t work. There’s so little insight into their personalities and backstories that you just don’t care much about them. Black Bolt is bland. His face never conveys much emotion, and since the character can’t speak, this is a problem. A big mistake is having to watch him use his sign language and then waiting for another character to react or translate. They may have been better served with using subtitles to let the audience see what he was saying. Medusa loses her god-awful wig and mediocre CGI hair early on, but it leaves her powerless for the remainder of the season. Her story arc ends up missing the mark thanks to a poor set up and a weak follow through. Gorgon was one of the better characters, but they downplayed the comic relief aspect of his character that may have lightened things up for the show. Also, I know the show had a budget, but it seemed silly that a man with horse hooves would own a pair of boots built for people with normal feet. Crystal seemed to have little to do after the early episodes, and despite her power set, she never really makes any impact. The human character, Louise, felt shoehorned in and felt like a watered down version of Felicity from “Arrow.” Maximus was just too poorly written to be the villain he needed to be. His motivations seemed muddied and inconsistent. Even though Iwan Rheon infused some much needed emotion into the character, is just wasn’t enough to make up for the weak writing. The show’s only really good character was Karnak. Like Medusa, he loses his powers early on. A superhero losing their powers can be an interesting character arc, but only after better establishing that character and what their abilities mean to them. However, Karnak attempting to function without his abilities generally works, but the story associated with it does not.

This takes me to the show’s other major flaw. The story just never works. On paper, a royal family getting overthrown is a solid idea, but it is so poorly executed. Basically, they all just end up meandering around Earth until it’s time to set up for the anticlimactic finale. All the subplots are essentially about the main characters meeting various humans and realizing that they’re not all bad. Again, this isn’t the worse idea, but it’s haphazardly done. There’s random subplots like the pot farmers Karnak meets or the love triangle Crystal ends up in. With more time, these could be expanded into something interesting, but there were only eight episodes in this season, and there isn’t time to waste on anything that takes away from the main plot. There are a few action sequences to keep things interesting, but they’re poorly staged and surprisingly short.

Mediocre acting, terrible production design, and superheroes that don’t do anything, give us a show that just limps along to a climax that is just as uneventful as the seven episodes that preceded it.

Season’s best episode: “Behold…The Inhumans” (Episode 1): As bad as everything looked, there was still potential as this point and all the pieces were in place for a unique superhero story.
Season’s worst episode: “Divide and Conquer” (Episode 3): This is where the show began to lose me. The action sequences were weak. The lame subplots were being introduced, and it was going to be at the expense of the main plot, which already ran out of steam.

* out of *****