*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 *****