When a show is named after a specific person one can almost immediately assume that that person is going to spend a lot of time on the screen. Don’t expect this from “Punisher”, the latest ‘superhero’ offering from Marvel and Netflix. Punisher’s Marvel roots are only alluded to though, in a vague superhero-like structure of the Punisher’s relationships with a rich boy who can finance him and a computer nerd who can point him in the direction of bad guys. This show will not give you a hero in a cape or fluorescent leggings, but rather looks at other definitions of the word. Enter Frank Castle/ Punisher, an American veteran whose actions in Afghanistan haunt him and the show itself.
Unlike it’s predecessor’s, the Punisher nor Castle does not seem to value thought or words but immediately instigates violence against his enemies. His clear lines between good and bad are problematic when he so clearly is a grey area himself. The violence, that so often halts rather than informs the plot, is concerning in conjunction with America’s history of gun violence. It is clear upon viewing the Pilot Episode, why the Punisher’s release was continually pushed back, for at its core, Punisher is a glorification of violence. Perhaps this violence is meant to make the audience question the teachings of our armed forces but truthfully, it elongates episode time, and often holds no real relation to the show or any of its multiple plots and sub-plots.
This violence too is inexplicable due to holding no real meaning. Where the show introduces the Punisher, he has already sought revenge for the death of his family and has burned his Punisher uniform. The heavy onslaught of violence that inflicts the first three episodes then, makes for stilted and monotonous viewing. These three episodes are meant to serve as introductory but likely will vex fans of the comic books with its elongated who’s who of Castle’s life. Even to someone who’s first meeting the Punisher, these episodes are irrelevant and feel dumbed down; this is a real kick from Marvel who usually respects the intelligence of its audience.
There’s also some serious concerns with how women are represented here. The first living female character doesn’t make an entry into the show until half way through the Pilot, a move which felt stale and vaguely misogynistic. Whilst the character introduced, Agent Dinah Madani, often seeks to break these stereotypes and bring balance to a heavily male populated show, even Madani will play Damsel in distress to Frank Castle’s “hero”. This makes for some uncomfortable viewing and can make the audience feel they are watching a show dated from the 90’s or older, rather than something from 2017.
For its faults, the saving grace of this show is its intelligent structure, which serves multiple plots and sub-plots. The Punisher himself, will likely only show up when it’s time for an action filled car chase or for someone to be ‘removed’. This leaves the rest of the time to be filled with some genuinely interesting and timely questions about the armed forces and society’s treatment of returning soldiers.
Overall, this latest offering from Marvel and Netflix should be viewed outside of the ‘superhero’ and Marvel lens and instead should be viewed for its deeply humanising look at serving in the armed forces. Whilst the first handful of episodes are mediocre at best, the show gains momentum as it continues, questioning what makes a “hero” in a world like our own.
Review by Brittany Treadwell.