Empire (Australasia) - - Review -

SHOWRUN­NER Steve Light­foot

CAST Jon Bern­thal, Am­ber Rose Re­vah, Ebon Moss-bachrach, Ben Barnes, Jaime Ray New­man, Ja­son R. Moore

PLOT Frank Cas­tle (Bern­thal) thinks he’s done be­ing The Punisher. But six months later, he’s drawn back into a life of gun-tot­ing vig­i­lan­tism by a self-ghosted hacker and a Home­land Se­cu­rity agent, both de­ter­mined to ex­pose a CIA con­spir­acy in which Frank was pos­si­bly in­volved.

IT’S HARDLY SUR­PRIS­ING Marvel and Net­flix chose to pull The Punisher from their NY Comic-con sched­ule in the light of the Las Ve­gas Strip mass shoot­ing on 1 Oc­to­ber. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery episode fea­tures such fla­grant gun vi­o­lence, it wouldn’t be out of place in a John Wick movie.

De­spite shar­ing the same world as Dare­devil, Jes­sica Jones and Luke Cage, Frank Cas­tle (Bern­thal) is no su­per­hero. He’s not even a hero. He’s a dam­aged, dan­ger­ous, lone-wolf psy­chopath whose iron-rigid sense of jus­tice makes him judge, jury, tor­turer and ex­e­cu­tioner all tightly packed into one. We see him take sniper shots at dis­tant crim­i­nals, spray goon-packed rooms with flesh-slic­ing ma­chine-gun fire and grimly put bul­lets into the brains of beg­ging, blood-gar­gling ca­su­al­ties. Given re­cent events, and con­sid­er­ing the ter­ri­fy­ing ease with which the United States’ cit­i­zens can shoot each other to death, you have to ques­tion if The Punisher is re­ally the anti-hero the coun­try needs right now.

It feels like the ques­tion arose in showrun­ner Steve Light­foot’s writ­ers’ room, but by episode 13, it’s just as ob­vi­ous they won’t (or can’t) pro­vide any solid an­swers. Dare­devil’s Karen Page (Deb­o­rah Ann Woll) pops up to op­pose gun con­trol, lamely de­bat­ing the is­sue with an anti-firearms se­na­tor, who she calls out as a hyp­ocrite be­fore she’s dumped into a damsel-re­quir­ing-res­cue sit­u­a­tion that it’s sug­gested could have been avoided if she’d only had her pis­tol in her hand­bag.

At the same time, the show sym­pa­thet­i­cally con­sid­ers Amer­ica’s treat­ment of its war vet­er­ans: men trained to kill for their coun­try, but then sent to other coun­tries to in­stead kill for ob­scure po­lit­i­cal agen­das, be­fore be­ing brought home and left to stew in their own, trauma- in­duced juices. Frank Cas­tle is the prod­uct of such sys­temic mis­treat­ment, as is an­other char­ac­ter who takes a sub­plot-an­tag­o­nist po­si­tion as a Ti­mothy Mcveigh Un­abomber­type. The line be­tween him and Frank is in­ten­tion­ally blurred. But is this pro­vid­ing a rea­son for their dif­fer­ently chan­nelled mur­der­ous vi­o­lence, or an ex­cuse?

It is a prob­lem­atic show; Frank’s meth­ods are hardly con­doned, but morally he gets a pass. How­ever, if you set aside its per­plex­ingly muddy pol­i­tics, there is a lot to en­joy. The ac­tion choreography is ex­cel­lent, par­tic­u­larly in episode 10, which blends el­e­ments of Leon and Rashomon. And Bern­thal is Marvel/net­flix’s strong­est lead ac­tor, as en­gag­ing dur­ing Frank’s ten­der mo­ments as he is in rag­ing, one-man army mode.

Fans of the char­ac­ter will re­joice that The Punisher presents his strong­est on-screen story yet (in­clud­ing Bern­thal’s de­but as Cas­tle in Dare­devil Sea­son 2), but again it’s a Marvel/net­flix show that, at 13 episodes, is stretched too thin. And oth­ers may won­der if, in these fraught and sen­si­tive times, it’s a char­ac­ter that should have been brought back to the screen at all. DAN JOLIN

VER­DICT An un­flinch­ingly vi­cious vig­i­lante/ con­spir­acy thriller, with a sear­ing per­for­mance from Jon Bern­thal.

Jon Bern­thal’s vig­i­lante metes out pun­ish­ing lev­els of vi­o­lence.

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