FLOP NO MORE

The Pu­n­isher failed at the box of­fice, but Net­flix fi­nally gets it right

Edmonton Sun - - SHOWBIZ - DAVID BETANCOURT Net­flix’s The Pu­n­isher is avail­able this Fri­day.

Few Marvel char­ac­ters have ex­isted in the same live-ac­tion de­vel­op­men­tal pur­ga­tory that the Pu­n­isher has.

The char­ac­ter has not one but three movies that never man­aged to sat­isfy a ded­i­cated fan base.

Dolph Lund­gren gave it a go as Frank Cas­tle in 1989 in a movie you per­haps for­got ex­isted. Thomas Jane had the charisma but none of the grit and was placed in an in­ex­pli­ca­bly sunny Tampa Bay set­ting in 2004’s The Pu­n­isher.

Pu­n­isher War Zone star­ring Ray Steven­son flopped at the box of­fice in 2008, with no fran­chise po­ten­tial.

The one thing all those films had in com­mon — be­sides be­ing bad — were that they were Pu­n­isher flicks in name only. There were lots of guns and the iconic white skull logo over the chest, but that was it. There was no soul. What makes Net­flix’s The

Pu­n­isher se­ries stand out is that lead ac­tor Jon Bern­thal doesn’t need to wear a white skull or even have a gun in his hand for you to know that he is the Pu­n­isher.

Though he de­buted the char­ac­ter in Sea­son 2 of Dare­devil, Bern­thal’s per­for­mance in Sea­son 1 of his own se­ries ce­ments his sta­tus as one of Marvel’s great cast­ing gets, on par with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man/tony Stark, Chris Evans’ Cap­tain Amer­ica/ Steve Rogers and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.

Af­ter tak­ing down what he be­lieves to be the fi­nal evil el­e­ment of the con­spir­acy that took away his fam­ily in cold mur­der, Bern­thal’s Frank Cas­tle burns his Pu­n­isher duds — white skull and all — and as­sumes that part of him is fi­nally over. But even when bearded, in hid­ing, and do­ing ev­ery­thing he can to keep the rage within dur­ing the first episodes of Sea­son 1, Cas­tle is un­de­ni­ably a man who has come to be de­fined by pun­ish­ment and vig­i­lante jus­tice.

Other Marvel/net­flix shows might suf­fer from not giv­ing enough of their su­per­heroes the req­ui­site per­sona: Dare­devil with­out the red horns might feel like

Law and Order with street fight­ing star­ring Char­lie Cox. The de­ci­sion not to give Danny Rand (Finn Jones) his clas­sic yel­lowand-green suit was one of the many set­backs for Iron

Fist in its de­but sea­son. But you fig­ure out very quickly that watch­ing Frank Cas­tle’s blackand-white skull suit burn in the fire means that it’s go­ing to be a while be­fore you see it again. But it doesn’t mat­ter: The Pu­n­isher is there in all 13 episodes be­cause Bern­thal feels per­fect in the role af­ter so many past mis­cast­ings. (That doesn’t mean the skull’s re­turn isn’t special. It’s a vi­o­lent bap­tism by firearms be­fit­ting of Marvel’s most vi­o­lent char­ac­ter.)

Make no mis­take: This is Net­flix’s most vi­o­lent Marvel show by a lot. There’s enough blood, ex­e­cu­tion, fire­power and sex to say this is R-rated ma­te­rial, which is the way the char­ac­ter should be pre­sented.

While the vi­o­lence — from the PTSD night­mares Frank Cas­tle has from his days in the mil­i­tary, to his heav­ily armed war on cor­rup­tion — is to be ex­pected to those fa­mil­iar with the comic­sin­spired source ma­te­rial, it might not even be the best part of the show. In­stead, that may go to the very slow build­ing to­ward a brotherly bond be­tween Frank Cas­tle and his tech­no­log­i­cally savvy side­kick, Mi­cro (played by Ebon Moss-bachrach).

The Pu­n­isher and Mi­cro (called “Mi­crochip” in the comics) are a fan-favourite duo for comics read­ers. They are not a good fit at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son — Frank re­fuses to trust Mi­cro at first — but watch­ing them work to­ward the vig­i­lante pair you know they’re des­tined to be­come gives The Pu­n­isher its few mo­ments of light and fun.

Ben Barnes is suave, if pre­dictable, as Billy Russo, a ma­jor Pu­n­isher vil­lain in the comics. He se­duces Am­ber Rose Re­vah’s Di­nah Madani, a fed­eral agent who doesn’t re­al­ize how con­nected Russo is to the scar­ring mo­ments that turned Frank Cas­tle into the Pu­n­isher. Deb­o­rah Ann Woll of

Dare­devil re­turns as Karen Page, there to re­mind you that

The Pu­n­isher is con­nected to the rest of Net­flix’s Marvel uni­verse, even though the show is so good that it doesn’t need to lean on that. She pro­vides the role of car­ing friend and pos­si­ble ro­man­tic in­ter­est — if Frank can ever al­low him­self to love again. This ver­sion of The

Pu­n­isher puts all pre­vi­ous at­tempts out of their mis­ery. It’s a de­fin­i­tive adap­ta­tion that dou­bles as Net­flix’s best Marvel show to date.

Fi­nally, the Pu­n­isher gets a lit­tle live-ac­tion jus­tice.

Jon Bern­thal’s per­for­mance in Sea­son 1 of his own se­ries ce­ments his sta­tus as one of Marvel’s great cast­ing gets, on par with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man/tony Stark and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.

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