SPOILER REVIEW: If you can power through the on-screen violence, 'The Punisher' is a must-watch
I hate seeing reviews before watching something. I don't like other opinions clouding my judgement. Despite my best efforts I stumbled upon the Rotten Tomatoes score for "The Punisher" on its release day.
Sitting at 67 percent (now 61 percent) on Rotten Tomatoes, I went in with a skeptical outlook. I started looking for reasons why critics viewed the show with such distain. When the final credits rolled I was still wondering.
"The Punisher" was great. I enjoyed every minute of it.
I can excuse the cliché backstory for a couple reasons. First, it's based on the comics and can't be changed much without disrupting the entire history of the character. And second, superior performances make up for any lack-of-originality.
The line between unstoppable badass and relatable protagonist is a thin one. It's an obstacle that all super hero movies struggle with to various degrees. It's up to the super villain to humanize the hero and add stakes to any given storyline.
That's made even more difficult when the "hero" is somewhat of a villain, himself.
But there are ways to remedy this. "The Punisher" follows a specific code that makes him easy to understand. It's the same reason we root for Michael Corleone in "The Godfather." He's a criminal, sure, but he's an honorable criminal.
As we saw in the second season of "Daredevil," Jon Bernthal (Frank Castle) can play both sides of the fence. I thought he was brilliant, but that was to be expected.
Bernthal is great at playing intimidating roles. We've seen flashes of this as Shane Walsh (The Walking Dead) and Grady Travis (Fury). But he's also capable of evoking sympathy from an audience, thus hitting that perfect balance. Add in a "troubled past" and you've got one heck of a lead.
David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) served as the perfect complement to Castle. His humor added some levity to the show while his personal stakes kept him from being a caricature.
I was invested in his storyline as much as Frank's, and that's rare for a side-character. His wife Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman) and daughter Leo (Ripley Sobo) shined in their limited roles. The son didn't move the needle but that's because he was always storming out of rooms. Not the actor's fault.
Amber Rose Revah was fantastic as Dinah Madani, a complicated character who was both working against Castle and fighting alongside him. Between her and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), "Punisher" continued the trend of a strong female presence in Marvel's Netflix series.
Now let's talk bad guys. The success of the genre depends on them, and "Punisher" has awesome villains.
The devolution of Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) was my favorite part of the show; watching him transition from a pseudo-hero to a twisted villain.
At first, he was "dating" Madani, defending Castle and running a thriving business. By season's end, he's shooting it out with Madani and Castle on a merry-go-round and getting his face scraped off.
This arch didn't feel forced. The choices made sense every step of the way, which should do wonders in setting up season 2. We now understand exactly how Jigsaw came to be, making him a much more compelling villain in the future. That's some solid long-term planning.
The entire series is a diversion from the "super power" element in most comic books. The villains are as street-level as the heroes, dealing with real problems rather than fantastical ones; a nice change of pace for Marvel.
Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber) was a scene stealer throughout the season. Watching him spiral into terrorism echoed some real-world dangers of PTSD. It wasn't overly political, which was a concern of mine. It was executed very subtly.
(Take note, "American Horror Story.")
I've beaten the point to death, but I really enjoyed The Punisher. It won't to everyone - I mean shit, there were scenes in the last two episodes that even I had trouble watching. But if you can power through some on-screen violence, this one should absolutely be in your queue.
Bravo Marvel. Can't wait for the next one.