Most fans liked Jon Bernthal’s take on the Marvel antihero The Punisher when he made his debut in Daredevil Season 2 on Netflix, but now that people have seen the vengeful Frank Castle in his own solo series, the reviews are streaming in.
The Punisher picks up some time after the character’s debut in Daredevil Season 2 with Frank trying to lay low while figuring out just what his vigilante identity should be. When a hacker going by Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) connects with him, Frank realizes that the conspiracy leading to the death of his wife and child might have been deeper than he ever realized. So, in addition to being a punishingly violent revenge story, The Punisher also becomes something akin to a global conspiracy thriller that also introduces a handful of supporting characters from federal agencies.
As the series starts, Frank’s been on a six-month hiatus from all the killing, but as he gets dragged into a government conspiracy, he re-emerges as a killing machine to get to the truth.
In David Griffin’s review of the first episode for IGN, he notes how a brutal opening sequence is juxtaposed against Frank trying to eke out a peaceful existence for the rest of the episode while being haunted by his violent demons. Like everybody else, he praises the subtlety of Bernthal’s acting: “He is constantly having to play Castle as a man teetering on the edged of killing everyone around him.”
Writing for Forbes, Merrill Barr straight-up called The Punisher “The Best MCU Series Ever Made. Really.” in the headline, which is a bold claim that a lot of people might agree with.
Barr compares the show to the first Guardians of Galaxy because it exists mostly outside the previous mythology it connects to. That, apparently, is its greatest strength: “*The Punisher is the best Marvel series to date set within the fictional MCU. Why? Because it does its own thing.”
Barr also notes, “The Punisher is also the most violent, unhinged series ever produced by the house Feige.” Despite their differences, the other street-level Marvel heroes all present relatively straightforward adventures. Frank Castle is a bit more unhinged and definitely more violent. His whole thing is killing anybody he deems a lowlife.
For ComicBook.com, Kofi Outlaw agrees with the show’s pedigree, saying that The Punisher “ranks up there with the best of the Marvel Netflix brand.” There’s much to praise in the show, perhaps most of all Bernthal himself: “Jon Bernthal carries the show with his gruff, rabid-dog version of Frank Castle, adding layers of vulnerability and empathy to the violent Marvel vigilante that few actors could pull off.”
Despite the show being what Sonia Saraiya, writing for Variety, calls “another overwhelmingly gray and brutally violent show centered on a dysfunctional antihero,” The Punisher “transcends what it appears to be.”
Netflix’s Marvel shows each tells the story of a hero marginalized in some way. Here, we’re presented with a military veteran. “The show is wary of guns,” Saraiya continues, “wary of blind patriotism, wary of unquestioned service; it sides only and always with veterans.”
Saraiya praises Bernthal’s brooding performance, and she notes that the supporting cast also exceeds expectations. She calls it a deeply psychological story: “One of the strangely compelling things about The Punisher is how deeply messed up it is — as if it is observing, in the transition from comic-book page to live-action, how twisted some of these character dynamics are.”
All in all, The Punisher offers up something that feels new and unique set against the pantheon of Marvel’s Netflix heroes, one that’s getting almost universal praise. If you can stand the violence and limited gore, than it might be your new favorite.
Marvel’s The Punisher will be available to stream on Netflix November 17, 2017.