Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) looks at a bulletproof vest in The Punisher Season 1

Retrospective

Netflix's The Punisher is still Marvel at its darkest and most dangerous

In 2017, Jon Bernthal explored the darkest regions of the superhero genre.

There’s recently been a lot of talk among Marvel fans about Netflix’s long-canceled superhero shows. Not only have some of their characters, like Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock, begun to reappear in the MCU, but all of Netflix’s Marvel titles were recently added to Disney+. A renewed interest in revisiting Marvel’s Netflix TV era is understandable — and welcome.

While it may not be quite as well-remembered as Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it’s impossible to discuss Netflix’s Marvel shows without mentioning The Punisher. The two-season series premiered in 2017, when the craze surrounding Netflix’s Marvel originals was already dying down. Five years later, however, it’s hard not to look back and be surprised by the experience The Punisher provides, especially given the lighter approach Marvel Studios has adopted for its Disney+ originals.

To put it simply, The Punisher is the bloodiest, most ceaselessly violent live-action superhero TV show that’s ever been made. That’s what makes it simultaneously special and exhausting.

It may seem easy to shrug off the violence of a show about a character as infamously ruthless as Frank Castle. But even by the standards set by Marvel’s other Netflix shows, The Punisher is a violent and grotesque TV series. Throughout its 26 episodes, characters are repeatedly bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers, drowned in concrete, shot in the head, and subjected to intense physical torture.

Watching it again, it’s impossible not to wonder just how many gallons of fake blood were used. Sometimes, the show’s over-the-top tone can make it frustrating to watch. That’s especially true in Season 2, which doubles down so forcefully on the show’s fight sequences that it delivers technically impressive but utterly soulless scenes.

There are moments, however, when the violence in The Punisher allows it to go to darker and more visceral places than any other live-action superhero TV show has. When it does, The Punisher makes its violence feel emotionally charged and earned. But these standout moments don’t necessarily center the show’s violence as much as they focus on Jon Bernthal’s charismatic, go-for-broke lead performance as Frank Castle.

Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle in The Punisher Season 2.Marvel Studios/Netflix

One cannot talk about The Punisher without mentioning Jon Bernthal.

After making his debut as the character in Daredevil Season 2, Bernthal grabbed the chance to lead his own superhero show by the throat and refused to let go. His performance as Castle is one of the most committed and deeply felt that the genre has ever seen. Consequently, it was when The Punisher actually managed to marry its on-screen violence with the intensity of Bernthal’s performance that it could fully engross viewers in the broken, perpetually tormented mind of Marvel’s most divisive anti-hero.

It shouldn’t seem like much of a stretch to call The Punisher the most emotionally and psychologically harrowing superhero show ever made. What else, after all, could a comics-accurate series about Frank Castle be? And love it or hate it, it’s memorable in a way that Marvel’s current Disney+ offerings have all struggled to be.

Seasons 1 and 2 of The Punisher are streaming now on Disney+.