The First Reviews of Marvel's THE PUNISHER Series Are In and They Are Mixed
The reviews of Marvel's The Punisher have flooded the internet today! Like many of you, I'm a huge fan of The Punisher and I've been excitedly waiting to watch this new series on Netflix. The series doesn't seem to be getting the glowing response that I was hoping for. The reviews are mixed. Some critics enjoyed it, while others found issues with it. But one thing seems consistent, and that is the praise for Jon Bernthal's incredible performance as Frank Castle.
You can read through a collection of excerpts from some of the reviews that I've read below. I'm still excited to watch the series for myself, but after reading some of these reviews, it was hard not to lower my expectations a bit. Read the reviews and tell us what you think!
I almost want to declare the existence of this “Punisher” show a miracle. I don’t know, really, what I was expecting from it, because from the moment it was announced it didn’t really feel like it fit with the other Marvel shows on Netflix. And aside from a few appearances by Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and a couple cameos by very minor characters from other shows, it really does just go its own way. And thank the Lord for that, because I like watching legitimately good TV shows. And “The Punisher,” somehow, is legitimately good.
For a show which seemed, given the timing of its launch, to be so controversial, its most controversial element is its lack of controversy. Frank Castle does some bad things, but nothing as bad as what happens in America on a regular basis. As a narrative about veterans trying to find their place in the world, “The Punisher” has something to say. But it could have been so much shorter, and its placement in the Marvel universe feels tangential at best.
Bernthal delivers one of the strongest performance of his career, and of Marvel’s Netflix dramas. Although it’s a little difficult to imagine The Punisher as a multi-season series — how long can his crusade continue without losing its emotional resonance and devolving into farce? — these first six episodes are so engaging, so challenging and so unlike the rest of the previous offerings in Marvel’s Netflix stable, that most viewers will undoubtedly be willing to sign on for another tour of duty.
The Punisher is riveting, politically adventurous entertainment, willing to get mired in the complexity of a nation that has come to define itself through the incalculable damage and untold amounts of killings done in the name of peace. When the need to set-up, reiterate, or preempt the plot becomes its more prominent concern, however, it’s emblematic of everything wrong with comic-book adaptations, on TV or elsewhere.
It’s a conundrum: The Punisher is most effective when its title character is indiscriminately slaughtering his foes, but that’s also when it most consistently evokes the kinds of real-life horrors that pushed the premiere back once, and could have kept pushing it back indefinitely. There may hopefully be a time when Frank’s actions don’t instantly recall horrors from our world, but that version of his story will still need to be told much more compellingly than this.
Netflix released all 13 episodes to critics, and despite strong performances from Bernthal, Walcott and Moss-Bachrach (Micro), it was a slog to reach the end. I found myself thinking back to Person of Interest, which did a better job with similar material. Its main characters were an ex-CIA vigilante and his hacker partner, battling shadowy enemies in the military-industrial complex. Even in the framework of a formulaic CBS crime show, it was more satisfying than Marvel’s attempt at serious long-form drama.
The Punisher is the show Marvel Television needed. It’s the show that proves there might just be hope yet for the studio’s small screen ambitions. And yes, if we’re judging purely on the act of transforming into a character, Bernthal absolutely deserves an Emmy nomination for this one. His performance has been far elevated from the days of Daredevil.
The Punisher’s first episode is sleepy and repetitive; nothing in it is anything we didn’t see in the second season of Daredevil. Along those same lines, The fifth and sixth episodes already drag more than the others, an indication of the usual mid-season Netflix slump. But at least Punisher’s repetitive beginning is part of the first narratively necessary step in the show’s plot: moving the goalpost on Frank’s revenge.
In all, “The Punisher” is not just satisfying but surprising — an interpretation of Netflix and Marvel’s tried-and-true partnership that offers more depth and challenges to the audience than even the gritty world of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones.” Free from superpowers and superheroes, the Marvel universe is more forgiving — and more interesting. Of course, the slightly cartoony Marvel Cinematic Universe is still a world where people named Carson Wolf show up and act as if they are not obviously villains. But “The Punisher’s” place in it is a welcome morass of thorny questions and unresolvable answers. At least in this part of the television landscape, there is room for another antihero.
Marvel’s The Punisher did an excellent job reintroducing us to an iconic character, with the help of a brilliant performance from Jon Bernthal. While some of the supporting cast members are less memorable, there is still plenty of time for more character development down the road.
The Punisher has moments of excitement, moments of bracing violence and a well-cast star at the center. It's also tedious for long stretches, and when it comes to plot details, astoundingly forgettable. The gun stuff is just an unpleasant capper.
Frank begins the 13-episode run alone and assuming a new identity; but it’s when he starts to open up that the man behind the scope begins to emerge. The show may not be to everyone’s tastes – fans may expect something more visceral, despite the fair amount of gore - I just sincerely hope people are patient with it and let the show develop, despite its odd missteps. It’s left me wanting more of The Punisher before even any of The Defenders return – and I’m eager to see what Frank does next.
At the end of the day, for hardcore fans of the character, The Punisher is bound to offer a better experience than the three failed big screen adaptations. But those looking for more escapism in their superhero storytelling might be better off revisiting the other equally dark but less dour Marvel/Netflix shows.