Jon Bernthal plays Frank Castle in the Netflix Original “The Punisher” and he is every bit as riveting as he is violent.
Unlike previous failed attempts to bring a live-action Castle to the screen, this version stands way above the rest.
What is noticeably different from other Marvel Netflix originals such as “Luke Cage” or “Jessica Jones,” is that there no superpowers involved in the show. Castle is just a regular guy in that sense. He also makes one thing clear: he is no superhero. He represents the epitome of an anti-hero, with all the killing and gore to go along with it.
We first see the character in season two of “Daredevil,” where Castle is set on avenging his family after they are killed in the middle of a mob shootout. Similar to Cage and Jones, Castle starts out his solo series living under the radar and avoiding all signs of trouble. He is haunted by his family’s death and his past in Afghanistan as a Marine in combat operations. There is no doubt that Castle is a murderer and maybe even a psychopath, yet throughout his arc he remains a character you hate to root for.
In the first episode, Castle is seen reading “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. The novel serves as an allegory for the never ending search for the meaning of life, and helps set the undertone for a common theme throughout the series.
Supporting characters Curtis and David Lieberman, as well as Karen Page from “Daredevil,” help highlight the complexity of Castle as a character.
Curtis, one of Castle’s military friends, holds a support group for veterans who are facing the same internal struggle Castle grapples with.
This series attempts to tackle both gun violence and the struggle of military veterans acclimating back into civilian life after returning from their service. This is seen through Lewis Wilson, a vet who suffers from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and later feels betrayed by the government.
While Wilson could have been a central character, this ends up being one of the weak points in the series. Wilson quickly goes from a lost and confused veteran to a terrorist bombing buildings with innocent individuals in them. His motivation isn’t entirely clear or fleshed out. Just as fast as Wilson becomes a threat to the public and looks to serve as an interesting foil character to Frank, he gets killed off.
The goal to make Castle an intriguing character can at times come at the expense of the story as a whole. Not only with the use of violence, but also the heavy subject matter makes the pacing odd at best. A good portion of the first couple of episodes are spent in flashbacks of Castle’s time in Afghanistan and his family, which muddles the current plot.
Also in those episodes, we see the teamup of Castle and David Lieberman, a man who faked his own death in an attempt to keep his family safe. Once it’s clear that these two will work together, the series tries to expand on their relationship which ultimately slows down the main plot.
There’s no question that this series is part of and belongs to the Netflix Marvel cinematic universe. Castle get his own hallway/stairway fight sequence just like all the other superhero series. “The Punisher” follows the same formula in terms of the literal darkness in some of the scenes and brutal fights.
Comic book fans who love “The Punisher” and have clamored for a good depiction of Frank Castle — especially after three movies box office bombs — will not be disappointed with Jon Bernthal’s adaptation. Perhaps what we needed was not a movie, but a series that allowed enough time to introduce and develop a well-written plot paired up with a captivating character in Frank Castle.