Hypable’s Marvel TV writer explains why there is no room in her heart for The Punisher Netflix series.
You could say that I like Marvel Television. I’ve been with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since its most nascent days, stood vigil for Agent Carter, devoured the Netflix series, and I’m still even watching Inhumans (though why, I’m not entirely sure).
But with The Punisher‘s release date finally announced, and a bloody new trailer appearing in all its gory glory, I had to come to terms with a personal truth: I do not want to watch The Punisher.
Come Nov. 17, I’ll be doing something else with my time (and it probably won’t be a screening of Justice League).
To start with, I’m not sure why we’re going there in the first place. The Punisher’s narrative in Daredevil season 2 felt succinct and well-formed, a staccato of storytelling that strongly punctuated an otherwise uneven season. Frank Castle’s tale of grief and rage felt complete to me.
Sure, the Punisher walked off into the darkness at the end of Daredevil season 2, but there was a closure to the fiery farewell that Frank gave to his old life… right?
Apparently not, and I’m puzzled why we are all being brought back to relive this story. I’m sure that The Punisher series will have its own row to hoe in terms of plot, but diving deeper into the labyrinthine conspiracy of the Castle family murders isn’t exactly groundbreaking material.
Even on a character level, it’s worth interrogating whether or not Frank Castle warrants the spotlight. As a man and as superpowered force, the Punisher is an inherently static fellow. An arc that begins with killing, continues with killing, and ends with killing is not an arc at all, but a flat line. Frank Castle is a man stuck at rock-bottom, and this is both his boon and his curse. Free to pursue the darkest regions of comic book behavior, he is exhilaratingly unencumbered by the typical demands of character — but neither can he reap the benefits that the alchemy of challenge and change can bestow.
It also seems to me that the Punisher (at least in this incarnation) is misused in his own series. Here is a gustatory analogy to illustrate.
As presented by Netflix and Marvel, Frank Castle is like pepper. (No really, hear me out.) Pepper is a vital spice, sharpening flavors, adding dimension, and providing a distinctive zing to any dish. (Unless it’s dessert. Don’t go there.) But adding too much pepper to your food will overpower all other flavors, leaving the unlucky taster red-faced, sputtering, and probably really angry at you.
Do you see where I’m going with this? As a side character, employed in televised teaspoons, Frank Castle is an excellent addition to Marvel’s recipe. But on his own… well, he’s overpowering, painful, and hard to take.
That’s not to say that Jon Bernthal’s performance isn’t worthy of a sequel. Bernthal’s embodiment of Frank Castle’s shadows and cracks is a masterclass, his numb monotone grating in evident counterpoint to the cathartic violence that drives him. This Punisher is as much a ghost as he is a man brought back from death, as human as he is demonic avenger. It’s a mesmerizing act to watch, and one that feels as painful for the audience as it does for the character.
But it makes me tired.
I am tired of watching mass murder, however fictional. I am tired of violence and vengeance as both compulsion and reward, the unvarying cycle of weapons and wounds. I am tired of the Punisher’s brand of merciless logic, and the gleeful carousel of gore.
It is much too familiar for me, in the context of fiction but also in reality. I have already been wrung out by this story, and have no energy left to stumble through it again.
I very much hope that the Punisher’s fans (of which I know there are many) enjoy Castle’s next adventure. Far be it from me to dissuade hopefuls from a story they are eager to see, and as I said, I can understand the appeal of exploring Castle’s blasted psychological landscape.
I am sure The Punisher will provide spectacle, sparks of rasping humor, perhaps even moral questions to contemplate. I know that Jon Bernthal will deliver a superlative performance in this challenging role, and that alone could be reason to watch for many.
It’s just not for me. I appreciate the effort, Marvel, but this is one ride I’m just not going to take.
Marvel’s The Punisher hits Netflix on Nov. 17.