Frank Castle stars in Netflix’s The Punisher, the character’s first solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did it live up to the hype?
We first met Frank Castle in Daredevil season 2, where he went toe to toe with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. They didn’t exactly see eye to eye, but they each came to an understanding about the other.
Code name The Punisher had his sights set on taking out the Mexican Cartel, the Kitchen Irish, and the Dogs of Hell on account of the parts they played in the murder of his family.
The Punisher season 1 shows that the conspiracy goes much deeper than a botched sting operation. District Attorney Reyes and her people ended up paying with their lives, and in the end Frank killed his former commanding officer, Colonel Schoonover.
Little did Frank know, however, that the people who were really responsible for the death of his wife and children were still at large.
When we first meet Frank in the premiere episode of The Punisher, he’s attempting to live a normal life as Pete Castiglione, a construction worker who spends all day swinging a hammer and knocking down concrete walls. It’s the only coping mechanism he can find that doesn’t involve constantly running from the police, wanted for murder.
Frank gets into trouble when a robbery goes wrong and a bunch of his co-workers try to bury some very living evidence on their job site.
Castle saves the day, but his actions expose him to Micro, who does everything in his power to convince The Punisher they need to work together. Frank, of course, is a tough nut to crack, but he eventually relents. Together, he and his new partner attempt to expose a conspiracy that goes back to Frank’s time in Afghanistan.
It mostly just ends up getting them both in some deep shit.
I am unsure if The Punisher’s Frank Castle is the same one we met in Daredevil season 2. In his solo outing, he seems to revel in the violence of his mission. He is not just eliminating targets in a cold, calculated way anymore. He wants them to feel what he feels every time he must remember that his wife and children are dead. He bathes in the blood of his enemies.
I know The Punisher is a violent anti-hero who lives by his own moral code. I applauded that in Daredevil. Matt believes in the judicial system, as he should, but it’s clear that on more than one occasion that system has betrayed the innocent and failed to condemn the guilty. People got hurt in the process.
Frank believes the streets of New York would be safer if someone took out the criminals in a more permanent fashion. He thinks they need to be put down, and he doesn’t mind pulling the trigger.
Where Daredevil set Frank up against characters who could humanize him, The Punisher spent most of its run finding ways to show just how far Frank was willing to go to complete his mission. He is constantly being called a psychopath, a murderer, a terrorist. So much so, that it becomes hard to believe he is anything else.
It is only in the tender moments shared with Karen, or the interactions near the end with Micro, or the times he’s taking care of the Lieberman family, that we remember Frank is more than just a killing machine.
But those moments are few and far between.
There seems to be less nuance to the character now, though Jon Bernthal plays his part as naturally and flawlessly as he has from the beginning. For casual fans of The Punisher, season 1’s regurgitation of the plot involving the murder of Frank’s family will undoubtedly seem repetitive.
However, The Punisher season 1 fills in the gaps left wide open by Daredevil season 2. With plenty of flashbacks to Frank’s time in Afghanistan, as well as his memories of his family, we see a much more complete picture of who Frank is and what he has gone through to get to where he is today.
Karen Page and Brett Mahoney don’t quite get enough of the spotlight, but David Lieberman, Dinah Madani, and Billy Russo bring the rest of this story alive.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach transitions between computer genius and desperate family man with ease. Amber Rose Revah’s Dinah is smart, powerful, and good–a combination which is rarer in the MCU than one might think. Ben Barnes portrays Castle’s former friend with perfect conviction and endless complexity.
In all honesty, I was hoping the heart of the story would center around Frank and his devotion to the few people in his life he has deemed worthy of his time. While we do see glimpses of that, The Punisher‘s real message is about the horrors of war.
These horrors come in many forms. Frank is haunted by what he’s done in the past, and it drives him to do what is right in the present. Curtis Hoyle lives with a constant reminder that war lost him his leg, but that it very well could’ve been his life. He is grateful for what he learned from that experience, and chooses to pass his gratitude onto others.
Lewis Walcott, however, is where the real tragedy lies, not just for his character, but for the series as a whole. After returning home from his time overseas, Lewis finds it hard to adjust to civilian life. He struggles to fit in, both with the world at large and with other veterans in Curtis’ group meetings. He digs a trench in his backyard, the only place where he can actually get some sleep, and places Frank on a pedestal that The Punisher himself can’t imagine being on.
But where The Punisher starts the conversation about gun control, metal health, and the horrors of war, it doesn’t offer its own opinion on the matter. Perhaps this is a blessing–there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these issues, after all. But if you’re going to glorify violence and tell your audience that what Frank is doing is right, you must make sure there’s a line drawn in the sand.
What is Frank Castle not willing to do in order to complete his mission? What does he believe is going too far? I still can’t answer that question.
The Punisher season 1 wraps up the conspiracy of Frank’s family’s death, while gently nudging open the door into a potential season 2. By the time we leave Frank, it feels as though he has stopped fighting for the first time since that fateful day in the park. But as with all heroes, blurred lines or not, we know it’s only a matter of time before he’ll don his skull-clad vest once more–pending a season renewal, of course.