“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

The Punisher (2004): A Great Telling of “The Punisher” and his Origin

The Punisher 2004 Poster

    I really liked Netflix’s version of The Punisher and think it may still take the prize for the most human version of the character, but this version is fantastic as well! This is a film about the death of Frank Castle, and it is handled really well. I like this character and I think I’m going to check out the comics. This film along with “Marvel’s Daredevil” on Netflix have sold me on the greatness that is this character.

     The film was directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who co-wrote it with Michael France and produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd.

      The story involves Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) going into retirement after a successful undercover operation. Little did he know that the Crime Lord Howard Saint’s (John Travolta) son was killed the operation leading him to target Frank and his family to get revenge.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is really good and reminded me both of Sam Rami’s “Spider-man” and Tim Burton’s “Batman.” Because of this had a consistent comic book feel that showed where the story came from. Carlo Siliotto did a great job.

The Cinematography – The cinematography at times looks very 90’s but still manages to be quite beautiful as we get shots that contrast characters and illustrate the death of Frank Castle and his rebirth as the Punisher.

The Action – Whether it is Saint’s goons or the Punisher’s rampage…the action in this is fantastic and brutal. You really feel all the hits and losses.

The Death of Frank Castle – Saint sends his men and Frank’s entire extended family is killed by them, not only that Frank gets shot and blown up and only manages to survive because he washes up on the shore of the Witch Doctor he knew. The entire scene is powerful and even though I didn’t really know Frank’s wife and son all that well, I was still hoping they’d escape even though I knew they wouldn’t.

The Tenants – The tenants who the Punisher shares a home with are fantastic! There is Bumpo who is a cook and not quite all mentally there and a really sweet guy, there is Joan who has gone through abusive relationships and is a former druggie just like Dave whose mother was in prison. In all cases they protect Frank and show they are family as they look out for each other and for him.

Howard Saint’s Men – There are a bunch of them and all have a unique way about them…from the Russian who it takes Frank most of his energy to take out (and who mortally wounds him) the mullet, Quentin Glass and Howard’s sons. Each have distinct personalities that makes them more than just hired muscle.

Livia Saint – Livia is just as cruel as Howard as she is the one who calls on the hit to target not just Frank but his entire family. She is the mob girlfriend and is social to the isolationist Howard which leads to the pool being easy to poison as she hardly ever spends time with Howard leading him to believe she is having an affair which Frank feeds leading Howard to eventually kill her in revenge, even though it was a lie.

Quentin Glass – Quentin Glass is Howard’s dragon and is a fantastic threat. He is the one who takes out most of Frank’s family and nearly kills Frank Castle. He ends up being killed by Howard though when Frank frames him as having an affair with Livia even though he is gay so he wouldn’t have had an affair with her. His character is ruthless and a bad guy but also is humanized.

Howard Saint – Travolta is good at playing gangsters and it is fun seeing him play one here as the Punisher takes away everything from him and gives him a wonderfully brutal death. He is a good villain as he is threatening and unstable, but has goons who are good at doing their job and is only stopped because of his pride and jealousy as he destroyed the only people who could have stopped Frank Castle.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – I like Thomas Jane and want to see him in more things. He is great at this type of character (I last saw him as Detective Miller on “The Expanse” which I highly recommend). He is a very human character as we see him connect with his family and with the outcasts who take him in. This film is the death of Frank Castle as he doesn’t stay with the outcasts but makes destroying criminals his life as Frank Castle is buried and the Punisher is born.

Okay: Frank Castle’s Family – They are just kind of there. More could have been done to humanize these characters and make them fully three-dimensional rather than just victims that motivate Castle’s revenge spree. Besides this though, this is an amazingly solid film and one of my favorites.

  I highly recommend “The Punisher.” If you liked the 2nd Season of “Marvel’s Daredevil,” you will also like this. Both Thomas Jane and John Bernthal capture the broken person Frank Castle became and from that the death of his humanity and the rebirth of the vigilante anti-hero who lives only to end crime. Travolta made a great villain too and the side characters like the Apartment Tenants have depth and character that humanize Frank Castle further and help fully illustrate his transformation into the Punisher.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 2 – Moments of Strength Brought Down by Archetypes

Daredevil Season 2 Poster

    “Marvel’s Daredevil,” continues to have the great quality that made last season so powerful, but also hits a few snags that bring down my overall impression of the season. This season fully embraces it’s dark Frank Miller roots and pulls us into the mythos of the Secret Ninja Group called the Hand and what they are on about…when overwhelmingly the myth arc was the weakest part of last season…now this season puts it dead center when it isn’t focused on the much more interesting crime story told through the Punisher. Suffice to say, I’d still recommend it though.

      Doug Petrie and Marco Rameriz have taken over as showrunners this time, as the show creator Drew Goddard is now a consultant on the show.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story picks up a year from last season as Matt Murdock is working on juggling his life as a vigilante and lawyer as he finds both crumbling around him as a new vigilante that kills calls the Punisher arrives on the scenes as well as ex-lover Electra along with an ancient foe.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the gritty darkness that is Hell’s Kitchen. From it we get the torn nature of our characters too as they wrestle with demons within themselves.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also continues to be stunning and gives an intensity to the events going down, which add more to both the character and action scenes. John Paesano does a fantastic job.

The Action – The action continues to be one of the things show does solidly amazing. In this we get more tight corridor fight scenes including taking out a gang of bikers, we get a fight on the roof and countless assassination take-downs by the Punisher. The action is as best as it’s ever been.

The Characters – The characters are still the strongest part of the show, even though the structure often times gets in the way of their development. I still overwhelmingly recommend Marvel films and shows because they know characters, especially when Netflix is heading it.

Sgt. Brett Mahoney – This guy is the commissioner Gordon of the series except better as he holds Daredevil accountable to the bigger picture, he also admires that Daredevil can see it to and lets him go as Daredevil says the police should be the ones who catch the Punisher (though with his escape we are back to Square 1).

Mitchell Ellison – This season is really his redemption as we see him working with Karen to help reveal the conspiracy behind the death of Frank Castle’s family and the events that went down that day. He proves to be a great mentor figure for her and later gives her the job that Ben Urich had when she leaves Nelson and Murdock.

Claire Temple – This season involved a lot of characters moving on and it is here we see Claire get fed up with the corruption and focus on money at the hospital that she just leaves after all her work trying to help all those hurting on the street is getting her punished. She has some great interactions with Matt and Foggy too as she gets Foggy’s stress and is done with Matt’s martyr complex at this point.

Foggy Nelson – This season has Foggy rising to the plate and showing why he is the Nelson in Nelson and Murdock as we see him take on the City when he defends Frank Caste / The Punisher and gets hired later because his opening statement made such an impression. His idealism and excusing for Matt is done too as we see him call Matt out on more than one occasion on the double life he leads.

Karen Page – Karen has a pretty amazing arc in this as she shows to be a greater super hero than Matt most of the time, which she ends up illustrating on her call for everyone to be that hero at the end. She has a great arc that involves her relationship with Matt turning romantic and falling apart and her going into journalism to find out the truth behind what happened to Frank Castle and how he became the Punisher…she is the only one who really learns the truth besides Castle and there is power in that. She is the truth seeker this season and the most put together character. At the end it pays off too as Matt finally tells her the truth and comes to her as a partner not someone to save.

Matt Murdock / Daredevil – Matt is a mess this season as he tries to juggle his civilian and vigilante life. It all comes to a head when Electra, his old love returns and Stick his abusive mentor…so he gets all the toxic! He also learns Kingpin owns his prison now and Frank Castle is on the loose after he helped bring him down.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher is the strongest character in this story as we get a grunt from war who loses everything and only lives for revenge. He is a character who is given a chance to reflect and to remember and in that we get to see the tragedy that he has gone through and the depth that drives him. Jon Bernthal owns this role and made me want to watch the original Punisher films as well as read the comics. He is never presented as a good guy (he goes on trial at one point) but you get his motivation and drive and through his eyes we see that the corruption that runs through Hell’s Kitchen is on all levels. This city is Gotham level messed up, which is what lead to the creation the Punisher and the death of Frank Castle, an everyday man who snapped.

The Cameos: Jeri Hogarth – Jeri hires Foggy and it is awesome! How she explains that he gets the vigilante perspective and made me needed is really well handled and sets up “Civil War” and “The Defenders” really well. Always good to see her character too.

Madam Gao – She makes a brief appearance to help Daredevil take out the Hand and I liked seeing that she’s avoided the influence of the Hand and the Kingpin. She’s the best gangster outside the Kingpin and I’d like her to survive this entire series.

Wilson Fisk / The Kingpin – Fisk is back and we get to see him take control of his prison, set the Punisher loose once again on the world and beat Matt Murdock’s face in with a promise that the Punisher’s reign will be nothing when he gets out again. Seriously, I love how this guy turns losing into winning. I hope he gets a good victory on New York once he gets out.

Okay: Electra – Electra is an intersting character in how she is a character trying to fight against the different influences in her life, whether it’s Stick or the Hand…you get why she is the way she. She has had no solid influences and is a tragic figure because of it. In the end she saves Matt though and since she was the only person she loved, it actually means something. Her character could have been better developed though.

The Cons: Stick – Stick is an abusive dick and I don’t get why Matt puts up with him. He’s super talented but we see he has no foresight as he pushes Electra further into madness on multiple occasions and fails to see how Matt’s why serves a purpose. If killing to stop bad is his point, the Punisher does it better and to a much more concrete purpose.

The Hand and Fetishizing Japan – These guys are apocalyptic and underdeveloped. They are Ninjas and I really only cared about them in how they advanced the Matt and Electra plot. For being everywhere and replacing a bunch of kids’ blood with toxins…they didn’t take it anywhere or do anything with it. They showed up and left when their Black Sky Electra died. It was never explained what that meant though. Nobu from last season is control of them and apparently can’t die unless he is beheaded, but he is just as underdeveloped as the Hand…It’s fetishization of Asian Culture via the Ninja and extremely outdated. Hell Ninja Turtles satires this idea with it’s very existance because of how silly it is.

The Colonel – He’s a corrupt guy who served with Frank Castle and turned his men into drug runners for him. Apparently Frank said no so he said up the killing of Frank and his family. I think he was the Blacksmith, but it never completely stakes it. Was glad when the Punisher killed him. Even Clancey couldn’t give this character the depth he needed.

A lot of the antagonists who aren’t out and out gangsters from last season really did bring this season down. I didn’t care about the Hand. The Colonel’s motivations were never explored, Stick is just an abusive ass and making him be nice to Matt now doesn’t redeem that and the Hand is so underdeveloped that I didn’t care about them at any point, even if Nobu from last a season controlled them. The main characters are still the strongest part and the music and action elevates the weak villains. I seriously wish we had gotten more Fisk as the Kingpin continues to be one of the best characters to arise out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Can’t wait to see what they do with him next season.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10