“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

 

 

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

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    “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

“Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 1 – Complex Characters, Stakes and Better Than Most Marvel Movies

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     “Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 1 is a masterpiece. This is a show that manages to have both complex heroes and villains, bring up important questions and dilemmas that drive said characters and have a coherent overarching plot while still leaving things open for a future or ending if it they have to. Suffice to say, I am glad this show is getting a Season 2, it deserves it. Besides “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier” this is the best thing to come out of Marvel (still haven’t seen “Age of Ultron” but that review will be coming later.

     The series was created by Drew Goddard and based on the comics created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. It is produced by Marvel Television and is part of the lead up to “The Defenders” television series.

     The story is that of Matt Murdock who is “The Man in Black” and his story as he becomes Daredevil as he fights the gangs of Hell’s Kitchen and their leader “The Kingpin.” From here the story unfolds as conflict arises in his relationships and they face their own dilemmas too. Whether they are heroes or villains.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and captures the dark noir feel that would lead to the creation of a person like Matt Murdock, who is very much the Batman of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a brutal world but their is a beauty in it too as no character is one dimensional.

The Soundtrack – John Paesano and Braden Kimball were fantastic at this soundtrack. It gives the dark gritty intensity that really gets into the heads of all the characters. This is a rough world that made them and the soundtrack expresses that beautifully.

The Writing – The writing is extremely sold. Every character has an arc that leads them making difficult choices and they change because of those choices. This show doesn’t allow characters to be static or repeat character plots over again. Characters change and move on.

The Characters – The characters are itneresting and complex. My favorites were probably Daredevil and Madam Gao, though I really liked the Kingpin too. Each of them had parts both dark and light inside of them (in all the characters for that matter) and they either chose to reject one half, or in some cases find balance.

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The Gang Leaders – The gang leaders are complicated and in most cases we get their backstory, especially if they are killed, which happens a lot in this series in regards to all the characters. This leads to an interesting dynamic and strange alliances and choices the characters make in their own agendas in Hell’s Kitchen.

The Russian Brothers – These two were tortured but managed to escape Russia to America and wanted to own the world. Eventually one chooses to submit to Fisk and dies, but when Daredevil is framed the other brother seeks to kill him before he is finally ended in Fisk’s plot to wipe out the Russian Mafia. Their story is sad but the brother is avenged as the surviving brother tells Daredevil the name of Leland who is the accountant for all of them.

Nobu – Nobu is the connection to the supernatural and one of the leaders of the clan in Hell’s Kitchen. He gets the closest to killing Daredevil but dies in the process. He is a dangerous and quite character and is working with and for the supernatural elements in the MCU. What those are is still a mystery though. Peter Shinkoda does a good job in the role.

Leland – Leland is the guy who is all about the money and is arguing about Fisk all the time. He isn’t stupid though and when his attempt to kill Fisk’s girlfriend fails he keeps the detective who has been working for them protected so that he has leverage over Fisk. Sadly this doesn’t stop Fisk and he is killed, though his plan does work at bringing down Fisk after Daredevil manages to save the detective from the corrupt cops working for Fisk.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is amazing. She is old and smart and is the only person of the gangs who Fisk respects. After her and Leland’s assassination plot fails she leaves the country. She sees herself as doing good in her selling of the heroin as she believes it gives people sight into another world and plane of existence. She also knows when to get out and is the only one to escape Hell’s Kitchen unscathed. I really liked her character and hope she is around for a lot longer. Wai Ching Ho is fantastic!

Wesley – Wesley is the Kingpin’s Hand and enforcer and makes the all the deals. He is the face of the Kingpin when the series first starts and is how the mob deals with Fisk. He is crafty and is able to offset most situations. He also sees danger clearly and when he captures Karen he ends up dead as he underestimates her willingness to fight for her life and to end Fisk. His death is powerful as he was a sociopath but clearly cared for Fisk and considered him a friend. Toby Moore does a good job in this role.

Vanessa – Vanessa is the owner of an art studio who gets Fisk out of his shell. They have an equal relationship and she lives her own life until Fisk’s life ends and it shows that she make pick up his mantel. She is a sensitive character with a brutality to her as she doesn’t mourn the death of the Russian Mafia or those caught in the crossfire.

The Kingpin – Wilson Fisk is brutal and complicated. He believes that murder is the only way to change the city because murder was the only thing that stopped his father from abusing him and his mother. He also loves deeply and when the heroes trap closes in around them he proposes to Vanessa. His heart has always been her’s as he is honest in who and what he is and it’s what makes their relationship so wonderful. They are idealists and also monsters. Vincent D’Onofrio is great at this role.

The Heroes – The heroes like our villains have complex motivations and the choices they make change their relationship to one another and what it means to be who they are.

Stick – Stick is Matt’s brutal mentor who is serving a mysterious mentor. He cares about Matt but is also someone who is abusive and has a lot of issues of his own to deal with. I was glad when Matt kicked him out for killing the weaponized kid that Nobu was going to use as a weapon. This is a character who isn’t good but is the Punisher to Daredevil. Scott Glenn does the dark mentor role really well.

Ben Urich – Ben is a reporter who is a thorn in Fisk’s side. He breaks the story about the corruption in the company Karen was working for and together they work to bring down Fisk. Sadly the price is his life as he is killed personally by Fisk when he and Karen discover Fisk’s mother and learn about Fisk’s mother of his father.

Karen Page – Karen worked for a company that was taking bribes and doing illegal acts for Fisk. In the end they ask to her sign a silence order and pay her a lot of money…this is only after she weathers an assassination attempt from Fisk’s men and this makes her someone fighting always against them. She is the only one who has killed for the cause and she carries that with her, just like the deaths of Ben and the others lost in the fight.

Claire Temple – Claire is the only person outside of Foggy and Stick that knows that Matt Murdock is Daredevil. She has saved his life on multiple occasions and at one point was interested too. It ends with them only being friends as she needed someone their when Daredevil was pushing everyone away. She stands up for herself though and lays down those boundaries with Matt. Rosario Dawson (Mimi from “Rent”) does an amazing job as her!

Foggy Nelson – Foggy is the ambitious of the two as Murdock is the idealist. Murdock’s idealism as well as Karen’s changes him and we see just how deeply he cares for the people and not the bottom line of money. We also see how much he trusted Murdock and how the secret of Murdock’s power hurts him. It takes a few episodes for them to be good again and for him to realize just how much Matt was hurting holding it all in. Elden Henson does great work in this role.

Matt Murdock/Daredevil – First, Charlie Cox is a beautiful guy, second he is also an amazing actor! I really enjoyed how well he played Matt Murdock, from showing his sensitivity to his Dark Knight persona where he would beat and torture, even if he’d never killed. It was a line he was always dealing with and you see that play out in how he connects to others. Everytime he almost dies he grows close to someone but his obsession drives them away as well as his fear of losing them. This is what defines his character as well as his empathy for the innocent and his willingness to even protect the monsters from death. I really like this guy and the only character in the MCU with similar levels of empathy is Captain America, who is also my favorite after “Winter Soldier.” This series is worth it, just for his performance in this role.

The Action – The action deserves it’s own space here. There is a ton of hand to hand combat and it’s really beautiful and well done. Daredevil never uses a weapon until the end when he starts using sticks and the Kingpin is the same way. Both of them are almost animalistic in their fighting styles and it makes for beautiful fight sequences. The moments with guns are great too, from the Kingpin’s escape and the ambush of the Russians. This series doesn’t shy away from the cost and you see just how horrible the acts are.

The Ending – The Kingpin tries to escape, Daredevil attacks in his costume (made by the same man who made the Kingpin’s bullet proof suits) and we get a great fight sequence before the final with the Kingpin staring at the wall in the cell that is the same wall he faced as a child (showing he’s just as dangerous here even if he is alone) and Daredevil triumphant as he is now known by that name after giving the name to one of the few good cops on the force. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad Madam Gao escaped Daredevil and Kingpin too.

    This is a show that gets storytelling right. The characters are complex and change, the story has stakes, the music and writing and amazing and what the par for comic book storytelling on television should be (looking at you “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and it actually tackles complex issues and dilemmas. Whether the show can sustain this remains to be seen but for now, I am extremely impressed and have to give it the best score. This is the best writing to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and hope it can continue.

Final Score: 10 / 10.

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