“The Punisher” Packs a Punch but Lacks Heart

The Marvel shows on Netflix typically start well, but tend to drag on toward the end. Each show distinguishes itself with a unique tone and personality, and Marvel’s “The Punisher” is slow and quiet for the majority of the first season. “The Punisher” strays from Marvel’s usual format of an individual with superhuman abilities who represents a marginalized group: Luke Cage is a black man fighting for his neighborhood, Harlem, while Jessica Jones is a female rape survivor trying to escape her abuser.

Meanwhile, Frank Castle is one of Marvel’s most brutal and dysfunctional anti-heroes. He is as violent as Deadpool, but lacks the satirical quips. The Punisher is a man on a mission that he is set on completing, which the show successfully demonstrates with the cold tone of the beginning. Within the opening credits, there are semi-automatic weapons in the air that are arranged into the Punisher’s skull-shaped logo.

“The Punisher” is about a man who goes rogue and seeks vengeance after the government sends  him on a senseless killing spree. Jon Bernthal is able to display Frank Castle’s struggle with his personal tragedy as he commits violence only to feel the pain of understanding the trauma he is inflicting on others. The ex-Marine retreats to demolition and tears down walls to attempt to get back his humanity.

There are moments in “The Punisher” where the amount of violence seems over-the-top. The show is brutally violent, but Bernthal’s performance as Frank Castle allows viewers to see the story of the damaged character. Bernthal is convincing with his use of silence to portray both Frank Castle’s violence and vulnerability. The show is wary about guns and of patriotism and clearly sides with veterans.

Showrunner Steve Lightfoot shifts the focus of the Punisher story from violent revenge towards emotional conflict and post-traumatic stress. Frank Castle is trying to recover from the trauma and hurt of losing his family and from the guilt he still has from his military service in Afghanistan. Flashbacks reveal  more background regarding Frank’s family life and military experiences. Tender moments with his family are juxtaposed with Frank’s lack of discerning his authority during the most violent and questionable killings his job requires.

Frank is the lone wolf who is constantly struggling between his familiarity with violence and his want for justice. “The Punisher” highlights the government’s negligence towards veterans who are often left without a support network or the help they need to function in the civilian environment. “The Punisher” is more ambitious than the other Marvel Cinematic Universe shows in its exploration of grief and trauma, yet it lacks the completeness that the original comic-books provide. The show reveals a more psychological perspective to the Marvel Universe, but it does not quite hit the mark of its source material as well as the other Netflix Marvel shows do.