Thursday, November 30, 2017

TV: The Punisher

Marvel's Netflix series have been hit ("Daredevil," "Luke Cage") and miss ("Iron Fist," "The Defenders"), but basically all of them have been guilty of stretching 6-episode stories into 13-episode seasons, like butter scraped over too much bread. Yet what could have been the most one-note series of them all - "The Punisher" - avoids the trap:

A lot of that has to do with Jon Bernthal. Now, I thought Thomas Jane was a pretty good Punisher, but Bernthal is great. His performance is the comic book character brought to life: at turns raging, melancholy, and dryly ruthless. After 13 episodes, you'll get tired of the constant flashbacks to Frank Castle's dead wife and kids, but you'll never get tired of the lead character.

The rest of the cast does their part. Ebon Moss-Bachrach's Snowden-esque Micro is perhaps the most grounded and sympathetic the character has ever been, and Ben Barnes brings charisma and intelligence to his role as Billy Russo (if you know the comics, the name is a spoiler, but it's still fun to see how Russo's arc plays out). There's room to bring either or both back for Season 2, and I hope they do.

At bottom, though, "The Punisher" works because it has a theme - the scars of war, and the camaraderie, consequences, pride, and problems experienced by our nation's veterans. There are some unflinching takes on serious issues (PTSD, guilt, stolen valor), which is not what you'd expect in a comic book show. Many members of the U.S. military have taken the Punisher symbol as their own, and "The Punisher" honors that back.


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