Is it any good?
Flawed, but still worth seeing.
When Punisher is good, it is stunning. Then it’s visceral and provocative and satisfying as one could hope out of a vigilante series on TV. But Punisher is not good for thirteen episodes. So even though I think it’s good, it may not be worth it to you.
Punisher picks up where Daredevil season 2 left off with Frank Castle on a quest to avenge the deaths of his family. In the middle of the first episode, he thinks he’s accomplished his goal, but new information and a new threat forces him to continue his operations underground with the help of a hacker codenamed Micro to confront his past and the people who conspired to have his family killed.
The comics have Frank Castle being targeted by the mob as he was a law enforcement officer after retiring from the military. So he has a clear “evil” target. But the show opts to muddy the waters a bit by introducing the military conspiracy angle. It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s far more ambiguous as we see the good and bad of the military from fellow PTSD riddled veterans to enterprising psycho ex-military businesspeople. On the other, this very ambiguity robs the show of focus and is also clichéd in a different way.
Micro has also been transformed from the hacker he was in the comic books to a whistleblower akin to Edward Snowden in the show. It’s topical and it really works for the most part. His family is also an interesting wrinkle, though they take up so much screen time and derail the momentum of the series and Frank’s single-minded war. Again, a mixed bag.
The ultimate villain (there are multiple villains, but I won’t spoil the identity of the big bad) works pretty well, I thought, though he is a bit cartoonishly evil. There were attempts to give him more dimensions and depth, but there’s just not enough of it to really elevate the character. Unfortunately, he doesn’t rise to the level of Kingpin or Killgrave, but I respected the work that the actor put in, and I liked seeing him and Frank play.
When Punisher really works the best, for me, is when it deals with the many facets of PTSD and military service. This is explored through several different characters throughout the series, and I think they really did a good job putting a human face to it. It is much like a serialized version of Rambo. Before Rambo was just a jungle killing machine, he was a misunderstood veteran of an unpopular war who was trying to re-adjust to society. There are a LOT of echoes of that here and that’s when Punisher is at its best.
I wish this was better than it was, but it remains the best portrayal of the character that we’ve seen in live action. It lacks a little bit of the complexity and torture that is due to the character, but the things it gets right are really, really right. Though there’s some slowness in the middle (like all Netflix Marvel series apparently), it rushes headlong into the finale and really kills those final few episodes. I think it’s worth seeing, but anticipate a mixed bag.