Season one of Daredevil was like a breath of fresh air blowing through the Marvel Comics-to-screen universe. That may be a cliche, but it’s true. It was smart, it was dark, and moody. Sometimes it was humorous. It was also a good introduction for viewers who were not familiar with the Daredevil character. For some fans, season one wiped away memories of Ben Affleck’s Daredevil.
If I had one critique of season one it would have been how the showrunners burned through an entire Kingpin story that could have easily been two seasons of story. Hopefully, Vincent D’Onofrio will be back so the showrunners can bring Frank Miller’s story “Born Again” to life. It seemed, at some points, that was the direction they were heading, but with Kingpin on the lamb the story will have to be re-tooled.
Season two was billed as the season the Punisher and Elektra would make their Marvel Cinematic/Television debuts. It was exciting news for Punisher fans. Previous big screen versions of the Punisher weren’t handled very well.
First, there was the Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher released in 1989. It was a low budget film, but even by 80s action movie standards it was a nightmare. The acting was abysmal. Lundgren mumbled his way through the role. The surrounding players didn’t help matters much either. The story (The Punisher teams up with a Mafia boss to save a child?) didn’t fit the Punisher mold. The poorly choreographed fight scenes highlighted the mediocrity of the movie.
Years later, in 2004, the Punisher was brought back to the big screen with Thomas Jane in the lead and with a much bigger budget. The movie, based largely on comic-book writer Garth Ennis’s “Welcome Back, Frank,” tweaked the original Punisher origin. In The Punisher, Frank Castle is an undercover FBI agent whose entire family (wife, kid, mom, dad, cousin, 1st cousin, and so on) is murdered by Howard Saint. Of course, the result is Castle going after Saint’s family.
Remember the sitcoms of the 80s and 90s where the entire episode revolved around one character over hearing incorrectly what another character said? Castle’s plan in The Punisher is a lot like that formula. If just one character talked to Saint it would be over. So, the viewer has to believe no one would talk to Saint for the plan to come to fruition. It’s a stretch at best, but whether the plan is good or not John Travolta’s over-the-top acting over shadows the entire movie.
In 2008, Punisher: War Zone was released with mixed results among fans and critics. The movie is set further along Castle’s war on crime. He’s more beat up and disillusioned than in the previous movies.We see a Punisher who questions things on a metaphysical/religious level. In hindsight, maybe a Punisher who’s more human than we are use to seeing was a bad choice. However, it was the director’s execution and some poor performances (Dominic West’s New York accent is probably the worst ever put on film) that ultimately ruined this movie.
Like his cinematic counterparts, the Punisher in Daredevil season two has been changed from its comic book counter part. It’s been revealed Frank Castle was a soldier who fought in the Middle East. It was also hinted at the end of episode four Castle may have been involved in the same military project as Will Simpson (Remember him from Jessica Jones?). It would make sense if the Marvel/Netflix series are all suppose to intertwine until the Defenders premieres. If this turns out to be the case then Marvel/Netflix is taking Frank Castle into a place he has never been or should ever be.
At its very core the Punisher is a story about revenge. The layers a writer decides to wrap around the core determines whether the story stays a one note revenge story or moves into a story with substance. No matter what a writer does the actor who fills the Punisher’s shoes has to bring a sense of humanity to the character.
The buzz around Jon Bernthal’s casting as Frank Castle was well warranted. Most fans were introduced to Bernthal during his two seasons on The Walking Dead. Since his departure from the show, Bernthal has proven he can play more than the small-town, Georgia sheriff. He brings a humanity to the character the previous three actors failed to bring.
The scenes between Daredevil and the Punisher, when they’re not fighting, rounds the Punisher character out more than any movie has ever done. We see a Frank Castle bent on revenge, but over the course of four episodes we see the human behind the revenge. We could have the definitive version of the Punisher if the rest of the series continues the trend.
(Stay tuned for part 2…)