I realize that most interested parties have probably already watched the show weeks ago, but I just finished it last week and wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. If you haven’t watched it, yet, beware that there may be a few SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
I’m gonna be honest and say up front that this wasn’t the Punisher I wanted to see. Jon Bernthal (5’11”,b.1976) obviously bulked up for the role to add a little muscle and definition. However, in addition to being shorter than I’d like — Marvel’s wiki lists the character at 6’3″ — he wasn’t nearly as broad-shouldered and beefy as I feel Frank Castle should be. At least, that’s how he is usually drawn in the comics. (The same criticism goes for Thomas Jane (5’10”,b.1969), who nevertheless played a convincing Castle in 2004’s The Punisher.) It’s part of what makes him so physically intimidating.
This version, while sufficiently bad@$$ and coldly efficient in the midst of battle, too often (over the course of the series) revealed him to be vulnerable and even unsure of himself. I suppose this effort to “humanize” the character is understandable, if Netflix is hoping to maintain a broad(er) audience. His missing his family and repeated nightmares about their deaths are also understandable, especially if that tragedy only happened a year(?) or so earlier. I certainly don’t mind watching a hero, even a violent vigilante, struggling emotionally with trauma or his “mission”. But, what I would have preferred to see was less vulnerability and… whatever else that was, and more hard-edged, laser-focused planning, hunting, and slaughtering of bad guys. Granted, there was some of that, and it was great. But, there should’ve been more of it. (Heck, there was even one episode where Frank wasn’t involved in any fights!)
As for the villains of the piece, while it was a somewhat interesting story, the whole corrupt-CIA-and-psycho-veterans thing was tired, cliche, and seemed like a bit of a copout. The fact that it was mostly tied to Castle’s past and the death of his family made some sense, I suppose. But (and I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised), they changed part of his “origin story” drastically. The comics version, as many of you know, was that Frank’s family was slaughtered in Central Park by some overzealous Mafia gunmen. Frank survived but couldn’t get justice through the system, so he adopted the ‘Punisher’ persona in his “one-man war on crime” to eliminate as many mobsters, drug dealers, etc., as he could. THAT is the story I wanted and expected to see in this series. We saw a bit of it in season 2 of “Daredevil”, and early on in “The Punisher” he killed several members of the Nucci crime family. So, I am hoping that this will be followed-up on in season two of “The Punisher” (assuming there is one).
We already knew from things like “The Walking Dead”, Fury, and Baby Driver, that Jon Bernthal can play tough, intense, bad@$$ characters. And he did a fine job in that respect in “The Punisher”. However, his performance at times was so reminiscent of his co-star from “The Walking Dead”, Andrew Lincoln, that I had to look twice to make sure it was Bernthal. (Rick? Is that you?) On another note, his yelling/roaring at times while firing a machine gun was too much like Rambo (or some other Stallone or Schwarzenegger character), and it annoyed me. I will also say that I prefer Bernthal with a regular (though short) haircut and not the supershort, nearly bald look, or shaved on the sides.
The David “Micro” Lieberman character (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) was done well, yet his departures from the comic version — starting with the overweight computer hacker “Microchip” Lieberman becoming a lanky CIA analyst who is presumed dead — bugged me. The chief bad guys — Agent Orange / Rawlins (Paul Schulze) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) — were well-played and sufficiently detestable, particularly Russo’s betrayal. The Agent Madani character (Amber Rose Revah) was good at times, yet annoying at others. The sex scenes between her and Russo were gratuitous. I really liked the supporting character of Curtis Hoyle, played by Jason R. Moore, and I hope to see him again. (Maybe Moore will show up in something else, too.) The rest of the supporting characters were pretty good, too, especially the always enjoyable Jaime Ray Newman. The sub-plot with Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber) was somewhat irritating, but I think that was partially due to Webber, who often plays this type of disturbed/ing character. (E.g., Lee Harvey Oswald in “11.22.63”.)
Despite these faults, overall it was a pretty good solo outing for ol’ Frank. As hinted at before, the firefights and hand-to-hand combat scenes were bloody, intense, and generally satisfying for this action-lover. (Not quite as good as those in “Daredevil”, but decent.) The acting ranged from satisfactory to quite good, and the plot, though not great or without holes, was definitely passable. I also liked the opening theme music, which somehow fit the tone of the show quite well.
For what it’s worth, I’m one of those people who liked “Luke Cage” (I love big, superstrong guys) better than “Jessica Jones” (I generally dislike surly, cynical drunks). That said, I would rate “The Punisher” about the same as Cage — roughly a B, maybe B+.