“You honestly believe that? He’s… the Punisher. He’s gonna, like, righteously pull your spine out of your throat.” — Amy to Pilgrim, who’s holding her hostage
Once again, I’m playing catch-up with everyone else re “The Punisher”. Due to a combination of computer issues, traveling out of state, and miscellaneous other factors, I only just completed watching the second season a few days ago. Now, I’m finally ready to publish some observations and opinions on ol’ Frank’s final Netflix outing…
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
I tried to like this Season a lot, but I could only like it “OK”. There were, of course, the same issues I complained about last time. For example,
o Bernthal isn’t physically large and intimidating enough
o there is an obvious effort to “soften”/humanize Castle (too much, imho)
o Bernthal/Castle’s growling/yelling while fighting or firing automatic weapons is annoying as heck
o he often avoids direct eye contact when conversing with someone (is this a Bernthal thing, or an affectation he does as ‘Frank Castle’?)
o Bernthal also does this thing where he moves his head from side to side, sorta like DeNiro does
Other than that, Bernthal does a decent-to-great job with the material given him.
Then there was the story — well, stories. First, you have what is essentially a continuation of the story from Season 1, with Billy Russo as the main baddy. Not my preference, but I can understand why they did it. Second, you have a rich, corrupt, fundamentalist(?) Christian couple sending their pet hitman after Castle. I was a bit surprised Corbin Bernsen agreed to play this part, since he has professed to be a Christian (of some sort), and this paints certain Christians as a certain phobic, hypocritical stereotype — not to mention, murderers. (Really? That’s the sort of villain you want pit against Castle? C’mon, guys!) That said, the stories were OK but not great.
Frankly (yes, that’s a pun), they should’ve had Castle do what he was made to do: wage a “one-man war on crime” to eliminate as many mobsters, gangbangers, drug dealers, maybe the odd terrorist or supervillain, etc., as he can. The story could have followed up from his attack on the Nucci Family back in Season 1. I’d still hold out hope for this in a third season, especially given Season 2’s final scene, but the show’s cancellation makes this rather unlikely.
The acting, music, and overall tone were generally quite good. This time around, Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) was still scary (well, sometimes), but, because of his facial scars and scrambled memories, he was “messed up” in yet another way. It even seemed that the writers tried to make him a somewhat sympathetic character. Honestly, I got tired of the whole thing. Plus, his scarring was nothing compared to what the Jigsaw character is supposed to look like. Very disappointing.
Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) was back, angry, obsessed, and confused. Is Castle a bad guy, or a good guy with scary skills and a righteous fury? Do I want to kill Russo, or let Castle do it? Or, should I arrest Russo? Or Castle? Am I a bad@$$ Homeland agent or not? Am I going to fall apart? Should I quit? Why would I let a juvenile delinquent (even under Castle’s “care”) free run of my nice apartment, let alone near my unattended purse? Am I not asking for trouble?
Giorgia Whigham — who I’d never seen before but who looks uncannily like Elisabeth Harnois (CSI) — did an admirable job as said delinquent, Rachel/Amy. (If you can get past the idea of the Punisher having a sidekick (other than Micro), that is.) I suppose Floriana Lima’s bit as Dr. Dumont was good, too, but the character just bugged me. I couldn’t really get a good read on her. It was good to see Curtis (Jason R. Moore) and Det. Mahoney (Royce Johnson) back, as I enjoy those characters. Nice cameo by Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), too.
The abovementioned “pet hitman” was, of course, John Pilgrim, as played by Josh Stewart. Stewart is a familiar face, as he has been in such shows as “Criminal Minds”, “Shooter”, “No Ordinary Family”, et al., often playing similar characters. His eyes often look hooded and he has a way of slow-talking, which together can be used to give him a slightly sinister presence. He appears to have put on some weight for this role, which is a bit surprising. He was still portrayed here, though, as a bad@$$ fighter who took as much punishment (hah!) as Castle himself. (More on this in a minute.) Interesting evolution for the character, too.
The fight scenes in Season 2 were mostly good, but the ones at the bar and at the Russians’ gym were exceptional. They really showed Castle at his brutal best against superior numbers. On the other hand, the worst ones were Madani vs. Dumont and Castle vs. Pilgrim at the end. Regarding the former, Madani went to Dumont’s apartment clearly expecting a confrontation with Dumont or even Russo. Yet, she let Dumont (with no combat training) get the drop on her and almost outfight her — until the whole (not to mention on-the-nose obvious) pushing Dumont out the 2nd-story window thing, of course. Regarding the latter, formidable as he was against most, I don’t think Pilgrim normally would have lasted that long against Castle. But, with both Castle and Pilgrim having recently been severely beaten, shot, and stabbed, I can only assume that we are supposed to just accept that their respective injuries (and general weariness) evened out the odds. Of course, Castle finally got the upper hand, but that didn’t end like many of us would have liked. (However, it wasn’t an unforeseen possibility.)
Despite my complaints, I’d rate Season 2 as roughly a ‘B’, which is what I gave Season 1. However, I realize that many of my issues with the series have to do with the changes they made from the comic version. So, in that respect, I would rate the concept behind this version of ‘The Punisher’/Frank Castle a ‘C+’. With that as a starting point, then, I suppose I would give the execution (pardon the Punisher pun) of the project a solid ‘B+’. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that I have mixed feelings about the series’ cancellation, eh?
Well, so long, Frank. Hope to see another, truer, live-action version of you in the future….
P.S. If you want to watch a ~20-minute video from a BIG Punisher fan who is also of two minds about this series, I came across this shortly before going to press: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo5TdYNoJpY