Review of The Punisher (Netflix Series)

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.

Revah, Bernthal, Barnes, Moss-Bachrach

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+.

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Upcoming, Live-Action Superhero Series Round-up, part 1

I’ve said it before, but superhero genre fans are truly blessed these days. In addition to the the many live-action adaptations on the big screen, we have more leather- and spandex-clad heroes with special powers and skills on TV now than ever before — from DC’s various series on regular TV (“Arrow”, “The Flash”, “Legends of Tomorrow”, & “Supergirl” on CW; “Gotham” on Fox (no costume-wearing heroes in this last one, though)); Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC and “Legion” on FX; and, Marvel’s Netflix-original shows (“Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, “Luke Cage”, “Iron Fist”). I suppose I should throw in DC’s “Preacher” (AMC), though I don’t care for the concept and would hardly call him a hero. (Same goes for “Lucifer”.)

There were also the late, lamented “Agent Carter” by Marvel and “Constantine” by DC, both of which had loyal fan followings but still got canceled. And, of course, there have been a few that were talked about a lot but fell through — e.g., DC’s “Teen Titans”/”Blackbirds” and Marvel’s “Mockingbird”/”Marvel’s Most Wanted”.

But, there are more on the way…. Over the past couple years or so, several other comic book adaptations have been rumored, discussed, planned, and in many cases gone into production. I thought we’d take a quick look at each of them — those I am aware of, at least. (Given that I’m a bit pressed for time, though, I’m splitting the “round-up” between this week and next. Hope you don’t mind.) Let’s begin with…

Netflix

o “The Defenders”: Anyone paying attention is aware that the heroes from the first four Netflix shows have always been intended to co-star in a mini-series as Marvel’s best ever non-team, “The Defenders”. I don’t think this particular line-up has ever seen print, but anything to get our heroes fighting together and likely among themselves in time-honored Marvel tradition. It debuts this August 18th.

o “The Punisher”: The popular, gun-toting anti-hero was so popular in his appearance in Season 2 of “Daredevil” that the powers-that-be decided a spin-off show was in order. I believe I’m on record as being in favor of this, as long as they do right by the character. Last I read, this one’s scheduled for release in Nov. 2017.

o More?: A little over a year ago, rumors began that Netflix was planning to add to their stable of Marvel-based series. Specifically, Moviecreedlive reported, “Our sources have revealed that Blade, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight are lined-up to join Netflix.” These all make sense, given the darker, street-level tone of their other series. However, I haven’t heard/read anything more about this, other than the discussions of MK replacing Iron Fist, when the latter was having trouble getting some direction. (No comment.) Of course, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has since introduced a version of Ghost Rider, so I don’t know how that might affect Netflix’s plans. Since Marvel has been keeping its Netflix properties independent from other shows & films, it might not matter at all. Personally, I’d love to see the original Ghost Rider, with host Johnny Blaze, brought to Netflix.

On the other hand, a different report around the same time said that Marvel/Netflix were next developing series for She-Hulk, Cloak & Dagger, Bullseye, and Elektra. The odd one out here seems to be She-Hulk. Not only do they already have one show about lawyers — Shulkie is also an attorney named Jennifer Walters — and two characters with super-strength, but the character doesn’t really fit the dark-n-gritty tone of the other shows. Plus, they’d need a decent CGI budget. The other three make more sense, though I haven’t read/seen anything more about Bullseye or Elektra. Most likely, it was an April Fool’s joke, anyway, since the article was published 4/1/2016. However, I’ll talk more about Cloak & Dagger in a minute — or, rather, in Part 2.

Finally, the possible Netflix show that makes the most sense to me would be the one rumored to spin off the Misty Knight character from “Luke Cage”. Ideally (for me), she would get her bionic arm and team up with Colleen Wing (from “Iron Fist”) to form “Knightwing Restorations”. (They could use that as a title, or “Daughters of the Dragon”.) It has been confirmed that Knight & Wing will both show up in “The Defenders”, so maybe it will set up events that lead to a spin-off then. Unfortunately, there has been no further news on this front, either.

That’s it for now. Continued next week…

7 Marvel Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 1 of 2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some ideas I had for DC properties that I thought would make cool TV/Netflix shows. As promised, this week and next I’ll do the same for Marvel properties. It’s not as easy as it may sound, especially when trying to balance a mix of interesting characters and genres without breaking special F/X budgets. But, I think I came up with some fun stuff.

First, I should explain a couple conspicuous absences. Any talk about possible TV series based on Marvel characters has got to include something X-Men/mutants related, right? But, we already know that one is in development, and I already discussed several possibilities for it and my preferences in my “Jack Bauer and the X-Men” post. I have not included a “Punisher” series in this list, either, even though I would love to see one, because one is likely to spin off from season 2 of “Daredevil”, anyway.

F.y.i., I played with the idea of a “Daily Bugle” series, but decided that to really work, it would need to have a lot of superheroes & villains popping up not just in print but on-screen. Since the Bugle is in New York, as are most of the major heroes/villains, that would probably not work out logistically or legally, particularly with those claimed for the big screen. Some have suggested a “Spider-Woman” series, and I’d be fine with that, but Netflix already has a female private investigator (i.e., Jessica Jones). On the other hand, the characters are different enough that it might work. (Dakota North would be another possibility, if they did decide to have another female P.I.) Finally, another idea I considered was “Thunderbolts”, based on the original concept of a band of new superheroes, who are actually supervillains seeking to gain & exploit the public’s (and government’s) trust. But, ultimately I dropped it, because I wasn’t sure it could be done without significantly re-working many of the characters, connections to the Avengers, etc.

Alright, here are my first three suggestions…

845482-moon_knight__005_017_018_copy_01_superMoon Knight: I know I’m not the first to suggest it (though I did think of it quite awhile ago), but I think a show based on the Moon Knight has a ton of potential. If you aren’t already aware, MK is part Batman, part Punisher, with some unique “issues” and abilities thrown in. Marc Spector is a former Marine-turned-CIA operative-turned-mercenary who died(?) and was brought back by the Egyptian moon god “Khonshu”, which inspired the Moon Knight persona for fighting crime (and Khonshu’s enemies). He also created for himself the identities of successful financier “Steven Grant” and taxicab driver “Jake Lockley”, both of which serve his purposes as adventurer/vigilante. So, we have a rich guy with deadly skills and fancy toys who fights crime in costume (sound familiar?), who also struggles with keeping his multiple personalities straight; plus, there is the mystical connection with his serving as the “Fist of Khonshu”. With friends & associates like ‘Frenchie’ DuChamp and Marlene Alraune, as well as foes like Bushman and Taskmaster, I see lots of opportunity for fun and intriguing stories involving a boatload of action and drama. There should be the occasional reference to characters and events from other shows and movies to demonstrate a shared “universe”, too. Also, can you say “Marvel Team-up”? [Note to self: I really need to fan-cast this guy.]

Shang-Chi

Shang-Chi

Shang-Chi: Created in the wake of Bruce Lee’s death, the “Master of Kung Fu” has the dubious distinction of being the son of criminal mastermind/sorcerer Fu Manchu, who trained him as an assassin. He has connections to the Avengers, Heroes for Hire, and the British intelligence community, as he has worked as both spy and adventurer/crimefighter. But, all he really wants to do is live the simple life of a fisherman. I think these and other characteristics make him different enough from Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist) to justify a second show centered on a martial artist. I see it having elements of the old “Kung Fu” series, where our hero wanders all over the globe (e.g., Hong Kong, England, USA), reluctantly either finding himself encountering injustice that needs to be addressed or being contacted & persuaded by other heroes and intelligence agencies to lend them his particular skills and knowledge. With the right vision, writing, and casting, I think such a series could be both charming and action-packed — sort of like Bruce Lee.

 

Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter)

Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter)

Agent 13: I would love to see a current day “spy” series that is more James Bond-ian than what we have with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Black Widow could work as the protagonist, but her being a major player in the MCU probably puts her out of the running. But, Sharon Carter (aka “Agent 13”), whom we have seen played by Emily VanCamp in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and returning for Captain America: Civil War, is a distinct possibility. “Agent 13” is, therefore, already established as a live-action character, and I can see her branching off into a series of her own, much like her aunt Peggy did in “Agent Carter”. As a (former?) S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she has connections to Captain America and Fury, who might make the occasional cameo appearance. (She and Cap were lovers for quite a while in the comics.) I imagine the show being about Carter going undercover on various missions, some related to but mostly separate from the events in the MCU and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” She might report directly to Fury, but it would probably make more sense for her to report to either Coulson or another high-ranking officer that survived the Hydra massacre/purge. Or, if she stays at the CIA (as per the end of Winter Soldier), that opens up a whole ‘nother realm of possibilities.

That’s enough for this week. I’ll discuss the other four next time. I think you’ll like ’em. ‘Til then…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.