Confession time: I have never seen a Marvel production. Not a movie, show or comic book has ever crossed these immaculate eyes. Needless to say, I was wary of watching a show in which a minimum of 15 people get bludgeoned, shot or thrown into vats of drying cement all within the span of 55 minutes.
Marvel’s “The Punisher” begins where season two of the company’s last Netflix expenditure, “Daredevil,” left off. It follows the dark and brooding Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal, “The Walking Dead”), aka “The Punisher,” on his revenge-driven tirades across New York City. For the action-packed genre it caters to, the show itself is a fine production. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is solid and the plot maintains a decent balance of explanation and suspense. Yet the importance of the cosmetics of the show is dwarfed in comparison to the topical content it provides. Because in an age when television is so often used as an escape, “The Punisher” takes the most difficult conversations America is unwilling to have and throws them right in our face.
This is both a good and a bad thing, and still as I’m writing this, I can’t decide if the Castle’s murderous isolation is a bold social commentary or a distasteful exploitation. It seems I’m not the only one struggling with this question, as the premiere at New York Comic Con was cancelled following the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Looking back at the first episode, it’s easy to see why. The opening credits boast various shots of bullets flying and guns being brandished in an almost idyllic way. It is an image that, in any other country, may seem appropriate for an action-series, but in America, where there is at least one mass shooting per day, the glorification of firearms is just a reminder of our sins and shortcomings.
It’s easy to say that the original “Punisher” was developed in a much different era, and that people should be able to enjoy a beloved comic book character for an hour or two without worrying about the state of our nation. But to treat Castle as a solely fictional character is reckless and naive. This is an ex-Marine whose only companionship comes from the rage in his head and the gun in his hand. He is a character that has become all too familiar, and whose effects stretch far beyond the damage contained in a screen.
“The Punisher” attempts to offer explanation for our perpetuated culture of violence, though still continuing to contribute to it. In one scene, a support group of former soldiers meets in a dimly-lit basement, a desolate reminder of how little our country gives to those who gave everything to us. After an old Vietnam vet airs his grievances about “the liberals,” a young man shakes his head and says, “I just know that I fought for this country and it’s got no place for me.” It’s an unfortunate reminder that we teach men and women to be killers and throw them into combat, then expect them to adapt to a normal life when they hopefully come back home.
By the episode’s end, it’s clear that “The Punisher” is the wrong show at the wrong time. It would need to be truly spectacular to make up for the unfavorable timing of its release, and it’s not. At a time when the world is desperate for heroes, the gun-wielding, villainous rage of Frank Castle just isn’t going to cut it.