Review by C.J. Bunce

Superhero adaptations seemed to experience a coming of age this year.  After one appearance after another as a Wolverine fans all expected to see, Hugh Jackman finally gave us something entirely new.  Gritty and real, Jackman’s swan song as the ageless superhero in Logan took comic book movies into an incredible new place–a modern classic, a drama with depth and an unparalleled fierceness.  The DC Universe continues its consistently entertaining productions on the CW Network.  And although this year’s new FX series Legion succeeded in telling a different kind of superhero story, its convoluted and frenetic storytelling and visuals often felt like an indecipherable muddle, and the eagerly awaited Marvel team-up Defenders just didn’t gel.  Then comes Netflix’s unlikely comic book adaptation series The Punisher.

It may be less of a trick to take a lesser known character and make him or her approachable, and easier to foul up a well-known commodity, but The Punisher provides engaging drama and compelling storytelling for TV watchers whether or not you’re familiar with its source material.  And its one of the finest examples of the new wave of superhero TV–not that The Punisher aka Frank Castle portrayed by the craggy Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) has any superpowers.  He is somewhere near the Batman or Green Arrow superhero type, an on-again, off-again anti-hero with special forces–and MacGyver-esque–mad skills, he is a vigilante bent on avenging his wife and kids’ murders (refer to his origin in the Daredevil series) and eliminating those that ruined his life.  Or sometimes those that just get in his way.  Bernthal possessed the mystique of Roddy Piper’s put-upon everyman construction worker in They Live.  Bernthal’s Castle is brutal, angry, tormented, tortured, unrelenting.

He was counterbalanced in the series’ first season by soldier/opportunist-turned-CEO Billy Russo, played convincingly by Ben Barnes (Westworld, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), who rises to the top of his list, a painful result for Castle since they were practically brothers in the squad where Castle’s life was turned upside down.  Castle is practically a walking dead man, he has nothing to live for, nothing good to look forward to, no purpose left that he can discern.  He’s believed to be dead, living a miserable life of PTSD flashbacks and recurring dreams of his lost family.  His methods of revenge break all societal mores, yet actor Jon Berthal’s phenomenal portrayal of grit and resolve make his character easy to root for.  Even despite the real-world violence he dishes up along the way.

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