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Ever since it debuted in 2015, the first season of Netflix's Daredevil has been regarded as the best of all their Marvel content, even with a few flaws popping up toward the end, and I held that view as well...right up until the first season of The Punisher dropped. We've met the new best thing, folks, and allow me to explain why:
The Punisher follows Frank Castle 6 months after the events of Daredevil season 2, having taken out the last few members of the gangs involved in the Central Park shooting and trying to start a new life as Pete Castiglione while remaining unable to move past the death of his family. Eventually, he learns that there's a larger conspiracy behind that fateful day, and so sets out to kill those responsible as well. Nothing revolutionary, but very compelling nonetheless, and god damn if it isn't satisfying to see awful people being put down for good instead of just beaten up and dropped in prison as is the norm for the other Netflix series. However, what sets it above the other series quality-wise is the noticeable lack of the issues they've been repeatedly criticized for.
Oh, and there's one other heavily-criticized aspect of the other shows that the Punisher avoids, but it's technically a spoiler so I won't list it here. People familiar with the shows will likely know what I'm referring to, though.
tl;dr Watch this show. It's truly incredible on all fronts especially for something that wasn't even part of the initial plan for Marvel's Netflix expansion, and season 2 cannot come soon enough.
Most Superhero shows will, at somepoint, have a perfunctory conversation about whether it is appropriate for society to have a masked vigilante out on the streets, beating up bad guys. These are not useful discussions as the answer always turns out to be "eh, I guess we can make an exception for this guy". We can usually handwave the fascistic underpinnings behind crime fighting superheroes because they are goofy looking fantasy characters who can't ever exist.
The Punisher is forced to look at it a bit more earnestly, because its superhero consists of a guy who shoots a lot of people, which unfortunately is a thing that happens on a daily basis in the US. If it doesn't address the issue, The Punisher risks turning into some kind of Death Wish style NRA propaganda piece that sells the viewer on the idea that they absolutely can go buy some guns and chase the local hoodlums. I applaud the show's decision to focus on this debate for much of the story, with there being evil characters equivalent to the Punisher to act as counterpoints, in the form of rabid right-wing terrorists, dodgy mercenaries and rogue CIA agents. I'm not convinced by the answer the show finally comes up with, but at least it shows the working out.
As for Mr Frank Castle, the Punisher himself, I like him. He's presented as this lumbering cow of a man who keeps everything as simple and pragmatic as possible. This results in variety when it comes to the action scenes, with Castle getting into car chases, punch ups, gun fights, knife fights, bomb attacks and even sledge hammer fights (ugh). Sometimes they go a little too far down the grisly, gritty route to remain fun, but they're never boring. Unfortunately we're rationed to about one action scene per episode, as Marvel still insists on stretching these things out. As with every other show they've done, The Punisher feels its length by the end.
Surprisingly, the best thing about The Punisher is the plot. I thought I was going to get the same old avenge the dead family thing, but instead, The Punisher picks up six months after he's already done all his avenging. The story kicks off with him partnering up with Micro, an Edward Snowden hacker type who looks distractingly like some guy who once taught me how to lindyhop. Micro faked his death to escape the CIA and has to live apart from his own family (who all think he's dead). The show manages to build an emotionally rich story out of this, and the growing relationship between Castle, Micro and his family ended up being my favourite thing.
The Punisher takes the best part of Daredevil season 2 and expands it into an entire series. We go more in depth as to who Frank Castle is and what he's been through. He reluctant ally is Micro, a former NSA hacker who has uncovered clues regarding the murder of Frank's family. The two are fun to watch as they are the ultimate odd couple. While the plot is a bit predictable, it is fun to watch the story unravel and we're given the most brutal action sequences in all of the Netflix Marvel shows.
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