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Thursday
Dec282017

« In Which We Retreat To Our Frank Castle »

Immolation Man

by ETHAN PETERSON

Marvel’s The Punisher
creator Steve Lightfoot
Netflix

Fearful that the traditional depiction of a gruff, grunting automaton Frank Castle would not resonate over the course of television series, showrunner for Marvel's The Punisher, Steve Lightfoot (Hannibal), made some major changes to the character as portrayed by Jon Bernthal. The first he was unceremoniously saddled with: Bernthal is all of 5’7”, and The Punisher is traditionally a larger man. The rest he brought upon himself: Frank bleats, pouts, cries, dreams, and barely kills anyone, making him almost unrecognizable from the version that has inhabited comic books for the past decades.

“I hate hipsters,” Castle whines at several points after he is identified as one in a diner. Lightfoot is very focused on what and how Castle eats, viewing this as a window into his character. No matter how depressed or devastated a human being is, the procedural consumption of food in the morning shows a basic will to go on, Lightfoot reasons. Frank’s main motivation to live is to kill the people who authorizes a series of unpalatable missions when he was serving on a black ops unit in Afghanistan.

As a result, the ostensible subject of Marvel’s The Punisher is post-traumatic stress disorder. Although this phenomenon is far from unexplored in the medium, as he showed on The Walking Dead, Bernthal is particularly talented at portraying an individual in evident distress who is still forced to make the decisions required to live a day-to-day existence. Really nothing Castle does, not even his brief, thick beard, reminds one of a modern person, and for the first few episodes of Marvel’s The Punisher, his main activity is breaking a wall with a sledgehammer as part of a construction team.

Punisher stories are always at their violent best when they focus on the main character at the exclusion of other parties. Lightfoot unsuccessfully bucks this trend by focusing a great deal of time on two peripheral characters: a Jewish disgraced CIA analyst named David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and a Homeland Security agent named Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). Both of these peripheral subjects are not only deeply unlikable (suitable in this regard for making Frank more sympathetic) but also extremely dull and prone to extended scenes, especially those of Madani with her mother (the awful actress Shoreh Aghdashloo).

Instead of a single-minded story about a man forced to enact revenge after revenge on parties who do not take him seriously, Marvel’s The Punisher is a weirdly meditative version of the same. Unfortunately, this approach suits neither the character or the subject matter. Frank is at his best when he is unexpectedly forced to show compassion for others; instead this iteration finds him a bit too unfeeling, and as a result, less of a real person.

In scenes with Lieberman’s wife (Jaime Ray Newman), who believes her husband to be dead, Bernthal seems most in his element as a gruff but likable package of power. Lightfoot gives him way too many lines about how he likes the old fashioned things in life, imagining Frank Castle as a kind of relic in a world unfamiliar with his like. This does not really jive with the character – the real Frank Castle was never an aspect of the past. He was merely a symptom of the present.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


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