TV Review: “The Punisher Season 2” – #NotMyPunisher

Written by Jeremiah Greville February 04, 2019

Welcome back, Frank. Marvel’s Netflix branch has always been hanging by a hope and a prayer. Now, it seems set to wither and fall off entirely. Just like Jessica Jones, The Punisher has yet to receive the official ax, but most consider it a forgone conclusion. For better or worse, this limb is being hacked off. If you enjoyed the Marvel Netflix shows, then the news is a bummer, but at least we have these last two seasons to binge. If you liked the first season of The Punisher, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. But if you’re tuning in to see that rad skull-dude from the comics (no, the other skull-dude (no, the OTHER skull dude, his name is Frank Castle (Okay, this is getting ridiculous))), then prepare to be disappointed. Very disappointed.

The Punisher Season 2 picks up after the events of Season 1, with Frank Castle, AKA the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) trying to live an ordinary life after taking down the man who betrayed him, his former best friend Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). But soon enough he’s pulled back into a life of violence when he crosses paths with a mysterious young girl named Amy (Giorgia Whigham). When Russo escapes and poses a public threat, Frank is recruited by Special Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah) to take him down, all while protecting Amy from the people pursuing her. Josh Stewart and Jason R. Moore also star, with smaller appearances by Corbin Bernsen, Annette O’Toole, and Alexa Davalos.

“It is what it is, I guess.”

Now, did you catch the big issue with the former paragraph? Dear God, I hope it wasn’t grammatical. No, I’m talking about the two separate plots. The second season of The Punisher is split between two separate narratives—one about Frank and Amy, and another about Billy Russo. Each episode weaves from one plot to the next, as if the writers weren’t confident that either idea could fill a 13-episode commitment. And the end result is predictably mixed. Neither story is bad, but both feel half-baked and barely thought out because of the other. Frank bounces back and forth between these stories with little sense or cohesion, and characters in one plot are left stranded while the other plays out. For a show about a character with legendary determination and focus, this season shows none.

But that’s just a structural gripe—he’s a personal one: this is not The Punisher. This is not the skull-loving madman from the comics. There’s no war on crime, no war journal, no skull-insignia outside of his seldom-worn flak jacket, and barely any friggin’ punishment at all. You like The Punisher? Then keep lookin’ bud–’cause he ain’t here. And this complaint stands even without appealing to secondary sources. When Jon Bernthal’s Punisher was introduced in Season 2 of Daredevil, he was already fully formed. It was a regression in Season 1 of The Punisher to start him off as a guy who’d given up on the mantle. Now, we have Season 2—which starts off the same way! Why on earth did anyone think this was a good idea?

“I was the best version of myself…”

Hey, here’s a groovy thought! Why don’t we have Arrow start every season with Oliver as an ordinary dude, and he only becomes the Green Arrow in the final episode? Oh—what if we do that for The Flash? Every season? Isn’t that a GREAT IDEA?

Seriously, it pisses me off. It’s a god-awful decision that’s been in too many of the Marvel Netflix programs already, and The Punisher is the worst offender by far. Yeah, he ends the season closer to the classic Punisher we know and tolerate. But when he first appeared already like that two years ago, it’s really insulting that they assume we should be grateful at this point.

 

But those gripes aside, the show isn’t horrible. It never reaches greatness, but the action is solid and frequent enough to hold your attention. There are memorable action sequences in almost every episode, with clear care and craft. One of the biggest strengths of this season is how well it avoids the narrative slumps of other Netflix shows. Yes, there are slower bits, but they’re almost always followed by a worthwhile payoff. If you’re in it for the violence, you’ll have to work your way through, but it’s worth it. Season 2’s action is far better than the first. It’s hard not to believe that Frank Castle is superhuman by the end of this season, considering the amount of punishment he takes. He spends more of the season covered blood and bruises than he does in good health.

“Frank…you don’t look so good.”

Jon Bernthal returns to growl his way through each scene, and he’s fine. He’s believable enough as Frank Castle, but his performance is so full of affectation it’s unsettling. Whether he’s leaning on a stool, flicking a television channel, or speaking human words, he does it all in the strangest way possible. Why does Frank have to growl every line even in calm scenes? Why can’t he sit or stand like a normal person? It’s to Bernthal’s credit that his Frank Castle feels unique in the MCU, but that’s pretty much it. I believe that his character would kill criminals for fun. I don’t believe that any other characters would willingly spend more than two seconds with him. And why isn’t he killing more criminals for fun, already?

The rest of the cast fares about the same, but special kudos have to go to Ben Barnes as Billy Russo. Whether under facial scar makeup or a full mask, he acts his ass off in every scene and shows a physicality that was sorely missed in the first season. His performance makes him the best Netflix villain since Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, possibly even on par with David Tennant’s Kilgrave. Unfortunately, while his performance is great, the material holds him back. He does his best, but when he’s forced to compete against an entirely separate narrative, it only goes so far. I would’ve liked to see better and more extreme scar makeup befitting the source material, but Barnes makes up for it with his portrayal of Russo’s fractured mental state.

“Time for you to make a choice.”

The action is worth it for fans of the previous season, but for everyone else? I’m not sure. Your time may be better spent elsewhere. The Punisher Season 2 is good, but could have been so much better. Instead of moving forward with Frank Castle as a character they rehash the same arc and regress for the second time. And that’s a damn shame, because I hope to see Bernthal’s Punisher again in some form. With Disney’s new streaming service and Hulu, maybe a new branch of the MCU tree is about to sprout. Marvel Comics originally reinvigorated The Punisher, along with several other Netflix characters, through specialized publishing imprints. Perhaps Bernthal will appear as the Punisher in Disney’s Marvel Knights? Marvel MAX? We’ll have to wait and see. Frankly, after Season 2, I’m still waiting for the Punisher to appear at all.

My Rating: 6.5 / 10

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

There are currently no comments on TV Review: “The Punisher Season 2” – #NotMyPunisher. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment