Ever since the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil hit television, MCU fans have been obsessed with the Punisher. Although the comic book character was always popular with his readers, that success has never really translated into the same, broad popularity other Marvel characters — like Spider-Man, Hulk and Wolverine — have enjoyed over the years.
It’s not like mainstream audiences were unwilling, or even unable, to accept a dark, gun-toting anti-hero gunning down criminals with reckless abandon. It’s long been a staple of the action genre, from Death Wish and Dirty Harry to The Boondock Saints. Just look at Warner Bros’ current Batman psychotically mowing down criminals with Batmobile-mounted mini-guns in Batman v Superman for proof that this vein of action hero is still alive and well in modern Hollywood.
If I had to nail down a reason for the Punisher’s lack of widespread popularity, I think that it would come down to the quality of adaptations he has received over the years. For all the talk of comics’ loyal fans, there aren’t all that many of them. These franchises become popular by being ripped from the static pages of pulp narratives and being thrown on screen in front of a wide, paying audience. And while the Punisher has no less than four live-action ilms — plus a smattering of animated ones — none of them have ever been especially good. Most, in fact, have been downright terrible.
Not so with his Netflix portrayal, however. He was absolutely the highlight of that season, easily beating out the more important Defenders tie-ins the Hand and Elektra. He was a complex anti-hero whose motives were profoundly sympathetic and whose aims were good, but whose bullheaded methodology put him at odds with the justice-oriented Daredevil when Castle started his one-man crusade against Hell’s Kitchen’s criminals.
And although we put his story on pause in order to pick up a plotline that nobody really cared about, his redemptive arc formed the ultimate backbone of the series’ second season. Sure, he might be rough and bloody around the edges, but a different class of criminal necessitates a different class of hero to combat it. And with his extensive arsenal and lack of anything even remotely resembling mercy, he was equipped to put down the criminals that Daredevil was incapable of dealing with long-term.
It’s no wonder, then, that his upcoming Netflix solo series has garnered a lot of excitement in the wake of The Defenders. After all, the Punisher is a fascinating character — cast in sharp relief against Marvel’s more family-friendly movie brand — and actor John Bernthal perfectly captures the complexities of a man thrown past the brink of reason. And now, at long last, we have our first look into that series by way of a newly released trailer.
We open on Franks life before everything fell apart. He teaches his son to play guitar, plays with his daughter and basks in his wife’s loving smile. A masked man shoots her in the back of the head, jolting him from his pleasant dreams.
Instead of tending to a family long since buried, he tends to his work: loading guns, sharpening knives and touching up his iconic Punisher skull on his body armor. When a retinue of armed soldiers is given permission to “shoot on sight,” Frank replies “my pleasure.”
The men’s rifle-mounted lights flicker out, casting the room in pure darkness. As the Frank attacks, only the flashes of rapid-fire bullets light up the scene. When an interrogated survivor of the massacre tells him that he doesn’t know anything” about what happened to his family, Frank remarks “fair enough” before putting a bullet in his skull.
This is the kind of story that Marvel needed to tell: something altogether darker than anything that they’ve put out in the past. Sure, the Netflix series have been cut from a different cloth — grittier, more mature stories about working class heroes incapable of dealing with their individual traumas — but this is something else entirely.
Although he goes up against the bad guys — same as every other Marvel front-runner — Frank Castle understands something that his compatriots simply do no. There are some people that you can’t reason with nor rehabilitate. Some people just need to be punished: cruelly and absolutely.
This is survival of the fittest. This is war.