Whether we're talking heroes or villains, Marvel characters don't come much darker or meaner than The Punisher, and after a stellar introduction on Season 2 of Daredevil, Frank Castle will finally take center stage in a series of his very own. We have obviously seen live-action versions of The Punisher before, but Jon Bernthal's take on the anti-hero is shaping up to become the most refreshing and exciting version that we have ever seen.
With The Punisher's first season set to pummel us into a binge-watching coma on Netflix on November 17, we figured now would be a good time to take a look back at the character's well-worn on-screen history to point out all the ways that there is room for improvement when it comes to his various film incarnations. On that note, let's dive in and discuss how The Punisher TV show can improve where the movies may have faltered.
Don't Make Frank's Ability To Kill Into A Superpower
Frank Castle's most essential asset in his war against the criminal underworld is his years of experience as a special forces soldier. He has incredible survival instincts, and knows how to plan an enemy assault weeks in advance. The Punisher doesn't just walk into danger half-cocked, but previous films in the Punisher canon have a nasty habit of sometimes showing off how unbelievably good he is with his arsenal of big guns and knives, and making that his primary attribute.
He's more than that, and we want The Punisher TV show to take its time and show us how much Frank thinks out his assassinations and sabotage missions. After all, for an instinct-driven and non-superpowered guy like Frank Castle, it's not just about staying alive in the face of overwhelming odds and a wall of gunfire; it's also a matter of outthinking your enemies at every conceivable turn.
Don't Shy Away From How Wild Frank's Rogues Gallery Is
When compared to heroes like Batman or Spider-Man, The Punisher does not have the deepest roster of bad guys to pull from -- primarily because he usually ends up killing them in brutal fashion by the end of their stories. However, the films have still done a relatively weak job of putting him up against some of his more well-known baddies.
Punisher: War Zone gave us the fan favorite Jigsaw as the main antagonist, but the 1989 and 2004 Punisher films pitted him against more grounded mobsters, with a cameo by The Russian thrown into the latter for good measure. Frank has a fascinating assortment of enemies such as Barracuda, Bushwacker, and Bullseye, many of whom seem tailor-made for the sort of heightened realism that we have come to expect from Netflix's corner of the MCU. (Even if their names don't have to start with a "B.") We can do so much better than Howard Saint.
Make The Action Less Ridiculous, More Like Daredevil
Here, it's less a matter of trying to do the opposite of the films, and more an attempt to find a happy medium. In Punisher: War Zone, Frank's ability to take down hordes of bad guys is pretty much unchallenged; he's a one-man killing machine who never runs out of fascinating new ways to maim and dismember. By contrast, the action in the Thomas Jane-fronted Punisher from 2004 is incredibly clunky and slow.
What The Punisher TV series needs to do (and appears to have done, based on the trailers) is find a John Wick-esque balance in which all of Frank's actions and moves seem physically plausible, but they're still executed with speed, precision, and power to show us how well-trained he is. Remember, this is a world in which Daredevil's hallway fight still exists; we need to see that level of skill and brutality on full display.
Don't Downplay Frank's Wife With Other Love Interests
The first trailer already made it explicitly (and loudly) clear that the death of Maria Castle (not to mention the other members of the Castle clan) still haunts The Punisher. That said, some have theorized that the inclusion of Karen Page in The Punisher Season 1 hints at a possible romance that builds off of what was developed in Season 2 of Daredevil. While The Punisher has certainly had love interests before, it feels too soon to tell that type of story for this version of the character.
The 2004 film pulled a similar stunt by hinting at a possible romance between Thomas Jane's version of Frank and Joan (Rebecca Romijn) and it ultimately detracted from the forward momentum of the revenge-driven story. Frank Castle is one of the most focused and myopic characters in the entirety of the comic book medium, and he needs to be properly established as such.
Remember That Frank Is A Human Being
After a while, it can become easy to view Frank as the Grim Reaper. That said, Frank Castle is still a human being (one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's MOST human characters, in fact) and his upcoming TV show needs to give us a much better sense of his moral compass and fallibility than the films ever have. We want to look beyond the mere fact that Frank will kill every single criminal that he comes across to see how he reacts to people with a bit more nuance.
How does he respond when good cops are on his tail? What does he do when he comes across prostitutes, petty thieves or other people who might technically be breaking the law (albeit non-violently) to keep their heads above water? More than any of the films, Netflix's The Punisher is an opportunity to see how Frank deals with problems that might not be handled best with a gun.
Embrace The Punisher's Vast Array Of Supporting Characters
We already touched on the villain angle a little earlier, but it's also worth noting that The Punisher has plenty of great supporting characters aren't full-on bad guys. The Punisher introduced us to Spacker Dave and Joan, and Punisher: War Zone gave us Detective Soap and Microchip. However, except for Micro (who will appear in the show), few of these supporting characters have done anything beneficial for Frank in their on-screen appearances.
With the advent of a Punisher TV show, we now have considerably more time and storytelling real estate to potentially see all of these characters and plenty more (such as Curtis Hoyle) get in on the action and help Frank Castle in his battle against criminals. After all, we can only watch a one-man-war until it gets boring; we want to see what happens to the people who start to realize that Frank Castle might not be quite as crazy or villainous as some people think.
Don't Water Down How Brutal Frank Is To His Enemies
There is a scene in the 2004 Punisher film in which Thomas Jane's version of Frank Castle uses a popsicle to torture a low-level mobster by convincing him that the cold sensation is actually a blowtorch searing his nerve endings. While it's conceptually an entertaining sequence, and it ultimately works for what the movie is trying to accomplish, this is most definitely not Frank Castle's traditional MO.
In most versions of The Punisher narrative (including the Garth Ennis run, which the Netflix show appears to borrow liberally from), Frank could legitimately torture such a small-time thug to death because that's what he does. He punishes. The previous films came during an earlier era of superhero filmmaking in which directors and studios tested the waters regarding how faithfully (and violently) they could adapt a Marvel character. Now we know they can go all out, which means Jon Bernthal's Castle needs to push the limits of on-screen brutality.
Remember, The Punisher Season 1 arrives on Netflix on Friday, November 17, at 12:01 a.m. PT. While waiting for this highly anticipated show to be released, head to our fall TV premiere schedule to see what other slightly less brutal shows are on the way.