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Review–The Punisher returns with one of Marvel’s best TV seasons yet

Posted: 20 Jan 2019 05:00 AM PST

Review by C.J. Bunce

Jon Bernthal returned to Netflix this weekend for Season 2 of Marvel’s The Punisher, continuing in the role of Frank Castle, the comic book vigilante that makes all of the Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Keanu Reeves movie action heroes look wimpy by comparison.  Bernthal’s performance as a 21st century hero offers more than the beatings he dishes out (which will make viewers wince, flinch, and duck throughout 13 episodes), it has that subtlety and nuance that shows again Bernthal has the acting chops to be the next Robert De Niro.  And he’s probably the most believable actor as a Marvel comic book tough guy on the big or small screen.

The Punisher fits the superhero bill in his strength, cunning, and skill, and writers Steve Lightfoot, Ken Kristensen, Angela LaManna, Dario Scardapane, Christine Boylan, Felicia D. Henderson, Bruce Marshall Romans, and Laura Jean Leal outperformed the stellar first season with more elaborate set-ups for Castle & Co.  In 2017 the series’ first season made our borg.com best comic book adaptation and best villain with Ben Barnes‘ Billy Russo, and Barnes does it again, creating a worthy foil very different from last time, a character similar in many ways to the complex and somewhat sympathetic Killmonger in Black Panther.  In many ways it’s more of the same, with Amber Rose Revah (Emerald City) as Dinah Madani and Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) as Curtis back supporting Castle, this time balancing two big threats.  The cast plays exceptionally well off each other, and it’s a shame this is the final season for the series.

Castle steps in as good Samaritan to protect a teenager played by Giorgia Whigham (The Orville) who becomes the season’s co-lead, a key part of a strange, Manchurian Candidate-inspired political scheme.  Meanwhile Madani pursues Billy Russo, now under the care of a psychiatrist played by series newcomer Floriana Lima.  The beating by Castle in Season One left Russo with memory loss, forgetting Castle nearly killed him only because he killed Castle’s family in the first season of the show.  The key theme again is PTSD and the results of coming home from war as a trained killer with little community support.  In many ways The Punisher is a modern-day read of the post-war classic The Best Years of Our Lives.  Loyalty is a key theme again, too, as is doing what is necessary to protect your own.

The final two episodes are exceptional examples of comics page adaptations as great as any Marvel Comics have seen.  Episode 12 features a battered Castle assisting NYPD Detective Sgt. Brett Mahoney (played by Royce Johnson) from the scene of a van wreck.  It’s a tough and even humorous image that begs to be a comic book cover.  “One Bad Day” and “The Abyss” are other standout episodes, as is “Trouble the Water,” a new take on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.  

The makeup crew went all-out this time–you’ve never seen more crushed skulls in a television series, and barely a shirt makes it to the end without being blood-soaked.

Look for appearances by Alexa Davalos (The Man in the High Castle), Corbin Bernsen (Psych, Magnum PI), Josh Stewart (The Dark Knight Rises), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Grimm, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Annette O’Toole (Smallville), and Joe Holt (Supernatural, Monk, Law & Order).  To connect the series with the rest of the Marvel universe Deborah Ann Woll makes another appearance in the series as Daredevil character Karen Page.  The inclusion of the character is a bit forced, and it shows these series can stand alone and don’t need tied together each season.  Like all the Netflix-produced series, the 13 episodes could have been told just as well edited down to no more than 10.

Fans of The Punisher comics will love this new, final season, and if you liked the first season you’re in for even more action this time around.

The second, final season of Marvel’s The Punisher is streaming now only on Netflix.